UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


The United States Coast Guard
CSC 1993
                           EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Title: The United States Coast Guard
Author: Lieutenant Commander F.X. O'Byrne, Jr., United States Coast Guard
Thesis: The United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College provides
instruction on the roles, mission, equipment, and organization of the four armed
forces within the Department of Defense, but provides no such instruction on
the nation's fifth armed force, the United States Coast Guard.  This paper
provides basic information on the roles, mission, equipment, and organization of
the United States Coast Guard.
Background: The Revenue Cutter Service, forerunner of the Coast Guard, was
founded in 1790 to help the government collect tariff revenues by stopping
smuggling.  The Revenue Cutter Service was renamed the Coast Guard in
1915. The service has approximately 37,000 active duty personnel. Their rank
structure, promotion, pay, and retirement are the same as DOD services. There
are approximately 12,000 drilling Reservists in the Coast Guard, and
approximately 35,000 Auxiliarists.  The service operates approximately: 240
cutters ranging in size from 399 feet to 65 feet; 2,000 small boats that are less than 65 feet in length; 225 aircraft, from HC-130s to small, short-range
recovery helicopters; 550 shore commands.  The service is decentralized
operationally and administratively.  Coast Guard Headquarters is located in
Washington, DC.  There are two Area Commands (Atlantic and Pacific), and
within them ten District Commands. The service has four main roles: maritime
safety; maritime law enforcement; marine environmental protection; and
national defense.  These major roles are administered through several major
programs: search and rescue; marine environmental protection; enforcement of
laws and treaties; aids to navigation; boating safety; commercial vessel safety;
and defense readiness. The Coast Guard's multi-mission capabilities make it a
unique, flexible, and responsive armed force. It's widely acknowledged as one
of the most cost-effective agencies in the federal government. Above all, the
Coast Guard exists to provide quality service to the U.S. public.
Recommendation: The United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College
should institutionalize in its curriculum training about the United States Coast
Thesis:  The United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College
provides instruction on the roles, mission, equipment, and organization of
the four armed forces within the Department of Defense, but provides no
such instruction on the nation's fifth armed force, the United States Coast
Guard.   This paper provides basic information on the roles, mission,
equipment, and organization of the United States Coast Guard.
     I.   Introduction
          A.    Coast Guard mission statement
          B.    Coast Guard history
     II.  Personnel
          A.    Officer personnel
          B.    Enlisted Personnel
          C.    Reservists
          D.    Auxiliarists
     III. Equipment
          A.    Cutters and boats
          B.    Aircraft
          C.    Shore units
     IV.  Organization
          A.    Area commands
          B.    District commands
          C.    Other commands
     V.   Roles
          A.    Maritime safety
          B.    Maritime law enforcement
          C.    Marine environmental protection
          D.    National defense
     VI.  Conclusion
          A.    Myths
          B.    Separate existence from the Navy
          C.    Average Coast Guard day
          D.    Description of Coast Guard
          E.    Semper Paratus
     The four armed forces within the Department of Defense, the Army,
Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, concentrate on the role of national
defense as their primary mission. Most military personnel are familiar with
those DOD services, but may be less familiar with the United States Coast
Guard. Located within the Department of Transportation, the Coast Guard
has several major peace time missions that, together with its role of
preparing for the national defense, give it a unique character.
     What is the Coast Guard's mission? Admiral J. William Kime, the
Commandant of the Coast Guard, issued the following Coast Guard mission
statement in 1990:
     The United States Coast Guard is the nation's primary maritime
     operating agency. We protect life and property at sea, enforce
     federal laws and treaties, preserve marine natural resources,
     and promote national security interests. As one of the nation's
     five Armed Forces, it is our military character--our organization
     and discipline, our command, control and communications
     structure, and our multi-mission surface and air capabilities--
     which enables us to perform our civil duties within the
     Department of Transportation, as well as function in the
     Department of the Navy when Congress or the President so
     directs.  The Coast Guard hallmark is quality service to the
	The Coast Guard carries out that mission statement in the
performance of four main roles: maritime safety, maritime law enforcement,
marine environmental protection, and national defense. Who the people are
that perform those roles, what equipment they use, and the organizational
structure they operate under will be discussed shortly, but first some brief
historical notes.
