United States Coast Guard

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Coast Guard shield
Coast Guard shield

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is the coast guard of the United States. One of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and the smallest armed service of the United States, it has a broad and important role in homeland security, law enforcement, search and rescue, marine environmental pollution response and the maintenance of intercoastal and offshore aids to navigation (ATON). It also lays claim of being the United States' oldest continuous seagoing service.

The Coast Guard's motto is Semper Paratus, meaning "Always Ready".

The Coast Guard began as the Revenue Cutter Service which was founded on August 4, 1790 as part of the Department of the Treasury. An act of the U.S. Congress created the Coast Guard in 1915, with the merger of the Revenue Cutter Service and the United States Lifesaving Service. The US Lighthouse Service was merged into the Coast Guard in 1939. The legal basis for the Coast Guard is Title 14 of the United States Code, which states: "The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times." During wartime, the Coast Guard reports to the Department of Defense.

The Coast Guard later moved to the Department of Transportation in 1967, and on March 1, 2003 it became part of the Department of Homeland Security.



Table of Organization of the Coast Guard
Parade Standard of the U.S. Coast Guard
Parade Standard of the U.S. Coast Guard

The headquarters of the Coast Guard is on 2100 Second Street, SW, in Washington, DC. In 2005, the Coast Guard announced plans to relocate to the grounds of the former St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington.

Senior officers

The Commandant of the Coast Guard is the Coast Guard's senior officer, who, by law, holds the rank of Admiral. The Commandant is selected for a 4-year term, which may be renewed for additional 4-year periods. The current incumbent is Admiral Thomas H. Collins, who assumed command on May 30, 2002.

The Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard is Vice Admiral Terry Cross.

The Chief of Staff of the Coast Guard is Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen. He also serves as Commanding Officer of Coast Guard Headquarters. After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf states in September 2005, Admiral Allen was sent to coordinate rescue and relief operations under Federal Emergency Management Administrator Michael Brown. Mr. Brown was relieved of day-to-day operations on September 9 and Admiral Allen was placed in charge of the overall effort.

The Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (MCPOCG) is the senior enlisted person of the Coast Guard and serves as an advisor to the Commandant. The current MCPOCG is Frank A. Welch, who assumed this position in 2002.

The Superintendent of the United States Coast Guard Academy is Rear Admiral (upper half) James C. Van Sice.

Each Coast Guard District has a Director of the Auxiliary (DIRAUX). The current Chief Director of the Auxiliary (CHDIRAUX) is Captain David B. Hill. He is responsible for directing the operations of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, a volunteer organization.

Regional responsibilities

The Coast Guard is divided into two Areas, the Atlantic and the Pacific, each of which is commanded by a vice admiral, with each being designated Maritime Defense Zones.

The Coast Guard is then organized into districts, each responsible for a portion of the nation's coastline.

U.S. Coast Guard Districts
District Region District Office Area of Responsibility
First District Atlantic Boston, Massachusetts New England states, New York, and northern New Jersey
Fifth District Atlantic Portsmouth, Virginia Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina
Seventh District Atlantic Miami, Florida South Carolina, Georgia, and eastern Florida
Eighth District Atlantic New Orleans, Louisiana Inland waters of the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico
Ninth District Atlantic Cleveland, Ohio Great Lakes
Eleventh District Pacific Alameda, California California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah
Thirteenth District Pacific Seattle, Washington Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana
Fourteenth District Pacific Honolulu, Hawaii Hawaii and Pacific territories
Seventeenth District Pacific Juneau, Alaska Alaska

In each district, large operational centers known as Groups are being merged with Marine Safety Offices and being redesignated Sectors. Smaller boat stations are Stations, while aircraft fly from Coast Guard Air Stations. Stations report to Sectors, while Sectors and Coast Guard Air Stations report to District offices.

Coast Guard Air Stations

The first Coast Guard Air Station was established in 1920 at Morehead City, North Carolina. Another Air Station was established in Biloxi, Mississippi between 1933 and 1947, and yet a third at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York.

First District

CGAS Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Fifth District

CGAS Atlantic City, New Jersey
CGAS Elizabeth City, North Carolina: This is both an operational and a training air station. Enlisted Guardsmen in aviation ratings are taught at its Aviation Technical Training Center.

Seventh District

CGAS Clearwater, Florida
CGAS Miami, Florida
CGAS Savannah, Georgia
CGAS Borinquen, Puerto Rico

Eighth District

CGAS Houston, Texas
CGAS Corpus Christi, Texas
Coast Guard Aviation Training Center, Mobile, Alabama

Ninth District

CGAS Detroit, Michigan
CGAS Traverse City, Michigan

Eleventh District

CGAS Humboldt Bay, California
CGAS Sacramento, California
CGAS San Francisco, California
CGAS Los Angeles, California
CGAS San Diego, California

Thirteenth District

CGAS Astoria, Oregon
CGAS North Bend, Oregon
CGAS Port Angeles, Washington

Fourteenth District

CGAS Barbers Point, Hawaii

Seventeenth District

CGAS Kodiak, Alaska
CGAS Sitka, Alaska


Officer Corps

Commissioned officers join the Coast Guard by several means:

U.S. Coast Guard Academy

The United States Coast Guard Academy is located on the Thames River in New London, Connecticut. It is the only military academy, apart from the specialized Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, to which no Congressional or Presidential appointments are made. All cadets enter by competitive examination. About 170 cadets are commissioned ensigns each year.

