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United States Coast Guard
USCG S W.svg

United States Coast Guard portal
Active 4 August 1790–Present
Country United States of America
Type Coast guard
Size Civilian employees: 7,057
Active duty personnel: 41,873
Selected Reservists: 8,100
Auxiliary: 34,885
~252 cutters, ~1600 boats ~194 aircraft [1][2]
Part of Department of Homeland Security
Motto Semper Paratus
Colors White, Orange, & Blue             
March Semper Paratus
Engagements Quasi-War
War of 1812
Seminole Wars
Mexican-American War
American Civil War
Spanish American War
World War I
World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
Gulf War
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Operation Sea Dragon III
War on Terror
Decorations Presidential Unit Citation
Commandant Admiral Thad Allen
Vice Commandant Vice Admiral David Pekoske
Master Chief Petty Officer MCPOCG Charles W. Bowen
Racing Stripe CGMark W.svg
Ensign Ensign of the United States Coast Guard.svg
Standard USCG Parade Flag.svg
Aircraft flown
Helicopter HH-60 Jayhawk, HH-65 Dolphin,
Patrol HC-130, HU-25A Guardian, HC-144A Ocean Sentry

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is a branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of seven uniformed services. The Coast Guard is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the military branches for having a maritime law enforcement mission (with jurisdiction both domestically and in international waters) and a federal regulatory agency mission as part of its mission set. It operates under the Department of Homeland Security during peacetime, and can be transferred to the Department of the Navy by the President or Congress during time of war.

Founded by Alexander Hamilton as the Revenue Cutter Service on 4 August 1790, it lays claim to being the United States' oldest continuous seagoing service. As of August 2009, the Coast Guard had approximately 42,000 men and women on active duty, 7,500 reservists, 29,000 auxiliarists, and 7,700 full-time civilian employees.[3]

The Coast Guard has separate legal authority than the other four armed services and operates under simultaneously under Title 10 of the United States Code and its other organic authorities, e.g., Titles 6, 14, 19, 33, 46, etc. Because of its legal authority, the Coast Guard can conduct military operations under the Department of Defense or directly for the President in accordance with Title 14 USC 1-3.

The Coast Guard's enduring roles are Maritime Safety, Maritime Security, and Maritime Stewardship. To carry out those roles the Coast Guard has 11 statutory missions as defined in 6 U.S.C. § 468.

The Coast Guard motto is "Semper Paratus", Latin for "Always Ready" or "Always Prepared".





A boatswain’s mate watches from the side port door as Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf’s Over-The-Horizon small boat departs to receive personnel from Coast Guard Cutter Chandeleur.

The United States Coast Guard has roles in maritime homeland security, maritime law enforcement (MLE), search and rescue (SAR), marine environmental protection (MEP), and the maintenance of river, intracoastal and offshore aids to navigation (ATON).

While most military services are either at war or training for war, the Coast Guard is deployed every day. With a decentralized organization and much responsibility placed on even the most junior personnel, the Coast Guard is frequently lauded for its quick responsiveness and adaptability in a broad range of emergencies. In a 2005 article in TIME magazine following Hurricane Katrina, the author wrote, "the Coast Guard's most valuable contribution to [a military effort when catastrophe hits] may be as a model of flexibility, and most of all, spirit." Wil Milam, a rescue swimmer from Alaska told the magazine, "In the Navy, it was all about the mission. Practicing for war, training for war. In the Coast Guard, it was, take care of our people and the mission will take care of itself."[4]


A member of the United States Coast Guard rescuing a pregnant woman

The Coast Guard carries out three basic roles, which are further subdivided into eleven statutory missions. The three roles are:

The eleven statutory missions, found in section 888 of the Homeland Security Act are:

  • Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security (PWCS)
  • Counter Drug Law Enforcement
  • Migrant Interdiction
  • Other Law Enforcement (foreign fisheries)
  • Living Marine Resources (domestic fisheries)
  • Marine (maritime) Safety
  • Marine (maritime) Environmental Protection
  • Ice Operations
  • Aids to Navigation (ATON)
  • Defense Readiness
  • Marine (maritime) Environmental Response

Search and Rescue

See National Search and Rescue Committee
See Joint Rescue Coordination Centers

While not the oldest, search and rescue (SAR) is one of the Coast Guard's best known missions. The National Search and Rescue Plan[5] designates the United States Coast Guard as the federal agency responsible for maritime SAR operations, and the United States Air Force as the federal agency responsible for inland SAR. Both agencies maintain rescue coordination centers to coordinate this effort, and have responsibility for both military and civilian search and rescue.

National Response Center

Operated by the Coast Guard, the National Response Center (NRC) is the sole U.S. Government point of contact for reporting all oil, chemical, radiological, biological, and etiological discharges into the environment anywhere in the United States and its territories. In addition to gathering and distributing spill data for Federal On Scene Coordinators and serving as the communications and operations center for the National Response Team, the NRC maintains agreements with a variety of federal entities to make additional notifications regarding incidents meeting established trigger criteria. The NRC also takes Terrorist/Suspicious Activity Reports and Maritime Security Breach Reports. Details on the NRC organization and specific responsibilities can be found in the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan.[6]

Authority as an armed service

A United States Coast Guard Response Boat patrolling the New York Harbor.[2]

The five uniformed services that make up the Armed Forces are defined in 10 U.S.C. § 101(a)(4):

The term "armed forces" means the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard is further defined by 14 U.S.C. § 1:

The Coast Guard as established 28 January 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times. The Coast Guard shall be a service in the Department of Homeland Security, except when operating as a service in the Navy.

