Guard Organization and Missions
The U.S. Coast Guard is a military, multimission, maritime service within
the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and one of the five U.S. armed
services. The service’s core roles are to protect the public, the
environment, and U.S. economic and security interests on international
waters, along U.S. coasts, and in U.S. ports and waterways. The Coast
Guard operates along 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline, throughout 3.4 million
square miles of exclusive economic zones, in 361 domestic ports, and in
maritime regions of importance to the United States around the world.
Since the founding of the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790, the Coast Guard’s
ancestor, a distinctive blend of humanitarian, law enforcement, diplomatic,
and military capabilities has proven vital to America’s prosperity.
As the nation’s “Shield of Freedom,” the Coast Guard
saves lives and property in peril on the water, protects critical infrastructures
and resources, ensures homeland security, safeguards U.S. maritime sovereignty,
and defends American citizens, interests, and friends worldwide.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks against America on Sept. 11,
2001, President George W. Bush directed that 22 previously disparate domestic
agencies be merged into one department to protect the nation against threats
to the homeland.
The Coast Guard was transferred intact from the Department of Transportation
on March 1, 2003, and took the lead as an agency uniquely positioned to
protect America from threats directed at U.S. ports and waterways.
Homeland security has been a Coast Guard mission since 1790, which means
the service already has the right capabilities, interagency relationships,
and regulatory authority to lead DHS efforts to push U.S. maritime borders
out, thereby enhancing a layered approach to maritime security that helps
identify threats long before they reach U.S. shores.
Coast Guard People, Values, and Principles
Every day, the Coast Guard stands ready with an active duty force of
38,000 men and women, augmented by 8,000 Coast Guard reservists, 35,000
volunteers in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and a civilian workforce of 6,000.
Coast Guard men and women put their lives on the line to secure America’s
maritime borders, ensure a safe and efficient marine transportation system,
enforce the nation’s laws and treaties, protect the marine environment,
support America’s diplomatic and defense interests worldwide, and
They are guided in their actions by the Coast Guard’s Core Values:
honor, respect, and devotion to duty, and kept on course in the execution
of their duties by the Principles of Coast Guard Operations; clear objectives,
effective presence, unity of effort, on-scene initiative, flexibility,
managed risk, and restraint. Working from these foundations, the men and
women of the Coast Guard fulfill their assigned missions and remain Semper
Paratus–Always Ready in service to America.
Perhaps the Coast Guard is best known for its search-and-rescue mission.
Personal courage and selflessness in the pursuit of saving lives at sea
has defined the organization since the earliest days of the Revenue Cutter
In the 19th century, Coast Guard “surfmen” conducted beach
patrols, deployed breeches, buoys and lifecars, and muscled lifeboats
through raging surf—always ready to go out when others could not—or
would not. At the dawn of the 21st century, with high-tech platforms and
systems to aid them, America’s lifesavers still need courage, dedication,
and unique skills to guard lives and property on the unforgiving sea.
The Coast Guard works closely with other federal, state, and local agencies,
and with foreign nations to provide the world’s fastest and most
effective response to mariners in distress. It also maintains a vessel
tracking system called AMVER (automated mutual assistance vessel rescue)
that allows it to divert nearby commercial vessels to render assistance
when necessary. In 2001, the Coast Guard responded to 39,478 calls for
assistance, saving more than 4,000 lives and protecting more than $71
million in property.
During the past decade, the number of American lives lost each year in
boating accidents has declined significantly. The Coast Guard’s
Marine Safety Program promotes safety through its regulatory and inspections
roles, inspecting merchant vessels, and licensing their masters and crews.
The Coast Guard Auxiliary provides free boating safety courses, courtesy
marine examinations for recreational boaters, aids to navigation verification,
and inspections of commercial facilities.
Protecting lives at sea will become more challenging in the years ahead
as demand for oceangoing trade and tourism burgeons, setting the stage
for explosive growth in the size and numbers of commercial vessels, cruise
ships, and recreational boats plying inland, coastal, and international
waterways. Fishing vessels and offshore platforms are moving farther offshore
in search of more plentiful harvests and a dramatic increase in recreational
boating is adding to congestion on the nation’s waters. Prevention,
requiring extensive risk assessment to reduce the probability of mishaps,
will be as important as the act of pulling survivors from the water, and
advanced technologies will continue to leverage expert seamanship and
training as the Coast Guard strives to protect all life at sea.
The Coast Guard is an armed service and vital component of U.S. military
forces in times of war or conflict and has participated in every major
U.S. conflict since 1790. The service’s multimission capabilities
and expertise in port, coastal, and environmental security makes it critical
to the success of defense operations around the world.
At the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there were 1,250 Coast Guard
personnel deployed, including nearly 500 reservists, with two high-endurance
cutters, a buoy tender, eight patrol boats, four port-security units,
a harbor-defense command unit, pollution-responders, law enforcement detachments,
and support staff to the Central (CENTCOM) and European (EUCOM) Command
theaters of operation.
Coast Guard forces in the region contributed to the identification and
seizure of cargo embargoed by the United Nations as well as capturing
the first maritime enemy prisoners of war, and discovering a large cache
of Iraqi weapons and military equipment hidden in coastal caves in southern
Iraq. Coast Guard forces also assisted in the interception and seizure
of Iraqi mine-laying vessels, ensuring waterways were safe for relief
ships and military traffic to and from the key port of Umm Qasr. Coast
Guard port security units provided security in key ports in Kuwait and
Iraq and on Iraqi oil terminals located in the North Arabian Gulf, where
enemy prisoners of war were being detained while buoy tenders conducted
a navigational survey of aids along the Khor Abd Allah River flowing up
to Umm Qasr and corrected or replaced them, allowing for the safe navigation
of the river for military, humanitarian, and commercial vessels.