Officer Candidate School

In addition to the Coast Guard Academy, officers may enter the Coast Guard through a 17-week Officers Candidate School (OCS) at New London, Connecticut. Graduates of OCS must serve 3 years' active duty. About 70 candidates are commissioned ensigns, with a few commissioned as lieutenant junior grade in each class.

In addition to United States citizens, foreign cadets and candidates also attend Coast Guard officer training.


Newly enlisted personnel are sent to eight weeks of Basic Training at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May in Cape May, NJ. The training schedule includes:

  • Physical fitness
  • Water survival and swimming qualifications
  • Wellness and nutrition
  • Self discipline
  • Military skills
  • Military bearing

Following graduation, most members are sent to their first unit while they await orders to attend advanced training, in Class "A" Schools, in their chosen rating, the naval term for military occupational specialty (MOS). Some members go directly to "A" School upon graduation from Basic training.

Petty officers follow career development paths similar to those of the Navy.

Enlisted Coast Guard members who have reached the pay grade of E-7, or Chief Petty Officer, must attend the U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Academy at Petaluma, California, or an equivalent Department of Defense school, to be promoted to pay grade E-8. United States Air Force master sergeants, as well as international students representing their respective maritime services, are also eligible to attend the CPO Academy. The basic themes of this school are:

  • Professionalism
  • Leadership
  • Communications
  • Systems Thinking and Lifelong Learning

Ships and aircraft

The U.S. Coast Guard uses cutters and small boats on the water, and fixed- and rotary wing (helicopters) aircraft in the air.


A cutter is any Coast Guard vessel 65 feet (20 meters) in length or greater, with accommodations for crew to live on board. Larger cutters (over 180 feet (55 m) in length) are controlled by Area Commands (Atlantic Area or Pacific Area). Smaller cutters come under control of District Commands. Cutters usually carry a motor surf boat and/or a rigid hull inflatable boat. Polar-class icebreakers (WAGB) carry an Arctic Survey Boat (ASB) and Landing Craft.

Any Coast Guard crew has law-enforcement authority and can conduct armed boardings.

378-foot long endurance cutter Hamilton, commissioned in 1967 (U.S. Coast Guard Photo)
378-foot long endurance cutter Hamilton, commissioned in 1967 (U.S. Coast Guard Photo)


A USCG HC-130 Hercules near Oahu
A USCG HC-130 Hercules near Oahu

The Guard owns about 210 aircraft. Fixed-wing aircraft, such as (HC-130 Hercules turboprops and HU-25 Guardian jets) operate from Air Stations on long-duration missions. Helicopters (HH-65 Dolphin, HH-60 Jayhawk and MH-68 Stingray) operate from Air Stations, Air Facilities, and flight-deck equipped Cutters, and can rescue people or intercept smuggling vessels.

The Coast Guard flies five aircraft types:

In addition to regular Coast Guard aircraft, privately-owned general aviation aircraft are used by Coast Guard Auxiliarists for patrols and search-and-rescue missions.


USCG motor life boat escorting the Spirit of Ontario I Fast Ferry into the port of Rochester, New York on 2004-08-08
USCG motor life boat escorting the Spirit of Ontario I Fast Ferry into the port of Rochester, New York on 2004-08-08

The Coast Guard operates about 1,400 boats, defined as vessels less than 65 feet (20 meters) long, which generally operate near shore and on inland waterways. The most common is 41 feet (12.5 meters) long, of which the Guard has more than 200; the shortest is 12 feet (4 meters).

The Coast Guard recently introduced a standard search-and-rescue (SAR) and response boat, the is 25-foot Defender-class boat, to replace nonstandard boats and platforms at Coast Guard stations. The Defender class can go faster than 40 knots (75 km/h), mount an M-60 or M-240 machine gun in the bow, and be transported by a C-130 Hercules aircraft (or, more prosaically, a boat trailer.) The Defender class is also a rigid hull inflatable boat, with twin outboard motors.