     The Coast Guard traces its origin to 1790. Smuggling, which had
been considered a patriotic activity during the American Revolutionary War,
was causing a loss of tariff revenues to the United States. The young
nation needed all revenues possible to run its government and to pay off its
Revolutionary War debt. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton
wanted to create a seagoing military force for the purpose of collecting tariff
revenues. On August 4, 1790, Congress passed Hamilton's Revenue Cutter
Bill. That bill authorized construction of ten cutters that were to enforce
collection of custom tariffs from ships involved in foreign trade with the
United States. Those ten cutters were the forerunner of today's Coast
     The Revenue Cutter Service was renamed the Coast Guard in January
1915 when it was merged with the United States Life Saving Service. In
1939, the Lighthouse Service was merged with the Coast Guard. In 1942,
the Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection was merged with the
Coast Guard.
	The Coast Guard served under the Navy from 1917 to 1919 and from
1941 to 1945. The service has fought in every major war the United States
has been in since 1790, and has also served in numerous other military
     The Coast Guard is made up of an active duty force of about 37,000
people. There are about 5,500 officers, 1,500 warrant officers, and 30,000
enlisted personnel.
     Six out of ten Coast Guard officers are commissioned from the United
States Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. The Coast Guard
Academy is the nation's only federal academy that selects its cadets based
on personal merit competition rather than based on congressional
nomination. The remainder of the service's officers are commissioned from
its Officer Candidate School in Yorktown, VA, with a very small number of
others, called Direct Commission Applicants, coming directly from the officer
ranks of the other services. Former Army helicopter pilots are an example of
this group of officers. Rank structure, pay, and retirement are similar to the
officer corps in the DOD armed forces, including the rules for up or out
promotion that deal with failure to be selected after two tries.
     Enlisted personnel attend eight weeks of boot camp at Coast Guard
Training Center, Cape May, NJ. The drop out rate of approximately 20% for
boot camp trainees closely resembles that of the other services' boot
camps. Coast Guard enlisted personnel have 28 rating specialties to choose
from. Coast Guard enlisted personnel also have the same rank structure,
pay, and retirement of the DOD armed forces. Servicewide examinations are
a part of the advancement routine for Coast Guard personnel just as they
are for Navy personnel.
     There are approximately 12,000 drilling reservists in the Coast Guard
Reserve. Reservists prepare for their mobilization duties by augmenting their
active duty counterparts. This highly successful program, known as
Augmentation, has been in effect since the 1970s. Because so much of the
Coast Guard's mission revolves around peace time service, augmentation
results in a Reserve component that's readily capable of performing many of
the Coast Guard's daily missions. In numerous locations throughout the
country, active duty personnel have the opportunity to go home for the
weekend when reservists come to perform their weekend drills. This results
in better trained reservists and provides for better duty schedules for active
duty personnel.
     A third segment of Coast Guard human resources is the Coast Guard
Auxiliary. The Auxiliary was created by an act of Congress in 1939 to
promote safety in U.S. recreational boating, and functions as a quasi-military
arm of the Coast Guard. There are approximately 35,000 Auxiliarists, all of
whom are volunteers.
     Coast Guard personnel operate cutters, boats, helicopters, and fixed-
wing aircraft at various shore and air stations throughout the world. These
material resources are multi-mission capable and are used in a variety of
duties from search and rescue to icebreaking to guarding the seaward side
of a Navy ship loading out with a contingent of Marines.
     The Coast Guard cutter fleet ranges from large icebreakers to 65-foot
harbor tugs. The largest vessels in the fleet are two Polar Class icebreakers,
each 399 feet long. They're both equipped with flight decks and each
routinely operates with two embarked helicopters. These icebreakers have a
speed of 18 knots and a range of 28,000 miles. They operate primarily in
the Arctic and Antarctic conducting scientific research and maintaining a
U.S. presence in those areas. The service's third icebreaker is located in the
Great Lakes, where it serves exclusively; it was designed to never leave the
lakes. This icebreaker, the MACKINAW, has a speed of 18 knots and a
range of 41,000 miles. Its major missions are keeping the Great Lakes open
to commercial shipping during the winter ice season, search and rescue, and
scientific research. These three icebreakers are the only major icebreakers
the United States operates. There are nine smaller icebreaking tugs
operated by the Coast Guard. They're 140 feet long, have a speed of 15
knots and a range of 4,000 miles. Their missions, in addition to ice
breaking, are search and rescue, pollution response, and law enforcement.
