In May 1801, as the frigate Congress passed Mount Vernon shortly after the death of George Washington, Commodore Charles Morris noted in his autobiography that “the sails were lowered, the colors displayed half-masted, and a mourning salute of thirteen guns was fired as a mark of respect to the memory of Washington, whose life had so recently closed, and whose tomb was in our view.”
Naval honors to George Washington became official on 2 June 1906 with General Order No. 22. Naval honors are also observed when a ship passes the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.
Passing honors occurs between ships when one ship displays the flag or pennant of an official or officer, such as the President of the United States, Vice President of the United States, Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Navy, Under Secretary of Defense, and Assistant Secretary of Defense; other U.S. military officials; foreign officials, dignitaries, or officers; and the flag or standard of a foreign president or the sovereign or member of a reigning royal family. For a complete list of passing honor protocols, see OPNAVINST 1710.7A.
Navy ships also honor the national holidays of Presidents Day, Independence Day, and Memorial Day with ceremonies specific to each event:
On Presidents Day and on Independence Day, every ship of the Navy in commission, not underway, executes a full-dress ship. At noon, each saluting ship, and each naval station equipped with a saluting battery fires a national salute of 21 guns.
On Memorial Day, each saluting ship and each naval station having a saluting battery fires a salute of 21 minute-guns at noon. All ships and naval stations display the national ensign at half-mast from 0800 until the completion of the salute or until 1220 if no salute is fired or to be fired.
Manning the Rails: A Navy Tradition
Tending the Side: A Navy Tradition
Origins of the Twenty-One Gun Salute
Selected Imagery (click image to download)