Symbols of the Coast Guard

Core Values of the Coast Guard

The Coast Guard, like the other armed services of the United States, has a set of core values which serve as basic ethical guidelines to Coast Guard members. As listed in the recruit pamphlet, The Helmsman, they are:

  • Honor: Absolute integrity is our standard. A Coast Guardsman demonstrates honor in all things: never lying, cheating, or stealing. We do the right thing because it is the right thing--all the time.
  • Respect: We value the dignity and worth of people: whether a stranded boater, an immigrant, or a fellow Coast Guardsman; we honor, protect, and assist.
  • Devotion to Duty: A Coast Guardsman is dedicated to the accomplishment of our missions: Lifesaving, Law Enforcement, Environmental Protection, National Defense. We are loyal and accountable to the public trust. We welcome responsibility.

Coast Guard Ensign

The Coast Guard Ensign (flag) was first flown by the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790 to distinguish revenue cutters from merchant ships. The order stated the Ensign would be "16 perpendicular stripes, alternate red and white, the union of the ensign to be the arms of the United States in a dark blue on a white field." (There were 16 states in the United States at the time). This flag is flown only as a symbol of law enforcement authority and is never carried as a parade standard.

Coast Guard Standard

The Coast Guard Standard is used in parades and carries the battle honors of the U.S. Coast Guard. It was derived from the jack of the Coast Guard ensign which used to fly from the stern of revenue cutters. The emblem is a blue eagle from the coat of arms of the United States on a white field. Above the eagle are the words "UNITED STATES COAST GUARD;" below the eagle is the inscription "1790."

The Racing Stripe

The Racing Stripe was designed in 1964 to give the Coast Guard a distinctive, modern image and first used in 1967. The symbol is a narrow blue bar, a narrow white stripe between, and a broad red bar with the Coast Guard shield centered. The stripes are canted at a 64 degree angle, signifying the year the "Racing Stripe" was designed. The "Stripe" has been adopted for the use of other coast guards, such as the Canadian Coast Guard, the Italian Guardia Costiera, and the Australian Customs Service. Auxiliary vessels maintained by the Coast Guard also carry the "Stripe" in inverted colors.

Semper Paratus

The official march of the Coast Guard is "Semper Paratus" (Latin for "Always Ready"). The origin of the phrase is obscure; however, the Coast Guard Historian's Office notes the first use was by the New Orleans Bee newspaper in the 1830s, referring to the actions of the Revenue Cutter Service.

The original music and lyrics (and the version here) were written by Captain Francis Saltus Van Boskerck in 1927. The current verse, as well as a second chorus, were written by Homer Smith, 3rd Naval District Coast Guard quartet, Chief Cole, Walton Butterfield in 1943. In 1969 the first line of each verse was changed. Verse 1

From Aztec Shore to Artic Zone,
To Europe and Far East,
The Flag is carried by our ships
In times of war and peace;
And never have we struck it yet,
In spite of foemen's might,
Who cheered our crews and cheered again
For showing how to fight.


We're always ready for the call,
We place our trust in Thee.
Through surf and storm and howling gale,
High shall our purpose be,
"Semper Paratus" is our guide,
Our fame, our glory, too.
To fight to save or fight and die!
Aye! Coast Guard, we are for you.

Verse 2

"Surveyor" and "Narcissus,"
The "Eagle" and "Dispatch,"
The "Hudson" and the "Tampa,"
These names are hard to match;
From Barrow's shores to Paraguay,
Great Lakes' or Ocean's wave,
The Coast Guard fights through storms and winds
To punish or to save.

Verse 3

Aye! we've been "Always Ready"
To do, to fight, or die!
Write glory to the shield we wear
In letters to the sky.
To sink the foe or save the maimed
Our mission and our pride.
We'll carry on 'til Kingdom Come
Ideals for which we've died.


The Coast Guard carries out five basic missions:

  • maritime safety
  • maritime mobility
  • maritime security
  • national defense
  • protection of natural resources.

A given unit within the Coast Guard may carry out more than one mission at once. For example, a 25-foot RHIB assigned to security around a key city also watches out for out-of-place or missing aids to navigation, pollution, and unsafe boating practices.

Maritime safety

Search and Rescue

The Coast Guard has responsibility for search and rescue (SAR) operations in U.S. and international waters. Inland rescues are usually performed by 25-foot, 27-foot, and 41-foot (7.6 m, 8.2 m, and 12.5 m) boats. HH-60 helicopters serve on both the high seas and inshore.

Search and rescue operations are numerous and varied. A sample of operations in February 2005 included:

  • CGS Chetco River, Oregon, dispatched its rigid-hull inflatable boat with a crew and an emergency medical technician on board to evacuate a fisherman whose hand was nearly amputated in an accident. The fisherman's hand was reattached.
  • A helicopter rescued two recreational snowmobilers in Anchor Bay, Michigan, whose vehicle crashed through the ice.
  • Boats from CGS Point Allerton in Hull came to the assistance of the fishing vessel Lady Lorraine, which was on fire off Scituate, Massachusetts.
  • Aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay, California, searched waters off Oregon for a missing light aircraft.