     The fleet has 12 High Endurance Cutters, designated WHECs. These
cutters resemble Navy frigates in size, speed, and endurance. They're 378
feet long, have a top speed of 29 knots and a range of 14,000 miles. Their
major missions are law enforcement, defense operations, and search and
     The fleet has 33 Medium Endurance Cutters, designated WMECs.
These cutters range in size from 205 feet to 270 feet, with speeds of 14-20
knots and ranges between 6,000 miles and 20,000 miles. The major
differences between WHECs and WMECs are weapon systems and ability to
remain at sea on patrol without conducting replenishment at sea operations,
thus the term endurance in the classification scheme. The WMECs can
typically conduct continuous operations for 14-21 days without
replenishment; WHECs can last roughly twice as long, again depending on
the operational tempo. The major missions of the WMECs are the same as
the WHECs: law enforcement, defense operations, and search and rescue.
WHECs and most WMECs are equipped with flight decks and both typically
operate with embarked helicopters. Both classes of cutters regularly
undergo Refresher Training at U.S. Navy Fleet Training Groups or Units.
     The service operates 26 ocean going buoy tenders that are 180 feet
long. These tenders have speeds of 12-14 knots and ranges between
13,500 miles and 31,000 miles. Their major missions are maintaining short
range aids to navigation such as buoys, day marks, and minor lights, in
addition to performing law enforcement, ice operations (all are built with
icebreaking bows), and search and rescue. The service also operates a total
of 52 smaller buoy tenders, ranging in size from 175 feet to 65 feet. These
smaller tenders have speeds up to 12 knots and ranges up to 4,500 miles,
and carry out the same missions as their larger cousins but do so in the
coastal and river areas of the United States.
     The service operates 102 patrol boats, ranging in size from 82 feet to
110 feet, with speeds up to 30 knots and ranges between 490 miles and
1,800 miles. Patrol boat missions are mainly law enforcement, search and
rescue, and defense operations.
     The service also operates approximately 2,000 boats, ranging in size
from 16 feet to 65 feet, with speeds up to 40 knots and ranges between 70
miles and 500 miles. Included in this category is the Coast Guard designed
and built 44-foot Motor Lifeboat.  This lifeboat is world-famous for its sea-
keeping and self-righting characteristics. These 2,000 boats make up
several different classes of craft, including: Motor Lifeboat; Motor Surfboat;
Utility Boat; Surf Rescue Boat; Port Security Boat; Ports and Waterways
Boat; Aids to Navigation Boat; and a variety of smaller, non-standard boats.
The mission areas of these boats are search and rescue, port security, port
safety, aids to navigation, and law enforcement.
     The most famous of all Coast Guard cutters is America's tall ship, the
United States Coast Guard Barque EAGLE, which is known throughout the
world. The EAGLE is homeported at the Coast Guard Academy in New
London, CT, where it's used as a training platform for Academy cadets and
Officer Candidates from the service's Officer Candidate School.(9:48-63)
     The Coast Guard operates approximately 225 aircraft, from fixed-wing
jets to short range helicopters. The most familiar of these aircraft are the
service's HC-130 Hercules, of which there are 31. HC-130s are ideal search
platforms with endurances up to 18 hours. HC-130 missions are primarily
search and rescue, law enforcement, and environmental response.
     The service operates 41 HU-25 Guardian twin-fan jets. These aircraft
have a 5 1/2 hour endurance and as with the HC-130s, their missions are
primarily search and rescue, law enforcement, and environmental response.
