A hat is not a hat in uniformed services. The hat is affectionately and appropriately called a cover. The big question most scouts ponder more often than not is when do we cover and when do we uncover? Some seasoned leaders reading this might scoff at how silly this discussion might be. Yet for new leaders it might just be the information they need to know and share with their scouts to avoid etiquette mistakes that become glaring to those in the know.
In 2013, our ship the SSS Heatwave was in our second year of operations. We had finally received our dress whites and flags and were looking forward to our first event wearing them. Our very first event was marching in the 2012 Veteran’s Day Parade in Lake Havasu City. We enlisted the help of our local VFW to help with the marching protocol. Following that event, we were asked to post colors for the annual NRA banquet in our town. As a new leader, my concerns were that our uniforms be clean, pressed and that their shoes matched. The farthest thing from my mind was what the etiquette of when and where we were to wear our hats. I must admit I was lacking the knowledge of this area. The NRA in our town is host to many important dignitaries and veterans. At this particular event, the scouts were provided dinner. The scouts made sure that their napkins were secured so as not spill red sauce or brown gravy on their whites. The Sea Scouts wore their covers inside, posting the colors, and then sat down.
A seasoned and gentleman stopped by our table and proudly announced “I was a Sea Scout in 1942 and you need to take your hats off.” But there was a bit more. Instead of making our ship feel embarrassed or foolish (especially me, as the leader) he continued by taking one of the hats in his hand. With a chuckle, he explained how “we would take the covers and bend it over our knee to get that great bend. Yours not so good!” He continued to say that this method would help prevent loss or mistakingly drop them on the floor. He proceeded to give me his card and told me if there was anything he could do for us, to contact him. The Scouts took off their covers, figured how to place them on their knee, and eat without them falling off. This was the perfect teaching moment! We all learned something significant.
Now many, including me, don’t know some of these fine points of millinery or wearing hats, so it was time for some research. Hat etiquette is broken down into uniform (BSA) and civilian applications.
All hats should be removed while sitting for a meal at a table. The hat is never placed on a table. It may be placed on an empty chair, or put bill of hat behind you in the waistband of your pants or rested on your knee.
All hats should be removed for prayer unless your religious beliefs state otherwise.
If a scout has a hat on but not part of the official uniform or in civilian clothes, it should be removed when entering a building, sitting to eat and for all flag ceremonies. For flag ceremonies, singing the National Anthem or when US Flag is passing by in a parade, the hat should be removed with the right hand, and placed by your left shoulder. This will position the right hand over your heart.
According to the Scout Insignia website: “The Scout hat should be worn at all times that the Uniform is worn. The Scout or Scouter removes his hat, however, in the presence of ladies or upon entering a home, church, school building, office or indoor public gathering. At church and school assemblies where Scouts are in formation, leaders by prearrangement may indicate that Scouts will remove their hats upon entering the building.”
Some other rules include:
- At Scout meetings, Courts of Honor, circuses, camps and camporees, the leaders should determine the custom to be followed according to the circumstances.
- Scouts attending a funeral service in uniform should remove their hats unless otherwise requested.
- While marching or standing in a Color Guard, Scouts wear their hats at all times.
Most leaders agree that if the hat is part of the uniform and you are attending a ship meeting then it is appropriate to remain on.
Hundreds of years ago these rules were put in place for men in the military for reasons that included rank, honor, and hygiene. However today, our society continues to use these as a way of showing respect and good moral values. Even if you disagree, the fact that knowing these rules exist, gives you and your scouts a foundation to make concise decisions. We need to encourage our scouts to be Brave by standing out in front of their peers by following appropriate hat etiquette.
By following these simple rules, we show our veterans, friends and family, young and old, that we respect our country and our traditions. The small act of respect by removing your hats at the door will make your scouts stand out and make a lasting impression on all involved.
The gentleman with the business card was Jack Duncan, now 90 years old. He is a retired Master Chief Gunner’s Mate of 43 years, during World War II he was one of the original frogmen. He has become an incredible supporter of our ship. He and his wife Marlene helped write the BSA rifle program in the 1970’s and are now our Sea Scout Marksmanship Program Instructors. So for you seasoned leaders, I challenge you to be part of the solution, like Jack and make a difference to a new leader. For new leaders like me, open your minds to the traditions of the past that challenge some of the social norms of today. Your scouts will thank you when they are chosen for excellent opportunities above those who just to run with the crowd.
Other helpful links:
Skipper, SSS Heatwave, Lake Havasu City, AZ.
Western Regional Task Force