Large-scale search and rescue operations occur less frequently, but often involve many Coast Guard vessels and aircraft from a large area. Helicopters and rescue swimmers participated in the 36-hour rescue of six crew members from the 570-foot tanker Bow Mariner, which exploded and sank off of Chincoteague, Virginia, on February 28, 2004. Two rescue swimmers were awarded the Coast Guard Medal for their extraordinary efforts to keep the rescued mariners alive.

Another large-scale operation took place in December 2004 in the Aleutian Islands, when the cargo ship Seledang Ayu, of Malaysian registry, broke in two in heavy seas. The Seledang Ayu carried soybeans, 424,000 gallons (1,600 m³) of fuel oil, and 18,000 gallons (68 m³) of diesel. The operation saved 12 of the ship's 18 crew members and prevented harm to nearby wildlife. Six of the ship's crew members died when a Coast Guard HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crashed during the rescue.

Marine safety

The Coast Guard operates a Marine Safety Office (MSO) in each major port in the United States. These offices inspect commercial vessels, respond to pollution, manage waterways, and licensing merchant mariners and charter boat captains. The MSO also drafts recommendations for the transit of liquid natural gas carrier vessels.

Recreational boating safety

The Coast Guard and its Auxiliary (see below), working with the U.S. Power Squadrons, perform Vessel Safety Checks (VSC) on recreational boaters throughout the country. Qualified Vessel Safety Check inspectors check for proper registration, an adequate number and type of personal flotation devices (PFDs), loaded fire extinguishers, and the ability to send a distress signal, either visibly by flare or flag, or by radio. Although Auxiliarist and Power Squadron VSC inspectors do not have law enforcement authority, Coast Guardsmen can issue citations to vessels without adequate equipment, and in extraordinary cases order a recreational boat to return to port.

International Ice Patrol

Following the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912, an international conference of major Atlantic maritime powers agreed to fund USCG patrols to locate and report icebergs in the North Atlantic, in particular off the Grand Banks. The International Ice Patrol was founded as a result of this conference. The IIP was continued into 1941, during the World War II, to allow the United States a legal pretext to sail to Greenland. Shortly after the War, the IIP resumed operations flying three modified B-17 bombers. Today, this mission is carried out by Coast Guard HC-130 aircraft from CGAS Elizabeth City, North Carolina, forward-deployed to Gander, Newfoundland. These aircraft report sightings to the International Ice Patrol headquarters in Groton, Connecticut. Officers assigned to the IIP are required to hold not only a security clearance, but possess at least a master's degree in Marine science.

Maritime mobility

The Coast Guard maintains the LORAN-C and DGPS radio navigation systems, as well as buoys, daymarks, and other visual aids to navigation [ATONs] in U.S. waters and in selected foreign waters—a major activity of Coast Guard buoy tenders, and of special Auxiliary patrols. The Coast Guard has three large icebreakers, and many cutters can clear ice-clogged waterways for essential seagoing traffic. The Coast Guard operates many U.S. drawbridges, including the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Washington, D.C..

Homeland and maritime security

Maritime security missions are coordinated through the Coast Guard Office of Law Enforcement, which is part of the Operations Directorate headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Immediately after 9/11, the Coast Guard imposed restrictions on traffic in American waters. Vessels over 300 tons displacement must file notice within 96 hours of estimated time of arrival in American waters, or 24 hours for short voyages. Liquified natural gas carriers are forbidden to enter American waters without escort and to anchor near major cities. Coast Guard and Auxiliary units patrol key harbors and waterfronts and intercept foreign merchant vessels for identification and crew checks. The Coast Guard stepped up patrols in waters near New York City and Washington in 2004 after receiving reports of increased threats.

Maritime security patrols increase in number and intensity around special events, such as the Super Bowl, national political conventions, and Independence Day celebrations. Such patrols were provided during the 2004 Republican Party national convention in New York City; the June 2004 G-8 Summit at Sea Island, Georgia near Savannah, Ga.; and the January 20, 2005, presidential inauguration in the Potomac and Anacostia rivers of Washington, D.C. In addition, following the terrorist bombings in London on July 7, 2005, Coast Guard units were placed on a higher level of alert.

Coast Guard helicopters enforce temporary flight restriction zones in Rotary Wing Air Intercept missions with the North American Air Defense Command, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the United States Secret Service.

Proposed assets
Proposed assets

As part of the Coast Guard's "Deepwater" program, cutters will carry 70 unarmed surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles.

Port and Waterways Security

The Coast Guard is responsible for the security of 361 U.S. ports and 95,000 statute miles (150,000 km) of waterways.

The local Coast Guard commander has legal authority over shipping in American waters as Captain of the Port. This role has increased in importance since the Sept. 11 attacks. The Captain of the Port can declare inland waters in his jurisdiction to be "special security zones", wherein commercial vessels must report their movements to the nearest Coast Guard station.