     The service operates three classes of helicopters. First is the HH-65A
Dolphin, a twin-engined, short-range recovery helicopter, with a top speed
of 165 knots and an endurance of 3 1/2 hours. These helicopters operate
from the service's flight deck-equipped cutters. The service operates 96 of
these aircraft. The second class of helicopter is the well known HH-3F
Pelican. These helicopters have a top speed of 142 knots and an endurance
of six hours, and are considered medium-range recovery helicopters. The
service operates 36 of these aircraft, plus nine CH-3E Pelicans, which have
the same characteristics. The third class of helicopter is the HH-60J
Jayhawk, also a medium-range recovery helicopter. These helicopters have
a top speed of 180 knots and an endurance of six hours. Jayhawks are
entering Coast Guard service now, with a planned inventory of 32.  Major
missions for all the service's helicopters are search and rescue, law
enforcement, environmental response, and ice operations.
     The service also operates a small number of other aircraft, none of
which make up classes by themselves. Those aircraft have specialized
missions such as logistics and personnel transfer services.(9:45-46)
	Shore units in the Coast Guard help the fleet and its aircraft perform
their missions. Additionally, activities at these shore units fulfill the myriad
regulatory duties the Coast Guard is charged with performing.  Below is a
list of shore unit commands in the Coast Guard.
Aids to navigation teams          64
Large air stations                14
Small air stations                11
Bases                             14
Small boat stations               153
Group offices                     44
Light stations                    1
Loran C stations                  46
Marine safety offices             42
Marine inspection offices         4
Communications stations           8
Port security units               3
Vessel traffic services           6
Captains of the port              48
       Best known of these units are the small boat stations. This is the
Coast Guard most people come into contact with, especially coastal
residents and recreational boaters. It's largely from these units that the
Coast Guard derives the moniker "The Lifesavers," for in many cases that's
what Coast Guardsmen at small boat stations do--save the lives of people
who've gotten themselves into distress on the coastal waters of the United
States. In addition to the list of shore units above, there are 30
Headquarters units in the service, ranging from Coast Guard Headquarters in
Washington, DC, to the service's Research and Development Center in
Groton, CT.
     The organization of the Coast Guard is decentralized administratively
and operationally. There are two Area commands: Commander, Atlantic
Area and Commander, Pacific Area. The Area commands are divided into
District commands, with six on the east coast and four on the west coast.
District Commanders and commanding officers of large cutters, those above
180 feet in length, answer to the Area Commanders.
     Small boat stations are organized into Groups for centralization of
administrative support and for coordination purposes aimed at mission
accomplishment when the mission assigned exceeds the capability of a
single station. Small boat station commanding officers answer to Group
Commanders. Group Commanders, air station commanding officers, marine
safety office commanding officers, Captains of the Port, and commanding
officers of cutters less than 180 feet in length answer to the District
     Commanding officers of Headquarters units answer to their respective
office chiefs at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC.
     The mission statement at the beginning of this paper mentioned four
major roles of the Coast Guard: protecting life and property at sea, which is
the maritime safety role; enforce federal laws and treaties, which is the
maritime law enforcement role; preserve marine natural resources, which is
the marine environmental protection role; and promote national security
interests, which is the national defense role. The Coast Guard's seven
major operating programs are based on these four roles. These seven
programs account for 85% of the Coast Guard's operating funds. Coast
Guard operating funds account for nearly 70% of the service's entire
     The marine safety role encompasses several program areas. Search
and rescue, the best known of the service's programs, provides aid to
persons and property in distress in the marine environment. The Coast
Guard maintains search and rescue facilities along all coasts of the United
States as well as in Alaska, Hawaii, and on the Great Lakes. The Aids to
Navigation program promotes the safe and efficient passege of maritime
traffic by the construction, placement, maintenance, and operation of over
49,000 federal aids to navigation. These aids include short and long range
aids such as buoys and lighthouses. The Aids to Navigation program also
operates and maintains long-range radionavigation transmitters, including
Loran and Omega. Through the Boating Safety program the service
promotes uniform federal and state boating regulations that have as a goal
the lessening of lives lost, people injured, and property damaged on our
nation's waterways. Through the Marine Inspection program the service
seeks a lessening of lives lost, people injured, and property damaged in the
commercial side of marine enterprises in the United States. Coast
Guardsmen in this program area work to develop and enforce standards and
policies that ensure the safe design, construction, maintenance, and
operation of commercial vessels and offshore facilities such as oil drilling
platforms. The Marine Licensing program seeks to ensure that all those
personnel engaged in the maritime professions are properly trained to
perform their duties and it does this through its licensing and certification
program. In 1990, the Coast Guard issued over 8,000 new and upgraded
licenses, issued over 13,500 license renewals, and processed over 25,000
seaman's documents.(9:92) The Waterways Management Program operates
six Vessel Traffic Services that help alert mariners to situations, both
existing and potential, that could adversely affect the safe transit of their
ships. This system is designed to help prevent tragedies such as the 1989
grounding in Alaska of the EXXON VALDEZ.
