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United States Coast Guard

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The United States 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 is part of the Department of Homeland Security. During wartime, the Coast Guard reports to the Department of Defense. Its 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 Coast Guard 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, and assistance to navigation.

Table of contents



Headquarters of the Coast Guard is in Washington, D.C. Its organization is:

  • Commandant: The Commandant by law holds the rank of Admiral. The current Commandant is Admiral Thomas H. Collins, who assumed command in 2002.
    • Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard: The 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.
    • Chaplain of the Coast Guard
    • Chief Administrative Law Judge
  • Civil Rights Directorate
  • Chief of Staff
  • Acquisition Directorate
  • Deepwater Directorate
  • Chief Counsel
  • Governmental and Public Affairs Directorate
  • Human Resources Directorate
    • Coast Guard Academy
    • Coast Guard Institute
    • Recruiting
    • Reserve Affairs
  • Marine Safety and Environmental Protection Directorate
  • Operations Directorate
    • Coast Guard Auxiliary[?]. Each Coast Guard District has a Director of the Auxiliary (DIRAUX). The current Chief Director of the Auxiliary (CHDIRAUX) is Captain David B. Hill.
    • Boating Safety
    • Bridge Administration
    • Law Enforcement
    • National Response Center
    • Navigation Center: The Navigation Center is located in Alexandria, Virginia.
    • Search and Rescue
  • Systems Directorate

The Coast Guard is organized into districts, each responsible for a region of the nation's coastline:

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

Fifth District

CGAS Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Seventh District

CGAS Clearwater, Florida
CGAS Miami, Florida

Eight District

CGAS Corpus Christi, Texas

Eleventh District

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

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy is located in in New London, Connecticut. It is the only military academy to which no Congressional or Presidential appointments are made. All cadets enter by competitive exam.


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 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 Jayhawk[?] helicopters) operate from flight-deck equipped Cutters, Air Stations and Air Facilities.


(Approximately 1400 - number fluctuates). All vessels under 65 feet 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 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.

Marine Safety

Recreational Boating Safety

The Coast Guard and its Auxiliary (see below), working with the U.S. Power Squadrons[?], perform vessel safety checks on recreational boaters throughout the country.

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. This mission is carried out by Coast Guard aircraft today.


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.

Icebreaking Services

Bridge Administration

Vessel Traffic and Waterways Management

Maritime Security

Drug Interdiction

Alien Migrant Interdiction

This is a major responsibility of the Coast Guard's Seventh District, based in Florida. However, interdiction does not always succeed. In October 2002, for example, a 50-foot wooden freigher carrying 220 undocumented Haitians ran aground near Miami.

US Exclusive Economic Zone[?] and Living Marine Resource

Law and Treaty Enforcement

General Maritime Law Enforcement

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 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.

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. During the war, Coast Guard units sank 13 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.

Douglas Munro

Seaman 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

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 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.

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 retrieve 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 8,000 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 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."

Alex Haley

Alex Haley, the author of Roots, was a journalist petty officer in the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary

The 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.

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").

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