The Coast Guard has dedicated Port Security Units (PSUs) that can be deployed around the U.S. or overseas, as in the Persian Gulf War. Coast Guard PSUs from Seattle, Washington; San Pedro, California; Port Clinton, Ohio and St. Petersburg, Florida were called up for active duty in the Persian Gulf between December of 2002 and December of 2004. Coast Guard members also jointly staff the U.S. Navy's Harbor Defense Command Units (HDCUs), part of the Naval Coastal Warfare command structure. Coast Guard members assigned to HDCUs have served in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, Korea and elsewhere around the world. Both PSUs and HDCUs are primarily staffed by Reserve personnel. In 2004, many HDCUs were redesignated as Naval Coastal Warfare Squadrons (NCWRONs).

Drug interdiction

The Coast Guard is the lead agency in maritime drug interdiction. It shares legal responsibility with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Coast Guard units coordinate their Caribbean Sea activities with the U.S. Navy, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Netherlands Navy.

Coast Guard missions were responsible for about 52% of the cocaine seized by the U.S. government in 2002. For example, in February 2004, the USCGC Hamilton (WHEC-715), based in San Diego, Califoria, operating north of the Galapagos Islands, seized 6,000 pounds of cocaine from a vessel. The Hamilton launched a helicopter that fired at and disabled the vessel's engine. Another vessel with 2,600 pounds of cocaine was also seized.

Alien migrant interdiction

The Coast Guard, especially its Florida-based Seventh District, enforces U.S. immigration law at sea. Major areas of operations are off the Florida coast, the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and Guam. Many of these missions are also search-and-rescue missions, since many migrants take to sea in unseaworthy vessels.

However, interdiction does not always succeed. In October 2002, for example, a 50-foot (15 m) wooden freighter carrying 220 undocumented Haitians ran aground near Miami.

US Exclusive Economic Zone and Living Marine Resource

The Coast Guard's legal authority to enforce fisheries laws flows from the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1976, which extended U.S. authority over fisheries to the 200 miles (370.4 kilometers) authorized by international law. Their missions include:

  1. Protecting the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone from foreign encroachment
  2. Enforcing domestic fisheries law
  3. Maintaining international fisheries agreements

Law and treaty enforcement

Law and treaty enforcement account for about 1/3 of the Coast Guard's budget. Title 14, U.S. Code, Section 2 states: "The Coast Guard shall enforce or assist in the enforcement of all applicable laws on, under and over the high seas and waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States."

National Defense

During wartime, the Coast Guard falls under the operational orders of the United States Navy. In other times, Coast Guard Port Security Units are often sent overseas to guard the security of ports. The Coast Guard also jointly staffs the U.S. Navy's Harbor Defense Commands, which oversee defense efforts in foreign littoral combat and inshore areas. In addition, in 2004, several 110-foot Patrol boats were shipped to the Persian Gulf to prevent arms and drug smuggling to Iraq.

In December 2004, the USCGC Munro (WHEC-724), homeported in Alameda, California, deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, to provide maritime force protection, coastal and terminal security, and maritime interception for the U.S. forces.

Protection of natural resources

Marine pollution education, prevention, response and enforcement

Marine pollution occurs not only through carelessness, but through accident. In the event of large vessels sinking, after the rescue of any crew, the Coast Guard's next goal is to prevent oil and other hazardous materials from coming ashore.

For example, on November 26, 2004, the Athos I, a 750-foot cargo vessel of Cypriot registry, lost 30,000 gallons (114 m³) of heavy crude oil near Philadelphia as it was en route to the Citgo oil facility in Paulsboro, New Jersey. This incident triggered a response from the Coast Guard's Philadelphia Marine Safety Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, the New Jersey State Police, and from Citgo.

The Coast Guard's role was firstly, to minimize the damage from the spill, by setting up protective booms around the spill, and secondly, to work with the New Jersey State Police in air and boat patrols to assess the damage.

Foreign vessel inspections

According to Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations, vessels entering American waters must provide in advance to the Coast Guard data about the ship's cargo, the names and passport numbers of each crew member, details about the ship's ownership and agents, and a list of recent port calls in a "Notice of Arrival" form. This information is collated in the National Vessel Movement Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and shared with U.S. Naval Intelligence in Suitland, Maryland as well as with the Port State Control (PSC) offices in major ports throughout the United States. From there, the Captain of the Port or his representatives in the PSC determines if the vessel involved needs a security inspection, a safety inspection, or both. Vessels must be inspected every 6 months.

In September 2002, Coast Guard inspectors searched a container ship in New Jersey based on intelligence information and because the inspectors detected radiation in the vessel. The cargo turned out to be ceramic tiles.

Living marine resources protection

Marine and environmental science

History of the Coast Guard

Early history

The Coast Guard's predecessor service, the Revenue Cutter Service, was founded on August 4, 1790, when the Tariff Act permitted construction of ten cutters and recruitment of 100 revenue officers. From 1790, when the Continental Navy was disbanded, to 1798, when the United States Navy was created, the Revenue Cutter Service provided the only armed American presence on the sea. Revenue Marine cutters were involved in the Quasi-War with France from 1798 to 1799, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War.