Coast Guard organization and operation is as set forth in Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

On 25 February 2003, the Coast Guard was placed under the Department of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard reports directly to the Secretary of Homeland Security. However, under 14 U.S.C. § 3 as amended by section 211 of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006, upon the declaration of war and when Congress so directs in the declaration, or when the President directs, the Coast Guard operates under the Department of Defense as a service in the Department of the Navy.

As members of the military, Coast Guardsmen on active and reserve service are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and receive the same pay and allowances as members of the same pay grades in the other uniformed services.

The service has participated in every major U.S. conflict from 1790 through today, including landing troops on D-Day and on the Pacific Islands in World War II, in extensive patrols and shore bombardment during the Vietnam War, and multiple roles in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Maritime interception operations, coastal security, transportation security, and law enforcement detachments are its major roles in Iraq.

On 17 October 2007, the Coast Guard joined with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps to adopt a new maritime strategy called A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower that raised the notion of prevention of war to the same philosophical level as the conduct of war.[7] This new strategy charted a course for the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps to work collectively with each other and international partners to prevent regional crises, manmade or natural, from occurring or reacting quickly should one occur to avoid negative impacts to the United States. During the launch of the new U.S. maritime strategy at the International Seapower Symposium at the U.S. Naval War College in 2007, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen said the new maritime strategy reinforced the time-honored missions the service has carried out in the United States since 1790. "It reinforces the Coast Guard maritime strategy of safety, security and stewardship, and it reflects not only the global reach of our maritime services but the need to integrate and synchronize and act with our coalition and international partners to not only win wars ... but to prevent wars," Allen said.[8]

Authority as a law enforcement agency

USCG helicopter firing warning shots at smugglers in a boat.<[2]

14 U.S.C. § 2 authorizes the Coast Guard to enforce federal law. This authority is further defined in 14 U.S.C. § 89 which gives law enforcement powers to all Coast Guard commissioned officers, warrant officers, and petty officers. Unlike the other branches of the United States Armed Forces which are prevented from acting in a law enforcement capacity by the Posse Comitatus Act and Department of Defense policy, under 18 U.S.C. § 1385 the Coast Guard is exempt from and not subject to the restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act.

Further law enforcement authority is given by 14 U.S.C. § 143 and 19 U.S.C. § 1401 which empower U.S. Coast Guard Active and Reserve commissioned officers, warrant officers, and petty officers as federal customs officers. This places them under 19 U.S.C. § 1589a, which grants customs officers general law enforcement authority, including the authority to:

(1) carry a firearm;
(2) execute and serve any order, warrant, subpoena, summons, or other process issued under the authority of the United States;
(3) make an arrest without a warrant for any offense against the United States committed in the officer's presence or for a felony, cognizable under the laws of the United States committed outside the officer's presence if the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing a felony; and
(4) perform any other law enforcement duty that the Secretary of Homeland Security may designate.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office Report to the House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary on its 2006 Survey of Federal Civilian Law Enforcement Functions and Authorities identified the U.S. Coast Guard as one of 104 federal components employed which employed law enforcement officers.[9] The report also included a summary table of the authorities of the U.S. Coast Guard's 192 special agents and 3,780 maritime law enforcement boarding officers.[10]

Coast Guardsmen have the legal authority to carry their service-issued firearms on and off base. This is rarely done in practice, however; at many Coast Guard stations, commanders prefer to have all service-issued weapons in armories. Still, one court has held that Coast Guard boarding officers are qualified law enforcement officers authorized to carry personal firearms off-duty for self-defense.[11]


Marines holding a sign thanking the U.S. Coast Guard after the battle of Guam.

The roots of the Coast Guard lie in the United States Revenue Cutter Service established by Alexander Hamilton under the Department of the Treasury on 4 August 1790. The first Coast Guard station was in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Until the re-establishment of the United States Navy in 1798, the Revenue Cutter Service was the only naval force of the early United States. It was established to collect taxes from a brand new nation of patriot smugglers. When the officers were out at sea, they were told to crack down on piracy; while they were at it, they might as well rescue anyone in distress.[12]

"First Fleet" is a term occasionally used as an informal reference to the U.S. Coast Guard, although there is no indication that the United States has ever officially used this designation with reference either to the Coast Guard or any element of the U.S. Navy. The informal appellation honors the fact that between 1790 and 1798, there was no United States Navy and the cutters which were the predecessor of the U.S. Coast Guard were the only warships protecting the coast, trade, and maritime interests of the new republic.[13]

The modern Coast Guard can be said to date to 1915, when the Revenue Cutter Service merged with the United States Life-Saving Service and Congress formalized the existence of the new organization. In 1939, the U.S. Lighthouse Service was brought under its purview. In 1942, the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation was transferred to the Coast Guard. In 1967, the Coast Guard moved from the Department of the Treasury to the newly formed Department of Transportation, an arrangement that lasted until it was placed under the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 as part of legislation designed to more efficiently protect American interests following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.

In times of war, the Coast Guard or individual components of it can operate as a service of the Department of the Navy. This arrangement has a broad historical basis, as the Guard has been involved in wars as diverse as the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the American Civil War, in which the cutter Harriet Lane fired the first naval shots attempting to relieve besieged Fort Sumter. The last time the Coast Guard operated as a whole under the Navy was in World War II. More often, military and combat units within the Coast Guard will operate under Navy or Joint operational control while other Coast Guard units will remain under the Department of Homeland Security.