     The maritime law enforcement role is managed from within the
Enforcement of Laws and Treaties program area. This program is
responsible for enforcing federal laws and treaties on the high seas and on
waters the United States has jurisdiction over. Activities include interdicting
drug smugglers as well as enforcing fisheries regulations in the U.S. 200-
mile Exclusive Economic Zone. The Coast Guard also assists other federal,
state, and local law enforcement organizations where there is overlapping
jurisdictional authority.
     The Marine Environmental Protection Role is managed from within the
Marine Environmental Protection program. The objectives of this program
are to minimize damage caused by pollutants released in the coastal zone
and to assist in national and international pollution response planning
efforts. In 1989, 12,738 oil and hazardous substance spills were responded
to; 11,154 cargo transfer operations were monitored; 314 major oil pollution
removal operations were performed; 12,700 cargo vessels and barges were
boarded and inspected; and 3,800 waterfront facilities were
     The National Defense role is managed from within the Defense
Readiness program. This program's objectives are to ensure Coast Guard
operating units have the training and capability necessery to function
effectively as an armed force as required by law. Some of the program's
goals are to safeguard the nation's ports, waterways, waterfront facilities,
vessels, personnel, and property from accidental or intentional damage,
disruption, destruction, or injury.
     Above are some Coast Guard facts. Here are some Coast Guard
     Myth 1: that the Coast Guard is in the Treasury Department. Fact:
On April 1, 1967, after 177 years in the Treasury Department, the Coast
Guard was transferred to the newly formed Department of Transportation.
     Myth 2: that the Coast Guard is in the Defense Department. Fact
In time of war or when decreed by the President the Coast Guard reports to
the U.S. Navy. Otherwise, it remains within the Department of
     Myth 3: The Coast Guard is not a military service. Fact: The Coast
Guard is by law always one of the five United States Armed Forces--the
Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
     Myth 4: The Coast Guard only works near U.S. coasts. Fact: The
Coast Guard operates in all corners of the world. For example, vessel
inspectors visit the Orient and Europe regularly; LORAN and OMEGA
stations are located around the world; High Endurance and Medium
Endurance Cutters enforce the nation's laws and treaties many miles at sea;
and polar icebreakers visit the Arctic and Antarctic routinely.
     Myth 5: the Coast Guard is a small service. Fact: Compared to the
U.S. Navy, yes. However, if you count the number of ships in the Coast
Guard you'll see it's the 12th largest "navy" in the world. It's the 7th
largest naval air force in the world. And it's the largest "Coast Guard" in
the world.(9:24)
     Present budgetary concerns have U.S. legislators looking at ways to
cut costs in the federal budget. Downsizing the national military structure is
one way legislators seek to cut costs. The roles and missions of the four
armed forces in the Department of Defense are being reviewed with an eye
toward eliminating unnecessary duplication and thus cutting defense costs.
Because of this, consideration may be given to disbanding the Coast Guard
by absorbing it into the Navy.
     Calls such as this, for the Coast Guard's military duties to be
absorbed into the Navy with the rest of the service's duties transferred to
the private sector thereby effectively dismantling the service, have occurred
several times in the Coast Guard's past. None of these past calls were
carried out, nor should such a call be carried out today.
     The best explanation for the continued separate existence of the
Coast Guard from the Navy was written in a 1919 letter by then
Commandant of the Coast Guard Commodore Ellsworth P. Bertholf. The
letter reads in part:
     ...the  fundamental  reasons  for  the  two  services  are
     diametrically opposed. The Navy exists for the sole purpose of
     keeping itself prepared for...war.  Its usefulness to the
     government is therefore to a large degree potential.  If it
     performs in peace time any useful function not ultimately
     connected with the preparation for war, that is a by-product.