Another predecessor service, the U.S. Lighthouse Service, was organized by statute in 1789.

In 1794, the Revenue Cutter Service was given the mission of preventing trading in slaves from Africa to the United States. Between 1794 and 1865, the Service captured approximately 500 slave ships. In 1808, the Service was responsible for enforcing President Thomas Jefferson's embargo closing U.S. ports to European trade.

During the American Civil War, the Revenue Service cutter Harriet Lane fired the first shots of the war at sea at the steamer Nashville during the siege of Fort Sumter. A Confederate Revenue Marine was formed by crewmen who left the Revenue Cutter Service. Federal cutters were assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

In the 1880s through the 1890s, the Revenue Cutter Service was instrumental in the development of Alaska. Captain "Hell Roaring" Michael A. Healy, master of the USRC Bear, rescued whalers trapped at Point Barrow, Alaska, and brought reindeer to Alaska to provide a steady food source. Healy had the reputation as a rough sailing master and was court-martialed several times, but was restored to rank again and again. During the Snake River gold rush of 1900, the Revenue Cutter Service returned destitute miners to Seattle from Alaska.

The Coast Guard took its unofficial motto, "You have to go out, but you don't have to come back," from the 1899 regulations of the United States Life Saving Service, which stated:

"In attempting a rescue the keeper will select either the boat, breeches buoy, or life car, as in his judgement is best suited to effectively cope with the existing conditions. If the device first selected fails after such trial as satisfies him that no further attempt with it is feasible, he will resort to one of the others, and if that fails, then to the remaining one, and he will not desist from his efforts until by actual trial the impossibility of effecting a rescue is demonstrated. The statement of the keeper that he did not try to use the boat because the sea or surf was too heavy will not be accepted unless attempts to launch it were actually made and failed [underlining added], or unless the conformation of the coast—as bluffs, precipitous banks, etc.—is such as to unquestionably preclude the use of a boat."

These regulations were repeated in the 1934 Coast Guard regulations.

Birth of the modern Coast Guard

In 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lifesaving Service and the Steamship Inspection Bureau were merged to form the Coast Guard. The Lighthouse Service was merged into the Coast Guard in 1939.


In the 1920s, the Coast Guard was given several former U.S. Navy four-stack destroyers to help enforce Prohibition. The effort was not entirely successful, due to the slowness of the destroyers. However, the mission provided many Coast Guard officers and petty officers with operational experience which proved invaluable in World War II.

World War II

Before the American entry into World War II, cutters of the Coast Guard patrolled the North Atlantic. President Roosevelt ordered the International Ice Patrol to continue as a legal pretext to patrol Greenland, whose cryolite mines were vital to refining aluminum and whose geographic location allowed accurate weather forecasts to be made for Europe. The Greenland patrol was maintained by the Coast Guard for the duration of the war.

The USCGC Modoc, was peripherally involved in the chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck.

Shortly after Germany declared war on the United States, German submarines began Operation Drumbeat ("Kesselpauke"), sinking ships off the American coast. Many Coast Guard cutters were involved in rescue operations following German attacks on American shipping. The USCGC Icarus, a 165-foot (50 m) cutter that previously had been a rumrunner chaser during Prohibition, sank U-352 on May 9, 1942, and the USCGC Thetis sank U-157 on June 10, 1942. During the war, Coast Guard units sank 12 German and two Japanese submarines and captured two German surface vessels.

In addition to antisubmarine operations, the Coast Guard worked closely with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Many of the coxswains of American landing craft, such as the Higgins boat (LCVP), used in amphibious invasions were Coast Guardsmen who had received amphibious training with the cooperation of the U.S. Marine Corps. Coast Guard cutters and ships partially manned by Coast Guardsmen were used in the North African invasion of November 1942 Operation Torch) and the invasion of Sicily in 1943 (Operation Husky).

During the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944, a 60-cutter flotilla of wooden 83-foot (25 m) Coast Guard cutters, nicknamed the "Matchbox Fleet", cruised off all five landing beaches as combat search-and-rescue boats, saving 400 Allied airmen and sailors. Division O-1, including the Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase, landed the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division on Omaha Beach. Off Utah Beach, the Coast Guard manned the command ship USS Bayfield. Several Coast Guard-manned landing craft were lost during D-Day to enemy fire and heavy seas. In addition, a cutter was beached during the storms off the Normandy coast which destroyed the U.S.-operated artificial harbor.

The USCGC Taney, a notable World War II era High Endurance Cutter, is the only warship still afloat today that was present for the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, although she was actually stationed in nearby Honolulu.

On August 27, 1944, the all Coast Guard-manned USS LST-327 stuck a mine or was torpedoed while crossing the English Channel. 22 Coast Guardsmen were killed.

