Those little square knots are a big deal

Look at an experienced Scouter’s uniform and you’ll likely see a row or more of colorful embroidered knots above his or her left pocket. These small rectangular patches represent honors and awards the Scouter has received. Here’s an overview.

How many knot awards are available?

There are about 30 knots, from the Alumni Award knot to the William T. Hornaday Award knot. A few — like the new Scouting Service Award knot — represent multiple awards. (That knot, introduced in 2017, may be worn by Scouters who have earned the Asian American Spirit of Scouting Service Award, the ¡Scouting…Vale la Pena! Service Award, the Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award or the Special Needs Scouting Service Award.)

How are the awards earned?

Every award is different. Some, such as the Scouter’s Training Award, have set requirements anyone can complete. Others, such as the District Award of Merit, are bestowed on the recipient (typically through a nomination process).

Do any of the awards recognize youth achievement?

A few do, including the Arrow of Light knot and the Eagle Scout Award knot. A few others could represent either youth or adult achievement, such as the Honor Medal knot.

Can a Scouter who has earned a religious emblem as both a youth and adult wear two knots?

Yes. The adult knot shows a purple knot on a silver background; the youth knot shows a silver knot on a purple background.

How many knots may be worn?

There is no set maximum, but the BSA recommends you wear no more than nine: three rows of three knots each. There’s no set order in which the knots should appear.

Is it true that there’s a right side up for knots?

Yes. Most knots feature a square knot, and the loop of the knot that comes in front of the standing part is always to the wearer’s right. It’s easy to spot the difference when the knot uses contrasting colors, because you’ll see what looks like a capital letter C.

What are the knots with tiny pins on them?

Those pins are called “devices” and provide additional information about the award. For example, someone who has earned the Scouter’s Training Award in both a pack and troop would wear a single Scouter’s Training Award knot with Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting devices attached. A recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award would wear the Eagle Scout Award knot (or the National Eagle Scout Association Life Member knot) with a DESA device attached.

Some awards are also represented by medals. When should those be worn?

Medals are intended for formal occasions like courts of honor and council recognition events. You can wear up to five medals at a time, pinned in a single row immediately above the seam of the left pocket.

Where can I find more information?

Start with the Guide to Awards and Insignia (No. 33066), which includes color photos of most of the knots. You can access the guide at bit.ly/InsigniaGuide. For award requirements, visit bit.ly/BSAAwardsCentral

12 Comments

  1. I’ve taught the “Adult Awards” class at University of Scouting multiple times and I’m always surprised how many adults don’t know that much about the knots who have been in scouting for several years. It’s always a pleasure to see an adult recognized for their contributions and commitment to youth. Wear those knots proudly!

    • The knots are a source of lots of debate. I’m a knot loving Scouter, to be sure. I’m also a proud veteran of the US Army and I have a bit of playfulness when it comes to the “Scouty Lettuce”. I did part of my WB ticket on ways to improve adult recognition in the unit, too, because as Lyle’s said, some don’t even know about the knots.

      I have to say, there really are not more that three knots available to adults serving in the BSA now. Not unless you’re also serving your district/council, too. IF you’re DL, or CM, you can earn one. IF you do the Scouter’s Training Award, you can earn one, too.

      BUT, that’s mostly it for the average adult volunteer giving “one hour a week”.

      Heck, my friend in the cub unit served as CC for four years and never qualified for a knot. He was as active as any of us. He wasn’t CM, or a DL, though. The guy who was CM has a row of knots. Only difference–he was eligible for them.

      I have four knots. I have no options for more at this point. Not really.
      I don’t need, to even care to have more Scouty Lettuce. But, it’s silly to have no available uniform ornaments for the adults serving the BSA and its youth to earn for doing the work.

  2. I’d really like to see another knot offered for an Uber achieving merit badge counselor. Years of tenture, maybe teach 2-3 different merit badges and perhaps some set number of scouts completing a badge

    I know, there’s plenty of knots to choose from but it might be a decent way to widen adult involvement

  3. Can someone at National please show me an example of how five medals pinned in a single row fit above a uniform pocket? Few have this problem but those of us who do could use some direction.

    • The guidance is up to five. That does not mean that five will actually fit in a single row. The actual count is more or less limited to however many medals you choose to wear in a single row (not to exceed five)

  4. I think that after the recent blog on Bryan on Scouting dealing with religious awards that it should be said that if you are wearing a knot that represents a certain award, you should not also wear the medal. Pick one.

  5. The latest “Guide to Uniforms and Insignia” has updated the language to limit the number of adult knots to three rows (nine total) that can be worn. While I understand the philosophy that places limits on wearing “excess insignia,” I think this dictate is unnecessary. It seems to me that, provided that the leader wears the knots correctly, there should be no particular limit on how many can be worn. I would never suggest that a leader choose between wearing their Unit Award of Merit or their Silver Beaver Award, or wear both as long as they quit wearing their choice of God and Country or Eagle Scout knots. Perhaps the best recommendation is to remind everyone that the document is called the “Guide” to Uniforms and Insignia – not the “Regulations.”

    Jay brings up an interesting issue. Some leaders love them, while others really don’t care. A few are dead-set against them. I suppose I look on adult awards as small, token of tasteful recognition for years of faithful volunteer work. This follows the Napoleonic philosophy that “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” While it should be the decision of the recipient whether or not to wear any of the knots they’ve earned, at their discretion, good leaders should make sure they take the time to publicly thank the people that helped them provide an excellent program for the youth members. The knots can be a point of pride for long volunteer service, promote some level of added confidence to concerned parents, and even serve as a source of inspiration for the Scouts.

  6. Why is there no knot for induction into the order of the arrow…? This is an order you are nominated for, voted into and fulfill the requirements necessary to become a loyal lodge member. As everyone knows the order of the arrow also opens the doors of many more earning and learning opportunities, as a further extension of the scouting world…
    There’s one for the completion of the arrow of light, which of course, clears your path to graduate into Scouts BSA…

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