     On the other hand, the Coast Guard does not exist solely for
     the purpose of preparing for war. If it did there would be then
     be, of course, two navies--a large and a small one, and that
     condition, I am sure you will agree, could not long exist. The
     Coast Guard exists for the particular and main purpose of
     performing duties which have no connection with a state of
     war, but which, on the contrary, are constantly necessary as
     peace functions.  It is, of course, essentially an emergency
     service and it is organized along military lines because that sort
     of an organization best enables the Coast Guard to keep
     prepared as an emergency service, and by organization along
     military lines it is invaluable in time of war as an adjunct and
     auxiliary to the Navy.... while peace time usefulness is a by-
     product of the Navy, it is war time usefulness that is a by-
     product of the Coast Guard.(1:59)
     Below is a list of some of the "necessary peace functions" the
Coast Guard performs. The list is based on an "average" day in
1991, a day in which the Coast Guard:
     -Saved 13 lives and assisted 339 people;
     -Saved $2 million in property;
     -Conducted 232 Search and Rescue sorties;
     -Responded to 33 oil or hazardous chemical spills;
     -Conducted 87 Port Safety/Security operations;
     -Inspected 82 commercial vessels;
     -Boarded 90 large vessels;
     -Investigated 18 reported marine accidents;
     -Serviced 119 aids-to-navigation;
     -Seized 84 pounds of marijuana and 92 pounds of cocaine.
     The facts listed above are one description of the Coast Guard.
Admiral Kime has provided us with another description:
     ...we are a maritime organization; we are an armed force with
     military tasks and a military structure; we have four major roles-
     -maritime  law  enforcement,   maritime  safety,  marine
     environmental protection, and national security; we have multi-
     mission assets with both peacetime and wartime functions;
     and, above all, we exist to provide quality service to the U.S.
     public.  These are the core Coast Guard attributes which
     currently serve the nation and the attributes that the Coast
     Guard will bring into the future. They make the Coast Guard
     relevant today and are the foundation of our future. (3:11)
     Vice Admiral Charles Thomas, Royal Canadian Navy (Ret.),
wrote in a recent issue of the Naval Institute Proceedings that: "...if
[the U.S. Coast Guard] didn't exist as a separate service, I suggest
your nation would have to invent it."(6:139) Fortunately for the
nation and its citizens, the Coast Guard exists today as the relevant
service it has been for over 200 years. Its multi-mission capabilities
make the Coast Guard unique, flexible, and responsive to the nation's
needs. The Coast Guard motto, "Semper Paratus," means Always
Ready. That's what the Coast Guard has always been, that's what it
is today, that's what it will be tomorrow.
1.   Johnson, Robert E. Guardians of the Sea. Annapolis, Md.: Naval
          Institute Press, 1987.
2.   Kaplan, Hyman R., and Hunt, James F. The is the Coast Guard.
          Cambridge, Md.: Cornell Maritime Press, Inc., 1972.
3.   Kime, J. William. "Maintaining Our Relevancy." U.S. Naval
          Institute Proceedings, December, 1992.
4.    King, Irving H. George Washington's Coast Guard: Origins of the U.S.
          Revenue Cutter Service, 1789-1801. Annapolis, Md.: Naval
          Institute Press, 1978.
5.   National Defense University. Armed Forces Staff College. The
          Joint Staff Officer's Guide 1991. Washington, U.S
          Government Printing Office.
6.   Thomas, Charles. Review of The U.S. Coast Guard's National
          Security Role in the Twenty-First Century, by Bruce Stubbs.
          U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, March, 1993.
7.   U.S. Coast Guard. Budget in Brief. Washington, DC: U.S.
          Coast Guard, 1992.
8.    U.S. Coast Guard. A Disticent Instrument of National Security.
          Washington, DC: U.S. Coast Guard.
9.   U.S. Coast Guard. l992 Fact File. Washington, DC: U.S. Coast
          Guard, 1992.
10.  1992 U.S. Coast Guard Overview. Commandant's Bulletin,
          October, 1991
11.  Waters, John M., Jr. Bloody Winter. Revised Edition.
          Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1984.
12.  Willoughby, Malcolm F. Rum War at Sea. Washington: U.S. Treasury
                         Department, 1964.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list