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United States Coast Guard
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United States Coast Guard

The United States Coast Guard is the coast guard of the United States. It is the fifth-smallest of the seven uniformed services of the United States, but has a broad and important role in law enforcement, search-and-rescue, marine environmental pollution response and the maintenance of intercoastal and offshore aids to navigation (ATON).

The Coast Guard was founded in 1790 as part of the Department of the Treasury, and was later moved to the Department of Transportation, but as of March 31, 2003, it became part of the Department of Homeland Security. During wartime, the Coast Guard reports to the Department of Defense as the "1st Fleet" (which is why the United States Navy numbers its regular fleets from the 2nd). The Coast Guard's motto is Semper Paratus, meaning "Always Ready."

An act of the United States Congress created the Coast Guard in its current form on January 28, 1909. 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."

Table of contents
1 Organization
2 History of the Coast Guard
3 People who have been in the Coast Guard
4 The Coast Guard Auxiliary
5 Coast Guard Awards
6 External link



The headquarters of the Coast Guard is in Washington, DC.

Senior officers

The Commandant of the Coast Guard by law holds the rank of Admiral. He or she is selected for a period of 4 years, which may be renewed for additional 4-year periods. The current Commandant is Admiral Thomas H. Collins, who assumed command on May 30, 2002.

The Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard is Vice Admiral Thomas Barrett.

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

The Chief of Staff of the Coast Guard is Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen. He also serves as Commandant of Coast Guard Headquarters.

Other key positions

The Superindentent of the Coast Guard Academy is Rear Admiral R.C. Olsen, Jr.

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 organized into districts, each responsible for a region of the nation's coastline. In addition, the Coast Guard designates Maritime Defense Zones for the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, each of which is commanded by a vice admiral.

U.S. Coast Guard Districts
District Region Headquarters 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.
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 Wyoming
Fourteenth District Pacific Honolulu, Hawaii Hawaii
Seventeenth District Pacific Juneau, Alaska Alaska

In each district, large operational centers are known as Activities. Smaller boat stations are Stations, while aircraft fly from Coast Guard Air Stations.

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 betwen 1933 and 1947, and yet at third at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York.

First District

CGAS Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Fifth District
CGAS Elizabeth City, North Carolina: This is both an operational and a training air station. Coast Guard enlisted aviation ratings are trained at the Aviation Technical Training Center located there.

Seventh District
CGAS Clearwater, Florida
CGAS Miami, Florida
CGAS Savannah, Georgia

Eighth District
CGAS Corpus Christi, Texas

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

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 U.S. 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. Approximately 170 cadets are commissioned ensigns each year.

The mission of the Coast Guard Academy is "To graduate young men and women with sound bodies, stout hearts and alert minds, with a liking for the sea and its lore, with that high sense of honor, loyalty and obedience which goes with trained initiative and leadership; well grounded in seamanship, the sciences and amenities, and strong in the resolve to be worthy of the traditions of commissioned officers in the United States Coast Guard in the service of their country and humanity."

As part of their training, cadets serve as crew on the sail-powered training barque Eagle.

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. Approximately 70 candidates are commissioned ensigns, with a few commissioned as lieutenant junior grade each OCS.

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


Enlisted seamen under go basic training at the Coast Guard station in Cape May, New Jersey.


The U.S. Coast Guard uses a variety of platforms to conduct its daily business. Cutters and small boats are used on the water and fixed and rotary wing (helicopters) aircraft are used in the air.


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


There are a total of 211 aircraft in USCG inventory. This figure fluctuates operationally due to maintenance schedules. Fixed-wing aircraft (HC-130 Hercules turboprops and HU-25 Guardian jets) operate from large and small Air Stations. Rotary wing aircraft (HH-65 Dolphin and HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters) operate from flight-deck equipped Cutters, Air Stations and Air Facilities.


(Approximately 1400 - number fluctuates). All vessels under 65 feet (20 meters) in length are classified as boats and usually operate near shore and on inland waterways. Sizes range from 64 feet in length down to 12 feet. The most common boat is 41 feet long.

Recently, the Coast Guard has begun to introduce a standard SAR and response boat, the Defender class, to replace nonstandard boats and platforms at Coast Guard stations. The Defender class is capable of speeds greater than 40 knots (65 km/hour), can mount light machine guns, and is capable of being transported by a
C-130 Hercules aircraft.

Symbols of the Coast Guard

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.

"The Stripe"

The "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 "Stripe" has been adopted for the use of other coast guards, such as the Canadian Coast Guard.

Official Music

The official march of the Coast Guard is "Semper Paratus," with the music and lyrics by Captain Francis Saltus Van Boskerck.


The Coast Guard carries out five basic missions: Maritime Safety, Maritime Mobility, Maritime Security, National Defense, and Protection of Natural Resources.

Maritime Safety

Search and Rescue

The Coast Guard has been given the responsibility for search and rescue operations in U.S. waters. Overland responsibility is given to the U.S. Air Force, which in turn, devolves responsibility to the Civil Air Patrol.