The current headquarters of the Coast Guard is at 2100 Second Street, SW, in Washington, D.C. near Nationals Park, where it will continue to have a presence at least into 2015.[14] The new Department of Homeland Security headquarters complex is being built on the grounds of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital in the Anacostia section of Southeast Washington, across the Anacostia River from the current Coast Guard headquarters. As part of this consolidation, the Coast Guard will be the first DHS agency to locate its headquarters in the new complex, estimated to occur in late 2013 or early 2014.[15]


The formal name for a uniformed member of the Coast Guard is "Coast Guardsman", irrespective of gender. In 2008, the term "Guardian" was introduced.[16] "Coastie" is an informal term commonly used to refer to current or former Coast Guard personnel. "Team Coast Guard" refers to the four components of the Coast Guard as a whole: Regular, Reserve, Auxiliary, and Coast Guard civilian employees.

Commissioned Officers

Commissioned officers in the Coast Guard have pay grades ranging from O-1 to O-10, with O-10 being the highest; those with paygrades between O-1 through O-4 are considered junior officers and O-5 and O-6 as senior officers. Officers in the O-7 to O-10 range are called flag officers. The Commandant is the only O-10 in the Coast Guard.[17]

The Coast Guard does not have medical officers or chaplains. Instead, Navy chaplains and Public Health Service officers are assigned to the Coast Guard to perform these functions. These officers wear Coast Guard uniforms but replace the Coast Guard insignia with that of their own service.[18]

Officer Grade Structure of the United States Coast Guard


Vice Admiral


Rear Admiral [19][20]


Rear Admiral
(lower half)










(junior grade)




O-10 O-9 O-8 O-7 O-6 O-5 O-4 O-3 O-2 O-1
US CG O10 insignia.svg
US CG O9 insignia.svg
US CG O8 insignia.svg
US CG O7 insignia.svg
US CG O6 insignia.svg
US CG O5 insignia.svg
US CG O4 insignia.svg
US CG O3 insignia.svg
US CG O2 insignia.svg
US CG O1 insignia.svg

Warrant Officers

Highly qualified enlisted personnel from E-6 through E-9 with a minimum of eight years experience can compete each year for appointment as a Warrant Officer (WO). Successful candidates are chosen by a board and then commissioned as Chief Warrant Officers (CWO-2) in one of sixteen specialties. Over time Chief Warrant Officers may be promoted to CWO-3 and CWO-4. The ranks of Warrant Officer (WO-1) and Master Chief Warrant Officer (MCWO-5) are not currently used in the Coast Guard. Chief Warrant Officers may also compete for the Chief Warrant Officer to Lieutenant program. If selected, the officer will be promoted to Lieutenant (O-3E). The "E" designates over four years active duty service as a Warrant Officer or Enlisted member and entitles the member to a higher rate of pay than other Lieutenants.

Warrant Officer Grade Structure of the United States Coast Guard
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chief Warrant Officer 3 Chief Warrant Officer 2
W-4 W-3 W-2
USCG - CWO4.png
USCG - CWO3.png
USCG - CWO2.png

Enlisted Personnel

Enlisted members of the Coast Guard have pay grades from E-1 to E-9, with E-9 being the highest. All enlisted members with pay grades of E-4 and higher are considered Petty Officers and follow career development paths very similar to those of U.S. Navy petty officers.

Petty officers in pay grade E-7 and higher are named Chief Petty Officers and must attend the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Academy, or an equivalent Department of Defense school, in order to be advanced to pay grade E-8. The basic themes of the school are:

  • Professionalism
  • Leadership
  • Communications
  • Systems thinking and lifelong learning
Non Commissioned Officer Grade Structure of the United States Coast Guard[4]
Note: Crossed anchors in the graphics indicate a rating of Boatswain's Mate
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard


Area CMC/MCPOCG (Reserve Forces) Command Master Chief Petty Officer


Master Chief Petty Officer


Senior Chief Petty Officer


Chief Petty Officer


Petty Officer First Class


Petty Officer Second Class


Petty Officer Third Class


E-9 E-8 E-7 E-6 E-5 E-4
USCG MCPOCG Collar.png
USCG MCPO Collar.png
USCG MCPO Collar.png
USCG MCPO Collar.png
USCG SCPO Collar.png
USCG CPO Collar.png
USCG PO1.png
USCG PO2.png
USCG PO3.png
Enlisted Grade Structure of the United States Coast Guard


Seaman Apprentice


Seaman Recruit


E-3 E-2 E-1

Women in the Coast Guard

SPARS was the United States Coast Guard Women's Reserve created on 23 November 1942 with the signing of Public Law 773 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.[21] The name is a contraction of the Coast Guard motto Semper Paratus and its English translation, "Always Ready." The name also refers to a spar in nautical usage. Like the other women's reserves such as the Women's Army Corps and the WAVES, it was created to free men from stateside service in order to fight overseas. Its first director was Captain Dorothy C. Stratton and she is credited with creating the name for the organization. The cutter USCGC Spar (WLB-206) is named after the SPARS.[22]


Officer training

The United States Coast Guard Academy is a four year service academy located in New London, Connecticut. About 225 cadets graduate each year, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree and a commission as an Ensign in the Coast Guard. Graduates are obligated to serve a minimum of five years on active duty. Most graduates are assigned to duty aboard Coast Guard cutters after graduation, either as Deck Watch Officers (DWOs) or as Engineer Officers in Training (EOITs). Smaller numbers are assigned directly to flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida or to shore duty at Coast Guard Sectors, Districts, or Area headquarters units.

In addition to the Academy, prospective officers may enter the Coast Guard through the Officer Candidate School (OCS) located at the Coast Guard Academy. OCS is a rigorous 17-week course of instruction which prepares candidates to serve effectively as officers in the Coast Guard. In addition to indoctrinating students into a military lifestyle, OCS also provides a wide range of highly technical information necessary for performing the duties of a Coast Guard officer.