As was common during this period, many of Hollywood's able-bodied screen stars became enlistees and left their film careers on hiatus in order to support the national defense. Specifically, actors Gig Young, Cesar Romero, and Richard Cromwell all served admirably in various capacities in the USCG in the Pacific for several years.

Douglas Munro

Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro (19191942), the only Coast Guardsman to receive the Medal of Honor, earned the decoration during World War II as a small boat coxswain during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. A Navy destroyer escort, USS Douglas A. Munro (DE-422), was named in his honor in 1944. The cutter USCGC Munro (WHEC-724) was commissioned in 1971, and is still on active service.

Korean War

During the Korean War, Coast Guard officers helped arrange the evacuation of the Korean Peninsula during the initial North Korean attack. On August 9, 1950, Congress enacted Public Law 679, known as the Magnuson Act. This act charged the Coast Guard with ensuring the security of the United States' ports and harbors on a permanent basis. In addition, the Coast Guard established a series of weather ships in the north Pacific Ocean and assisted civilian and military aircraft and ships in distress, and established a string of LORAN stations in Japan and Korea that assisted the United Nations forces.

The 1960s

The Coast Guard was active in the Vietnam War. Coast Guard Detachments 11, 12, and 13, under operational control of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet, assisted in interdicting supply by sea of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces. Seven Coast Guardsmen were killed during the war in combat and search and rescue operations.

In 1967, the Coast Guard adopted the red and blue "slash" as part of the regular insignia for cutters, boats, and aircraft. This "slash" was in turn adopted by several other foreign coast guards, in particular the Canadian Coast Guard.

The 1970s

The Ancient Order of the Pterodactyls was founded in 1977 in order to preserve the history of the Coast Guard. It was also at this time that the Coast Guard adopted the blue uniforms seen today, replacing Navy-style uniforms worn prior to the Vietnam War.

The Kudirka incident

On November 23, 1970, Simonas "Simas" Kudirka, a Soviet seaman of Lithuanian nationality, leapt from the 400-foot (120 m) mother ship Sovetskaya Litva, anchored in American waters, aboard the USCGC Vigilant, sailing from New Bedford. The Soviets accused Kudirka of theft of 3,000 rubles from the ship's safe. Ten hours passed. After attempts to get the U.S. State Department to provide guidance failed, Rear Admiral William B. Ellis, commander of the First Coast Guard District, ordered Commander Ralph E. Eustis to permit a KGB detachment to board the Vigilant to return Kudirka to the Soviet ship. This led to a change in asylum policy by the U.S. Coast Guard. Admiral Ellis and his chief of staff were given administrative punishment under Article 15 of the UCMJ. Commander Eustis was given a non-punitive letter of reprimand and assigned to shore duty.

Kudirka was tried for treason by the Soviet Union and given a ten-year sentence in the Gulag. Subsequent investigations revealed that Kudirka could claim American citizenship through his mother and was allowed to come to the United States in 1974.

The 1980s

In April, 1980, the government of Cuba began to allow any person who wanted to leave Cuba to assemble in Mariel Harbor and take their own transport. The U.S. Coast Guard, working out of Seventh District Headquarters in Miami, Florida, rescued boats in difficulty, inspected vessels for adequate safety equipment, and processed refugees. This task was made even more difficult by a hurricane which swamped many vessels in mid-ocean, and by the lack of cooperation by Cuban Border Guard officials. By May, 600 reservists had been called up, the U.S. Navy provided assistance between Cuba and Key West, and the Auxiliary was heavily involved. 125,000 refugees were processed between April and May 1980.

The 1990s

USCGC Tamaroa (WMEC-166), best known for her rescues during the "Perfect Storm" of 1991.
USCGC Tamaroa (WMEC-166), best known for her rescues during the "Perfect Storm" of 1991.

In 1994, about 38,000 Cubans attempted to sail from Cuba to Florida, many on homemade rafts. The Coast Guard and Navy performed intensive search and rescue efforts to rescue rafters at sea. Sixteen 110 foot (34 m) cutters—half the complement of the Coast Guard—were involved in this operation, as well as buoy tenders not normally assigned to high seas duty. Due to a change in Presidential policy, rescued Cubans were sent to the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The 2000s

For details on the response to the terrorist attacks on America, please see the section on "Missions".

In 2002, the Coast Guard sent several 110-foot (34 m) cutters to the Persian Gulf to enforce the U.N. embargo on goods to and from Iraq. Port Security Units and Naval Coastal Warfare units also accompanied the U.S. military buildup.

In March 2003, the Coast Guard was transferred from the Transportation Department to the Homeland Security Department.

In September 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld mooted transferring all military responsibilities of the Coast Guard to the Navy and assigning the Coast Guard purely homeland defense responsibilities.