Marine Safety

The Coast Guard operates a Marine Safety Office in each major port in the United States. These offices are responsible for commercial vessel safety/inspection, pollution response, and waterways management. This office is also responsible for licensing merchant mariners and charter boat captains.

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. This mission is carried out by Coast Guard aircraft today, who report sightings to the International Ice Patrol headquarters in Groton, Connecticut.

Maritime Mobility

Aids to Navigation

The Coast Guard maintains the LORAN-C radio navigation system, as well as buoys, daymarks, and other visual aids to navigation in U.S. waters and in selected foreign waters.

Icebreaking Services

Bridge Administration

Vessel Traffic and Waterways Management

Maritime Security

Maritime security is carried out by the Coast Guard Office of Law Enforcement, which is part of the Operations Directorate headquartered in Washington, D.C.

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, and Coast Guard units coordinate their activities in the Caribbean Sea with the U.S. Navy, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Netherlands Navy. Approximately 52% of all cocaine seized by the U.S. government in 2002 was through the Coast Guard.

Alien Migrant Interdiction

The Coast Guard is tasked to enforce U.S. immigration law at sea. This is a major responsibility of the Coast Guard's Seventh District, based in Florida. Major areas of operations to interdict alien migration 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 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 is the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1976, which extended U.S. authority over fisheries management to the 200 miles (320 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 General Maritime Law Enforcement

Law and treaty enforcement account for approximately 1/3 of the Coast Guard's budget. Title 14, U.S. Code, Section 2 specifically 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

General Defense Duties

During wartime, the Coast Guard falls under the operational orders of the United States Navy.

Homeland Security

Immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Coast Guard imposed restrictions on boat and ship traffic in American waters. Coast Guardsmen started intercepting foreign merchant vessels headed towards American waters and performed identification and crew paper checks. Liquid natural gas carriers were ordered to not enter American waters without escort, and were forbidden to anchor near major cities. Both the Coast Guard and the Auxiliary began patrols of key harbors and waterfronts.

In addition, as part of the Coast Guard's "Deepwater" program, 70 unmanned aerial vehicles will be carried on cutters to increase the Coast Guard's surveillance capacity. There is no plan to arm these drones.

Port and Waterways Security

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

The Coast Guard has a number of dedicated port security units that can be deployed both overseas, as in the Persian Gulf War, and the United States. A Coast Guard port security unit from Seattle, Washington, has been called up for active duty in the Persian Gulf as of December 2002.

The local Coast Guard commander has legal authority over shipping in American waters as Captain of the Port.

Polar Icebreaking

Protection of Natural Resources

Marine Pollution Education, Prevention, Response & Enforcement'

Foreign Vessel Inspections

Ships entering American waters must provide the Coast Guard with 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. This information is collated in a Coast Guard central database in West Virginia and shared with U.S. Naval Intelligence in Suitland, Maryland.

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

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 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 Jefferson's embargo closing U.S. ports to European trade.

During the American Civil War, the 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.

The Development of Alaska

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.

"You Have to Go Out, But You Don't Have to Come Back"

This has always been the unofficial motto of the Coast Guard and is based on the 1899 regulations of the 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 unquestionable preclude the use of a boat."

These regulations were repeated in the 1934 Coast Guard regulations.

Birth of the Modern Coast Guard

The Revenue Cutter Service, the Lifesaving Service and the Steamship Inspection Bureau were merged in 1915 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 World War II, cutters of the Coast Guard patrolled the North Atlantic. One, 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 "Kettlepauke", 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 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, many of the coxswains of American landing craft used in amphibious invasions were Coast Guardsmen. 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 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. On 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 harbors.

The USCGC Taney, a notable World War II era High Endurance Cutter, is the only ship still afloat today that participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Douglas Munro

SignalMan First Class Douglas Munro is the only member of the Coast Guard to receive the Medal of Honor. He earned this medal during World War II while a small boat coxswain during the Battle of Guadalcanal. However, six Coast Guardsmen earned the Navy Cross and twelve the Distinguished Flying Cross.

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 enact ed 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 Kudirka Incident

On November 20, 1970, Simonas "Simas" Kudirka, a Soviet seaman of Lithuanian nationality, leapt from the 400-foot 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 Ellis 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

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. 16 110 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 also accompanied the U.S. military buildup.

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.


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 high-endurance cutters currently on duty. This ship will have a length of 421 feet, be powered by a gas turbine engine with two auxiliary Diesel engines, and be capable of 12,000 nautical mile (20,000 km) voyages lasting up to 60 days. The first keel laying of this class will take place in September 2004.

Another key vessel is the Maritime Security Cutter, Medium (WMSM), which will be 341 ft long, displace 2,921 tons, and be capable of 45-day patrols of up to 9,000 nautical miles (15,000 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.

People who have been in the Coast Guard

The Coast Guard Auxiliary

United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is a volunteer civilian service 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.

Auxiliarists wear the same uniform as Coast Guardsmen with modified insignia.

Coast Guard Awards

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 eligable 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

External link

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").