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> updated 25/06/08
Square knot insignia used by the Boy Scouts of America

All Programs Square knot insignia Left Side Square knot insignia

"Square knot emblems" of the BSA

Many Scouts and Scouters wonder what those colorful square patches worn above the left pocket by Cubs, Scouts, Ventures and Scouters are for. Those that choose to wear them are more than happy to share the fact that those emblems are worn in less-than dressy occasions to symbolize special awards which they earned, were presented with, or awarded for service to youth or to a particular segment of youth while BSA members or leaders.

Why was some kind of "square knot" used to represent these awards? This answer was posted to the US Scouting Service Project's website area on awards.

William T. Hornaday Award Square Knot emblem
Example of square knot emblem -- this is the knot emblem representing the W.T. Hornaday Award medals

Hornaday Award Badge
Not all "square knots" are "knot emblems" This is the Hornaday Badge and is worn like a "knot emblem:"

Each square knot emblem has a "right side up"; a separate page explains this fact...

Why doesn't the BSA put out "knots" for things like the OA Founders' Award, BSA Lifeguard, Historic Trails, and other special awards? Why just those? And who's putting out those other knots that I later found out that I'm not supposed to wear?" This page explains this fact as well....

Each emblem is shown as it should be worn on the official field uniforms of the BSA -- old, new, current. Some are listed with the old khaki background; others are listed with the current khaki-tan background; and some are listed with both. The BSA IS ONLY CURRENTLY PRODUCING ONE VERSION OF EACH KNOT EMBLEM.

I was tasked with providing information on what the knot emblem -- the emblem which will be shown here on the left side of the page -- looks like in color, a little history of how the BSA chose the color(s) for the knot emblem. as well as who is entitled to wear the square knot emblem. There will also be a summary of how the actual award is earned, received or presented, how to wear it (to insure that you have the knot emblem "right side up", the scans of each knot is shown HOW IT SHOULD BE WORN ON THE UNIFORM) and finally what kind of award it is:

Over the years, many Scouts and Scouters associate the cloth "knot emblems" shown here with the actual award, as in "I'm going to earn my Scouters' Training knot". The BSA as well as folks like myself have spent a lot of time explaining and in many cases, informing Scouters, that "the actual award consists of a medal, medallion, plaque, certificate and/or patch...the SQUARE KNOT INSIGNIA REPRESENTS the award or emblem when worn informally on the uniform -- it is NOT the award!!"

Some local Councils have also informed their volunteers INCORRECTLY that "the BSA is no longer issuing out medals and plaques and the only thing they are giving out is the square knot and the certificate". This is UNTRUE, says the BSA's Council Support Division's Director. If your Council has stated something like this, the BSA's Council Support Division would like to know; they have estimated that there is ONE Scouters' Training Award medal in storage for EVERY REGISTERED VOLUNTEER SCOUTER and there are similar stockpiles of those other award medals and plaques. All the Council has to do is pay for it. Some Councils may have you to pay for your own award, which may be "tacky" but it is one way of the Council cutting costs. The address for the BSA's Council Support Division is:

Council Support Division, SUM 108
National Office, Boy Scouts of America
1325 West Walnut Hill Lane
Irving, Texas 75061-2079

I have incorporated where I can, actual scans or photos of the ACTUAL AWARD which the square knot represents.

There are many people to thank for the scans and photos: The folks of the US Scouting Service Project, staffs at the Supply, Volunteer Training and Relationships Divisions at the BSA National Office; Jeremy, Bob Cylkowski, Paul Davies, Robert Rescott, Laura Sullivan, Terrell Clay, David, and Jay Oakman .

There are other Scouters whom have provided me with scans of square knot insignia as well as other items. If I have not credited you properly, please contact me and let me know so that I may do so. While I would love to say that this is completely my project, it isn't; I just collected all of the bits and pieces from everyone else and posted it all here for you and other Scouters to view and use.

How Are These Awards Worn?