Graduates of OCS are usually commissioned as Ensigns, but some with advanced graduate degrees can enter as Lieutenants (junior grade) or Lieutenants. Graduating OCS officers entering Active Duty are required to serve a minimum of three years, while graduating Reserve officers are required to serve four years. Graduates may be assigned to a cutter, flight training, a staff job, or an operations ashore billet.

OCS represents the source of the majority of commissions in the Coast Guard, and is the primary channel through which enlisted ranks can ascend to the officer corps.

Lawyers, engineers, intelligence officers, military aviators, graduates of maritime academies, and certain other individuals may be also earn a Coast Guard commission through the Direct Commission Officer (DCO) program.

Depending on the specific program and background of the individual, the course is three, four or five weeks long. The first week of the five-week course is an indoctrination week. The DCO program is designed to commission officers with highly specialized professional training or certain kinds of previous military experience.

Unlike the other military services, the Coast Guard does not have a Reserve Officers' Training Corps program.

Recruit training

Newly enlisted personnel are sent to eight weeks of Basic Training at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May in Cape May, New Jersey. New recruits arrive at Sexton Hall and remain there for three days of initial processing which includes haircuts, shots, uniform issue, and other necessary entrance procedures. During this initial processing period, the new recruits are led by temporary Company Commanders. These temporary Company Commanders are tasked with teaching the new recruits how to march and preparing them to enter into their designated "Company". The temporary Company Commanders typically do not enforce any physical activity such as push ups or crunches. When the initial processing is complete, the new "Seaman Recruits" are introduced to their permanent Company Commanders who will remain with them until the end of training. There is a typically a designated "Lead" Company Commander and two support Company Commanders. The balance of the eight week boot camp is spent in learning teamwork and developing physical skills. An introduction of how the Coast Guard operates with special emphasis on the Coast Guard's Core Values is an important part of the training.

The current nine Recruit Training Objectives are:

  • Self-discipline
  • Military skills
  • Marksmanship
  • Vocational skills and academics
  • Military bearing
  • Physical fitness and wellness
  • Water survival and swim qualifications
  • Esprit de corps
  • Core values (Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty)

Service schools

Following graduation from recruit training, most members are sent to their first unit while they await orders to attend advanced training in Class "A" Schools. At "A" schools, Coast Guard enlisted personnel are trained in their chosen rating, the Coast Guard's and Navy's version of the Army's and Marine Corps's MOS and Air Force's AFSC. Members who earned high ASVAB scores or who were otherwise guaranteed an "A" School of choice while enlisting can go directly to their "A" School upon graduation from Boot Camp.

Civilian personnel

The Coast Guard employs over 7,700 civilians in over two hundred different job types including CGIS special agents, lawyers, engineers, technicians, adminstrative personnel, and tradesmen. [23][24] Civilian employees work at various levels in the Coast Guard to support its various missions.



378-foot High Endurance Cutter (WHEC) USCGC Hamilton (WHEC-715), commissioned in 1967 (U.S. Coast Guard Photo)

Originally, the Coast Guard used the term cutter in its traditional sense, as a type of small sailing ship. Today it officially uses the term for any vessel which has a permanently assigned crew and accommodations for the extended support of that crew, and includes only and all vessels of 65-foot (20 m) or more in length.[25]


The Coast Guard operates about 210 aircraft. Fixed-wing aircraft operate from Air Stations on long-duration missions. Helicopters operate from Air Stations and cutters, and can rescue people or intercept smuggling vessels. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Coast Guard has developed a more prominent role in national security and now has armed helicopters operating in high risk areas for the purpose of maritime law enforcement and anti-terrorism. The Coast Guard has announced that it is now developing a UAV program which will utilize the Predator and Fire Scout UAV platforms for homeland security and search/rescue operations.

The Coast Guard flies several aircraft types:


A Coast Guard 25-foot (8 m) Defender-class boat from Station Seattle

The Coast Guard operates about 1,400 boats, defined as any vessel less than 65 feet (20 meters) long, which generally operate near shore and on inland waterways.

The Coast Guard boat fleet includes:

Small arms

The SIG P229R-DAK is the standard Coast Guard sidearm.

The Coast Guard uses a wide variety of small arms. Pistols, shotguns, and rifles are used to arm boat crew and boarding team members and machine guns are mounted aboard cutters, boats, and helicopters.

Common small arms inlcude:

Units within the Deployable Operations Group also employ specialized weapons including the Mk 18 carbine, Mk 11 precision rifle, and M203 grenade launcher. The Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron uses a variant of the Barrett M107 .50-caliber rifle to disable the engines on fleeing boats.


Core values

The Coast Guard, like the other armed services of the United States, has a set of core values which serve as basic ethical guidelines for all Coast Guard Active Duty, Reservists, Auxiliarists and Civilians. The Coast Guard Core Values are:

  • Honor: Integrity is our standard. We demonstrate uncompromising ethical conduct and moral behavior in all of our personal actions. We are loyal and accountable to the public trust.
  • Respect: We value our diverse workforce. We treat each other with fairness, dignity and compassion. We encourage individual opportunity and growth. We encourage creativity through empowerment. We work as a team.
  • Devotion to Duty: We are professionals, military and civilian, who seek responsibility, accept accountability, and are committed to the successful achievement of our organizational goals. We exist to serve. We serve with pride.[34]

The Guardian Ethos

In 2008, the Coast Guard introduced the Guardian Ethos. As the Commandant, Admiral Allen noted in a message to all members of the Coast Guard: "[T]he Ethos ... defines the essence of the Coast Guard and could be viewed as the contract the Coast Guard and its members make with the nation and its citizens."[16][35] The Ethos is as follows:

I am America’s Maritime Guardian.
I serve the citizens of the United States.
I will protect them.
I will defend them.
I will save them.
I am their Shield.
For them I am Semper Paratus.
I live the Coast Guard Core Values.
I am a Guardian.
We are the United States Coast Guard.