On April 24, 2004, Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal, 24, became the first Coast Guard member to die in combat since the Vietnam War. He was killed in a suicide boat attack on a Basra oil terminal off the coast of Iraq. With his death, all branches of the military had seen at least one death in that war.

After Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the Coast Guard dispatched a number of helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, small boats, and Auxiliary aircraft as well as 25 cutters to the Gulf Coast, rescuing 2,000 people in two days. The crews also assessed storm damage to offshore oil platforms and refineries. More than 2,400 personnel from all districts conducted search, rescue, response, waterway reconstitution and environmental impact assessment operations. In total, the Coast Guard air and boat rescued more than 33,500 people and assisted with the joint-agency evacuation of an additional 9,400 patients and medical personnel from hospitals in the Gulf coast region.


The Integrated Deepwater System (IDS) Program is designed to meet future threats to the U.S. from the sea. Although the program involves obtaining new ships and aircraft, Deepwater also involves upgraded information technology for command, control, communications and computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR).

A key part of the Deepwater system is the Maritime Security Cutter, Large (WMSL), which is designed to replace the 378-foot (115 m) high-endurance cutters currently on duty. This ship will have a length of 421 feet (128 m), be powered by a gas turbine engine with two auxiliary diesel engines, and be capable of 12,000 nautical mile (22,000 km) voyages lasting up to 60 days. The first keel laying of this class took place in September 2004. The ship is scheduled to be delivered in 2007.

Another key vessel is the Maritime Security Cutter, Medium (WMSM), which will be 341 ft (104 m) long, displace 2,921 tons (2968 tonnes), and be capable of 45-day patrols of up to 9,000 nautical miles (17,000 km). Both the WMSL and the WMSM cutters will be able to carry two helicopters or four VTOL Unmanned Air Vehicles (VUAVs), or a combination of these.

Issues Facing the Coast Guard


The Coast Guard faces several issues in the near future.

Lack of coverage affects many areas with high maritime traffic. For example, local officials in Scituate, Massachusetts, have complained that there is no permanent Coast Guard station, and the presence of the Coast Guard in winter is vital. Some of the reason for this lack of coverage is the relatively high cost of building storm-proof buildings on coastal property; the Cape Hatteras station was abandoned in 2005 after winter storms wiped out the 12-foot sand dune serving as its protection from the ocean.

Lack of strength to meet its assigned missions is being met by a legislated increase in authorized strength from 39,000 to 45,000. In addition, the volunteer Auxiliary is being called to take up more non-combatant missions. However, volunteer coverage does have limits.

Aging vessels are another problem. In 2005, the Coast Guard terminated contracts to upgrade the 110-foot Island Class cutters to 123-foot cutters due to warping and distortion of the hulls.

People who have been in the Coast Guard

Source: U.S. Coast Guard

The Coast Guard Auxiliary and Coast Guard Reserve

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is a volunteer civilian service, established in 1939 as the Coast Guard Reserve, that assists the Coast Guard in carrying out its noncombatant and non-law enforcement missions. There are approximately 39,000 Auxiliarists. Auxiliarists may use their own vessels, including boats and aircraft, in carrying out Coast Guard missions, or apply specialized skills such as Web page design or radio operating to assist the Coast Guard.

The basic unit of the Auxiliary is the flotilla, which has at least 10 members and may have as many as 100. Several flotillas form a division. There are several divisions in each Coast Guard District. The Atlantic and Pacific areas select a Commodore, and there is a national Commodore. However, legally, each Auxiliarist has the same 'rank.'

Auxiliarists wear the same uniform as Coast Guardsmen with modified insignia based on their office: the stripes on uniforms are silver, and metal insignia bear a red or blue "A" in the center. Unlike their counterparts in the Civil Air Patrol, Auxiliarists come under direct orders of the Coast Guard. Auxiliary vessels may not carry weapons, but can be used for noncombatant purposes and for scouting.

The United States Coast Guard Reserve is the military reserve of the Coast Guard. They can be called up when needed but usually only drill one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year. All the Coast Guard's Port Security Units and most of its Naval Coastal Warfare units are Reserve units.

Medals and Honors of the Coast Guard

One Coast Guardsman, Douglas Munro, has earned the Medal of Honor, the highest military award of the United States.

Six Coast Guardsmen have earned the Navy Cross and 12 the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Prior to the transfer of the Coast Guard to the Department of Homeland Security, the highest peacetime decoration was the Department of Transportation Distinguished Service Medal. The highest unit award was the Secretary of Transportation Outstanding Unit Award.

In wartime, members of the Coast Guard are eligible to receive the U.S. Navy version of the Medal of Honor. A Coast Guard version of the Medal of Honor does exist, but it has never been bestowed.

See also: Awards and decorations of the United States military

Alumni organization

Those who have piloted or flown in U.S. Coast Guard aircraft under official flight orders may join the Ancient Order of the Pterodactyls ("Flying Since the World was Flat").

External links

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