The square knots illustrated above (and others which are presented by local Councils or by other national Scouting organizations) are worn only on the field uniform of the Cub, Scout, Venturer/Sea Scout or Scouter earning/receiving the award.

As a general rule, square knot emblems are NOT worn when the medal, medallion or device is worn...the knots are designed for informal, everyday wear by the Scout or Scouter. The BSA has approved however, the wearing of both knots and the medals/ medallions if you only own one uniform, although this would be considered not the preferred way.

The BSA has established an upper limit on the number of square knot insignia which should be worn on the offiical uniform -- it is "15 to 18" per a Supply Division bulletin which was distributed to the field in April, 2004. However, to be on the "safe side", it is recommended that you wear fifteen (that's five rows of three square knot emblems) with the official khaki-tan or green field uniforms; and 12 with the current "Centennial" tan field uniform shirt.

This has NOT stopped many Scouters that have received more than this number in wearing the ones that they choose to.

At one time, there WAS a sequence or "precedence listing" for the wearing of the various knot emblem representing national and regional awards. As of 1974, there is NO wearing sequence for the square knots; each Scout or Scouter decides to wear or not wear the knot(s), can wear a few or all of the ones he or she has received or earned, and in the order and manner on the uniform that they choose to do so.

In order to provide some form of uniformity, the BSA's Uniform and Insignia Committee came up many years back with a wearing arrangement for the knot emblems on the field uniform. It is based upon the wearing of military ribbons on military uniforms -- three on a row, with additional ribbons centeerd on top of the full rows of three. It is illustrated below:

illustration of how to wear square knot insignia
knot arrangement illustration

Knot emblems are worn centered on the left side of the uniform, above the left pocket and in rows of three with the bottom edge of the knot emblem(s) touching the top edge of the pocket flap. Subsequent rows of knots are placed above the initial set, in rows of three and again, at the discretion of the wearer.

Another Scouter wrote me and suggested an alternative way of wearing the square knot insignia:

alternative way of displaying square knot insignia (submitted by Neil Lupton)
alternative knot arrangement illustration

In his case, the knot emblems are worn flush left as you see the left pocket of the uniform, above the left pocket and in rows of three with the bottom edge of the knot emblem(s) touching the top edge of the pocket flap. Subsequent rows of knots are placed above the initial set, in rows of three and again, at the discretion of the wearer as shown. He stated he does it this way so that he does not have to rearrange the emblems as he receives or earns a subsequent award.

Either method may be used, although the first one was published as part of the BSA's Insignia Control Guide in 1973.

In the past, professional (career) Scouters did NOT wear volunteer training awards or other awards for anything other than achievement and training. However, a message from then-Chief Scout Executive Ben Love to the professional cadre in the early 90s reversed that "unwritten policy" and encouraged professional members of Scouting to wear all of the square knots that they are entitled to wear.

A longstanding restriction in allowing exceptional professionals to receive the Silver Beaver and District/Division Award of Merit Awards as well as several other service awards was also lifted. See the Service Awards knot page for more details.

Venturers wearing a "Distinctive Dress Identity" (DDI) should wear square knot emblems only on the (kelly) green field uniform in the same manner.It will look very funny to wear emblems with a tan background on the (kelly) green uniform, but the BSA is no longer creating special versions of the most common knot awards with green, blue or white backgrounds for the Venturer uniforms. In response to this, some firms/organizations have cropped up to provide unofficial versions of those knot emblems featuring white, dark blue, or green backgrounds. While those emblems are NOT approved officially, with permission from a local Council's Scout Executive they may be worn by those Scouters and Venturers who qualify for wearing the existing tan backgrounded awards.

The Ship's Store carry some square knots on either white or black/dark blue backgrounds, for wear on Sea Scout uniforms. Again, please note that those knots are NOT official BSA square knots. Note that the knots may also be worn on any other DDI that the Crew or Ship agree upon and as long as it is worn correctly and neatly.

Mike Walton welcome your comments and additions to this listing. Please send additions in *.JPG or *.GIF format to him, and he will update the site with your information and credit you or your local Council for the submission.


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