Creed of the United States Coast Guardsman

The Creed of the United States Coast Guardsman was written by Vice Admiral Harry G. Hamlet, who served as Commandant of the Coast Guard from 1932 to 1936.[36][37] While the Ethos describes a Coast Guard member's duty to the nation, the Creed "is a contract an individual makes with the Coast Guard."[38]

I am proud to be a United States Coast Guardsman.
I revere that long line of expert seamen who by their devotion to duty and sacrifice of self have made it possible for me to be a member of a service honored and respected, in peace and in war, throughout the world.
I never, by word or deed, will bring reproach upon the fair name of my service, nor permit others to do so unchallenged.
I will cheerfully and willingly obey all lawful orders.
I will always be on time to relieve, and shall endeavor to do more, rather than less, than my share.
I will always be at my station, alert and attending to my duties.
I shall, so far as I am able, bring to my seniors solutions, not problems.
I shall live joyously, but always with due regard for the rights and privileges of others.
I shall endeavor to be a model citizen in the community in which I live.
I shall sell life dearly to an enemy of my country, but give it freely to rescue those in peril.
With God’s help, I shall endeavor to be one of His noblest Works...

Coast Guard Ensign

Coast Guard Ensign.

The Coast Guard Ensign (flag) was first flown by the Revenue Cutter Service in 1799 to distinguish revenue cutters from merchant ships. The order stated the Ensign would be "16 perpendicular stripes (for the number of states in the United States at the time), 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."

This ensign became familiar in American waters and served as the sign of authority for the Revenue Cutter Service until the early 20th century. The ensign was originally intended to be flown only on revenue cutters and boats connected with the Customs Service but over the years it was found flying atop custom houses as well, and the practice became a requirement in 1874. On 7 June 1910, President William Howard Taft issued an Executive Order adding an emblem to (or "defacing") the ensign flown by the Revenue cutters to distinguish it from what is now called the Customs Ensign flown from the custom houses. The emblem was changed to the official seal of the U.S. Coast Guard in 1927.[39][40]

The purpose of the ensign is to allow ship captains to easily recognize those vessels having legal authority to stop and board them. It is flown only as a symbol of law enforcement authority and is never carried as a parade standard.[41]

Coast Guard Standard

Parade Standard of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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 motto, "SEMPER PARATUS" and the inscription "1790."

Racing Stripe

Service Mark (also known as Racing Stripe).

The Racing Stripe, officially known as the Service Mark, was designed in 1964 by the industrial design office of Raymond Loewy Associates to give the Coast Guard a distinctive, modern image. First used in 1967, it consists of a narrow blue stripe, a narrow white stripe between, and a broad CG red bar with the Coast Guard shield centered.[42][43] The stripes are canted at a 64 degree angle, coincidentally the year the Racing Stripe was designed.[44] The racing stripe is borne by U.S. Coast Guard cutters, aircraft, and many boats. Red-hulled icebreaker cutters bear a narrow white bar, a narrow blue bar, and broad white bar, with the Coast Guard shield centered. Conversely, black-hulled cutters (such as buoy tenders and inland construction tenders) use the standard racing stripe. Auxiliary vessels maintained by the Coast Guard also carry the Racing Stripe, but in inverted colors (i.e., broad blue stripe over narrow white and CG red stripes) and the Auxiliary shield.

Similar Racing Stripe designs have been adopted for the use of other coast guards, such as the Canadian Coast Guard, the Italian Guardia Costiera, the French Maritime Gendarmerie, the Indian Coast Guard, the German Federal Coast Guard, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Netherlands Coastguard and the Australian Customs Service.

Semper Paratus

The official march of the Coast Guard is "Semper Paratus" (Latin for "Always Ready"; Click for audio clip).


Photo showing a variety of U.S. Coast Guard uniforms.

Prior to 1972, U.S. Coast Guard personnel wore the same uniforms as the U.S. Navy with distinctive Coast Guard insignia, primarily distinctive cap devices for officers and chief petty officers, incorporation of the Coast Guard shield in lieu of line or staff corps insignia for officers, and differentiated uniform buttons on dress uniforms.

In 1972, the current Coast Guard Dress Blue uniform was introduced for wear by both officers and enlisted personnel; the transition was completed during 1974. Relatively similar in appearance to the old-style U.S. Air Force uniforms, the uniform consists of a blue four-pocket single breasted jacket and trousers in a slightly darker shade. A light-blue button-up shirt with a pointed collar, two front button-flap pockets, enhanced shoulder boards for officers, and pin-on collar insignia for Chief Petty Officers and enlisted personnel is worn when in shirt-sleeve order (known as Tropical Blue). It is similar to the World War II–era uniforms worn by Coast Guard Surfmen. Officer rank insignia parallels that of the U.S. Navy but with the gold Navy "line" star being replaced with the gold Coast Guard Shield and with the Navy blue background color replaced by Coast Guard blue. Enlisted rank insignia is also similar to the Navy with the Coast Guard shield replacing the eagle on collar and cap devices. Group Rate marks (stripes) for junior enlisted members (E-3 and below) also follow U. S. Navy convention with white for seaman, red for fireman, and green for airman. In a departure from the U. S. Navy conventions, all Petty Officers E-6 and below wear red chevrons and all Chief Petty Officers wear gold. Unlike the U.S. Navy, officers and CPO's do not wear khaki; all personnel wear the same color uniform. See USCG Uniform Regulations [5] for current regulations.

Coast Guardsmen in a change-of-command ceremony.

Coast Guard officers also have a Dress White uniform, nearly identical to the "choker white" uniform worn by naval officers (aside from service-specific insignia and sword design), typically used for formal parade and change-of-command ceremonies. For similar occasions enlisted members wear either Service Dress Blue or Full Dress Blue. Full Dress Blue replaces the light blue shirt with a white shirt, and full size medals are worn on the jacket. A white belt may be worn for honor guards. Mess dress uniforms are worn by members for formal (black tie) evening ceremonies. Like the dress white officer uniform, the mess dress uniforms are identical to those of the U.S. Navy, aside from Coast Guard-specific insignia.

Admiral Allen in the Operational Dress Uniform (ODU).

The current working uniform of a majority of Coast Guard members is the Operational Dress Uniform (ODU). The ODU is similar to the Battle Dress Uniform of other armed services, both in function and style. However, the ODU is in a solid dark blue with no camouflage patterns and does not have lower pockets on the blouse. The ODU is worn with steel-toed boots in most circumstances, but low-cut black or brown boat shoes may be prescribed for certain situations. The former dark blue working uniform has been withdrawn from use by the Coast Guard but may be worn by Auxiliarists until no longer serviceable. In the fall of 2008 a second generation Operational Dress Uniform was introduced. It resembles the current Battle Dress blouse, which is worn on the outside, rather than tucked in. In addition it has a black Coast Guard insignia embroidered on the left shirt pocket as well as the side pockets of the trousers. This next generation ODU is an optional uniform item until 31 Dec 2012. A baseball-style cover is worn with the ODU uniform, embroidered in gold block lettering with either "U.S. Coast Guard" or the name of their cutter, unit, or station.

Coast Guard members serving in expeditionary combat units such as Port Security Units, Law Enforcement Detachments, and others, wear the Camouflage Utility Uniform (CUU) with the woodland or desert pattern/color scheme based on the operational commander's guidance. An eight-point cap is worn with rank insignia. The camouflaged utility sun hat may be worn when prescribed by the operational commander, without rank insignia.

All Coast Guard members wear the combination cap with all uniforms except the ODU and CUU. A garrison cap may be optionally worn with the Service Dress Blue, Tropical Blue, and Winter Dress Blue uniforms. Company commanders (the Coast Guard's equivalent of Marine Corps drill instructors) at Training Center Cape May wear the traditional "Smokey Bear" campaign hat.

A 2006 issuePDF (27 MB) of the Reservist magazine was devoted to a detailed and easy to understand graphical description of all the authorized uniforms.


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. One 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 (3.7 m) sand dune serving as its protection from the ocean. Faced with these issues the Coast Guard has contracted with General Dynamics C4 System to provide a complete replacement of their 1970s era radio equipment. Rescue 21 is the United States Coast Guard's advanced command, control and communications system. Created to improve the ability to assist mariners in distress and save lives and property at sea, the system is currently being installed in stages across the United States. The nation's existing maritime search and rescue (SAR) communications system has been in operation since the early 1970s. Difficult to maintain, increasingly unreliable and prone to coverage gaps, this antiquated system no longer meets the safety needs of America's growing marine traffic. In addition, it is incapable of supporting the Coast Guard's new mission requirements for homeland security, which require close cooperation with Department of Defense agencies as well as federal, state and local law enforcement authorities. Modernizing this system enhances the safety and protection of America's waterways.

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 acts as an air and surface resource in support of a variety of missions conducted by Coast Guard units.

Aging vessels are another problem, with the Coast Guard still operating some of the oldest naval vessels in the world. In 2005, the Coast Guard terminated contracts to upgrade the 110-foot (33.5 m) Island Class Cutters to 123-foot (37.5 m) cutters because of warping and distortion of the hulls. In late 2006, Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard, decommissioned all eight 123-foot (37 m) cutters due to dangerous conditions created by the lengthening of the hull- to include compromised watertight integrity. The Coast Guard has, as a result of the failed 110 ft (34 m) conversion, revised production schedules for the Fast Response Cutter (FRC). Of the navies and coast guards of the world's 40 largest navies, the U.S. Coast Guard has the 38th oldest surface fleet.[45]

Live fire exercises by Coast Guard boat and cutter crews in the U.S. waters of the Great Lakes attracted attention in the U.S. and Canada. The Coast Guard had proposed the establishment of 34 locations around the Great Lakes where live fire training using vessel-mounted machine guns were to be conducted periodically throughout the year. The Coast Guard said that these exercises are a critical part of proper crew training in support of the service's multiple missions on the Great Lakes, including law enforcement and anti-terrorism. Those that raised concerns about the firing exercises commented about safety concerns and that the impact on commercial shipping, tourism, recreational boating and the environment may be greater than what the Coast Guard had stated. The Coast Guard took public comment and conducted a series of nine public meetings on this issue. After receiving more than 1,000 comments, mostly opposing the Coast Guard's plan, the Coast Guard announced that they were withdrawing their proposal for target practice on the Great Lakes, although a revised proposal may be made in the future.[46][47][48][49][50]

Deployable Operations Group

A member of the Maritime Security Response Team during an exercise in the Gulf of Mexico.
United States Coast Guard Reserve

The Deployable Operations Group (DOG) is a Coast Guard command established in July 2007. The DOG established a single command authority to rapidly provide the Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Department of Justice and other interagency operational commanders adaptive force packages drawn from the U.S. Coast Guard's deployable specialized force units.

The planning for the unit began after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, and culminated with its formation on 20 July 2007. Its missions include maritime law enforcement, anti-terrorism, port security, pollution response, and diving operations.

There are over twenty-five specialized units within the Deployable Operations Group including the Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT), Maritime Safety & Security Teams (MSST), Tactical Law Enforcement Teams (TACLET), Port Security Units (PSU), the National Strike Force (NSF), and Regional Dive Lockers. The DOG also manages Coast Guard personnel assigned to the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) and is involved in the selection of Coast Guard candidates to attend Navy BUD/S and serve with U.S. Navy SEAL Teams.[51]

Coast Guard Reserve

United States Coast Guard Reserve

The United States Coast Guard Reserve is the reserve military force of the Coast Guard.[52] The Coast Guard Reserve was founded on 19 February 1941. Coast Guard reservists normally drill two days a month and an additional 12 days of active duty each year. Coast Guard reservists possess the same training and qualifications as their active duty counterparts, and as such, can be found augmenting active duty Coast Guard units every day.

During the Vietnam War and shortly thereafter, the Coast Guard considered abandoning the reserve program, but the force was instead reoriented into force augmentation, where its principal focus was not just reserve operations, but to add to the readiness and mission execution of every day active duty personnel.

Since 11 September 2001, over 8,500 Reservists have been activated and served on tours of active duty, to include deployments to the Persian Gulf and also as parts of Department of Defense combatant commands such as the U.S. Northern Command and Central Command. Coast Guard Port Security Units are entirely staffed with Reservists, except for five to seven active duty personnel. Additionally, most of the staffing the Coast Guard provides to Naval Coastal Warfare units are reservists.

The Reserve is managed by the Director of Reserve and Training, Rear Admiral Daniel R. May.

Coast Guard Auxiliary

AUX W.png

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed volunteer component of the Coast Guard, established on 23 June 1939 by an act of Congress as the United States Coast Guard Reserve, it was re-designated as the Auxiliary on 19 February 1941. It works within the Coast Guard in carrying out its noncombatant and non-law enforcement missions.[53] As of July 2009, there were 28,986 active Auxiliarists. The Coast Guard has assigned primary responsibility for many recreational boating safety tasks to the Auxiliary, including public boating safety education and voluntary vessel safety checks. Prior to 1997, Auxiliarists were limited to those tasks and on-water patrols supporting recreational boating safety.

In 1997, however, new legislation authorized the Auxiliary to participate in any and all Coast Guard missions except military combat and law enforcement.[54] Auxiliarists may support the law enforcement mission of the Coast Guard but may not directly participate in it. Auxiliarists and their vessels are not allowed to carry any weapons while serving in any Auxiliary capacity; however, they may serve as scouts, alerting regular Coast Guard units. Auxiliarists use their own vessels (e.g., boats, yachts and aircraft) in carrying out Coast Guard missions, or apply specialized skills such as Web page design or radio watchstanding to assist the Coast Guard. When appropriately trained and qualified, they also may serve on board Coast Guard vessels.

Auxiliarists undergo one of several levels of background checks. For most duties, including those related to recreational boating safety, a basic identity check (called a personal security investigation or "PSI") is sufficient. For some duties in which an Auxiliarist provides direct augmentation of Coast Guard forces, such as tasks related to port security, a more in-depth operational security background check is required. Occasionally, an Auxiliarist will need to obtain a security clearance through the Coast Guard in order to have access to classified information in the course of assigned tasking.

The basic unit of the Auxiliary is the Flotilla, which has at least 10 members and may have as many as 100. Five Flotillas in a geographical area form a Division. There are several divisions in each Coast Guard District. The Auxiliary has a leadership and management structure of elected officers, including Flotilla Commanders, Division Commanders, and District Commodores, Atlantic and Pacific Area Commodores, and a national Commodore. However, legally, each Auxiliarist has the same "rank", that of an Auxiliarist.

In 2005, the Coast Guard transitioned to a geographical Sector organization. Correspondingly, a position of "Sector Auxiliary Coordinator" was established. The Sector Auxiliary Coordinator is responsible for service by Auxiliarists directly to a Sector, including augmentation of Coast Guard Active Duty and Reserve forces when requested. Such augmentation is also referred to as force multiplication.

Auxiliarists wear uniforms similar to Coast Guard officers with modified officers' 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.

In 2009, the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary established a Training Leadership Collegiate branch within the Training Department, and tasked the new office with management of its University Detachment Program that had been operating since 2008. Detachments currently operate at The College of William & Mary, The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, and Auburn University.

Medals and honors

One Coast Guardsman, Douglas Albert Munro, has earned the Medal of Honor, the highest military award of the United States.[55]

55 Coast Guardsmen have earned the Navy Cross and numerous men and women have earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The highest peacetime decoration awarded within the Coast Guard is the Homeland Security Distinguished Service Medal; 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 available is the Presidential Unit Citation.

In wartime, members of the Coast Guard are eligible to receive the U.S. Navy version of the Medal of Honor. A Coast Guard Medal of Honor is authorized but has not yet been developed or issued.

In May 2006, at the Change of Command ceremony when Admiral Thad Allen took over as Commandant, President George W. Bush awarded the entire Coast Guard, including the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Coast Guard Presidential Unit Citation with hurricane device, for its efforts during and after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.


Ancient Order of the Pterodactyl

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

The Ancient Albatross Award is presented to the active duty USCG member who qualified as an aviator earlier than any other person who is still serving. Separate enlisted and officer awards are given.[56]

Coast Guard CW Operators Association

The Coast Guard CW Operators Association (CGCWOA) is a membership organization comprised primarily of former members of the United States Coast Guard who held the enlisted rating of Radioman (RM) or Telecommunications Specialist (TC), and who employed International Morse Code (CW) in their routine communications duties on Coast Guard cutters and at shore stations.[57]

USCG Chief Petty Officers Association

Members of this organization unite to assist members and dependents in need, assist with Coast Guard recruiting efforts, support the aims and goals of the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Academy, keep informed on Coast Guard matters, and assemble for social amenities; and include Chief, Senior Chief, and Master Chief Petty Officers, active, reserve and retired. Membership is also open to all Chief Warrant Officers and Officers who have served as a Chief Petty Officer.[58]

Notable Coast Guardsmen and others associated with the USCG

Source: U.S. Coast Guard

Popular culture

See also

Coast Guard

Related agencies


  1. ^ USCG website snapshot
  2. ^ a b c "Homeland Security Budget-in-Brief Fiscal Year 2009". United States Department of Homeland Security. 2009. pp. 53. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Coast Guard Official 'Snapshot' webpage
  4. ^ The Coast Guard Gets It Right Amanda Ripley. TIME. 23 October 2005.
  5. ^ National Search and Rescue Plan (USA) 2007
  6. ^ ¾National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (USA) 2007
  7. ^ Jim Garamone (17 October 2007). "Sea Services Unveil New Maritime Strategy". Navy News Service. Retrieved 26 May 2008. 
  8. ^ Ibid
  9. ^ GAO 2006 Report
  10. ^ GAO 2006 Summary Table
  11. ^ People v. Booth, ___ N.Y.S.2d ___, 2008 WL 2247068, 2008 N.Y. Slip. Op. 28206 (N.Y. Co.Ct. 2008)
  12. ^ How the Coast Guard Gets it Right Amanda Ripley. TIME. 23 October 2005.
  13. ^ Numbered Fleets
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b ALCOAST 366/08
  17. ^ Title 14 USC Chapter 3
  18. ^ h USCG Uniform Distribution Center
  19. ^ a b [1] 14 USC 41. Grades and ratings
  20. ^ a b [2] 37 USC 201. Pay grades: assignment to; general rules
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ USCG Civlian Careers
  25. ^ USCG Regulations. Chapter 10. Accessed 11 December 2006.
  26. ^ 420' WAGB Data Sheet
  27. ^ 399' WAGB Data Sheet
  28. ^ USCGC Eagle Data Sheet
  29. ^ 110' WPB Data Sheet
  30. ^ 87' WPB Data Sheet
  31. ^ 140' WTGB Data Sheet
  32. ^ HU-25 Guardian at
  33. ^ HH-60J Jayhawk at
  34. ^
  35. ^ Guardian Ethos - Coast Guard Training Center Cape May Website
  36. ^ Harry G. Hamlet - USCG Historian's Office
  37. ^ USCG History FAQ USCG Historian's Office
  38. ^ [ALCOAST 366/08]
  39. ^ The Coast Guard Ensign, Coast Guard Historian's Office
  40. ^ The Customs Ensign, Customs Archives
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^ "US Coast Guard History FAQs". US Coast Guard. Retrieved 25 October 2008. 
  45. ^ Defense Technology International, January/February 2007, p26
  46. ^ Ninth Coast Guard District – U.S. Great Lakes proposed permanent safety zones information site
  47. ^ United States Federal Register – 1 August 2006 – Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
  48. ^ CBC News – 16 October 2006 – U.S. machine-gun fire suspended on Great Lakes
  49. ^ Columbus Dispatch - 10 September 2006 - Some up in arms over fire zones
  50. ^ Opponents of the Coast Guard's live fire plan
  51. ^ Coast Guard Expects New Deployable Group Operating By Next Summer
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^ 33 CFR 5.31 states that: Members of the Auxiliary, when assigned to specific duties shall, unless otherwise limited by the Commandant, be vested with the same power and authority, in execution of such duties, as members of the regular Coast Guard assigned to similar duties.
  55. ^ United States Coast Guard. Douglas Albert Munro, USCG. Accessed 6 November 2006.
  56. ^ Ancient Albatross Award
  57. ^ CGCWOA - Official Website
  58. ^ USCG Chief Petty Officers Association - Official Website
  59. ^ Stars In Blue, James E. Wise, Jr. and Anne Collier Rehill, Naval Institute Press, p.97
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^
  63. ^
  64. ^
  65. ^
  66. ^ [3]
  67. ^ - Coast Guard. Retrieved December 25, 2009.


  • Coast Guardsman's Manual / George Krietemeyer - Naval Institute Press, 2000 - ISBN 1-55750-468-7

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun

United States Coast Guard


United States Coast Guard

  1. The branch of the United States armed forces established to protect the coastal and inland navigable waters of the United States. The United States Coast Guard is a military and law enforcement organization operating under the Department of Homeland Security. Abbreviated as US Coast Guard or USCG.


Simple English

The United States Coast Guard is one of the 5 branches of the military of the United States. It is a part of the United States Department of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard's purpose is to protect the people, environment, industry and security of the United States on seas, lakes and rivers. To do this, the Coast Guard uses boats, ships, helicopters and airplanes to stop crime and terrorism, and to rescue ships and boats in danger.

The modern United States Coast Guard was started on January 28, 1915 when the U. S. Congress ordered the Revenue Cutter Service and the Life-Saving Service to be put together. The Coast Guard can become part of the Department of the Navy during war, but it is not now.


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