The Coast Guard’s national defense role in support of the nation’s
unified combat commands can be categorized in four major defense mission
areas. These missions—maritime intercept operations, deployed security
and defense port operations, peacetime engagement, and environmental defense
operations—are essential military tasks assigned to the Coast Guard
as a component of joint and combined forces in peacetime, crisis, and
In order to continue to meet the demands of U.S. national defense operations
around the world, and other Coast Guard operations at home, the Coast
Guard is aggressively seeking to upgrade its aging fleet through the Integrated
Deepwater System Program. The Coast Guard contracted with Northrop Grumman
and Lockheed Martin on June 25, 2002, to form the Integrated Coast Guard
Systems team, developing the next generation of Coast Guard cutters, aircraft,
weapons, and systems.
Maritime Security Law Enforcement
As America’s principal “law of the sea” agency, the
Coast Guard began its security mission by enforcing import tariffs as
the Revenue Cutter Service and has seen its maritime security responsibilities
expand exponentially to include the enforcement of all federal laws related
to the sea from interdicting drug and migrant smugglers to enforcing vessel
safety regulations and fisheries conservations laws, as well as the securing
of the nation’s ports for commercial and recreational traffic.
Immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Coast Guard
embarked on the largest port security operation since World War II. The
Coast Guard moved to a heightened state of alert in more than 361 major
ports, conducting thousands of boardings on “high-interest vessels,”
deploying port security teams, creating security zones around critical
infrastructure, and recalling almost 3,000 Reservists.
Always a threat to homeland security, the influx of illegal drugs continues
to be the most challenging element of maritime security mission. The Coast
Guard’s counterdrug mission is strategically aligned with the goals
of the National Drug Control Strategy to detect, disrupt, deter, and seize
illegal drugs that kill 15,000 Americans and cost the public more than
$110 billion each year. In fiscal year 2003, the Coast Guard seized 135,962
pounds of cocaine and 13,564 pounds of marijuana—enough drugs to
fill more than three tractor-trailer trucks. The value of these seizures
was nearly $4.4 billion dollars.
This success is largely due to improved intelligence collection, analysis,
application, and coordination with DHS agency partners, other government
agencies, and international partners. The street value of cocaine and
marijuana seized continues to exceed the Coast Guard’s entire operating
budget each year.
Approximately 110,000 commercial fishing vessels operate from U.S. ports
netting catches that totaled almost 4.7 metric tons in the early 1990s.
The Coast Guard can anticipate increased enforcement responsibilities
in this field as the world’s fish stocks decline, and the enforcement
of multiple laws and treaties protecting U.S. fisheries resources throughout
the millions of square miles of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ)
becomes increasingly important. The U.S. EEZs hold more than 20 percent
of the world’s fishery resources and support a commercial industry
valued at more than $25 billion.
The Coast Guard also is the lead agency for the enforcement of U.S. immigration
laws at sea, stressing sensitivity in dealing with undocumented migrants
in all areas: mass migration, asylum requests, smuggling, and repatriation.
In efforts to increase security against undocumented migrants, the Coast
Guard constantly monitors maritime transit zones, interdicting migrants,
rescuing people from sinking or unsafe vessels, providing humanitarian
assistance, and training other nations to discourage undocumented migration
into the United States.
In the years after the Constitution was signed, the fledgling American
economy depended heavily on maritime trade and the taxes generated by
the cargo moving through U.S. ports. To protect American shipping from
the violent nature of the eastern coast, treacherous channels, and threat
of piracy, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton proposed the creation
of the Revenue Cutter Service. To further ensure the safe navigation of
merchant vessels, the Lighthouse Service, another predecessor of today’s
Coast Guard, was established by Congress in 1789 and marked the first
federal foray into the world of maritime transportation risk management.
Today, with 13 million Americans employed in domestic shipping-related
activities, the marine transportation system contributes $740 billion
to America’s economy each year. Additionally, U.S. military strategy
and operations depend upon efficient inland waterways, safe ports, and
secure sealift for nearly all material sent to overseas conflicts.
Critical to marine traffic, the service’s aids to navigation program
and vessel traffic services guide the safe movement of all vessels. As
of the turn of this century, more than 8,000 foreign-flag vessels called
at U.S. ports annually, and 25 percent of U.S. domestic trade moved by
water. Add to this more than 134 million passengers transiting U.S. waters
in ferries, cruise ships, and gaming vessels; some 110,000 commercial
fishing vessels harvesting waters under U.S. jurisdiction; and millions
of Americans and foreign tourists using 16 million recreational craft
throughout thousands of miles of U.S. coastlines and waterways, and the
importance maintaining maritime “signposts” and “traffic
signals” becomes clear.
In the next quarter-century, greater numbers of ultra-large, deep-draft
ships will call at “mega-ports,” cruise ships carrying 6,000
or more people will head for more remote areas, and maritime trade is
expected to double if not triple. These trends demand continued effective
control of the never-ending flow of ships, cargo, and people.
Marine Environmental Protection
The Coast Guard continues to make protecting the nation’s valuable
natural marine resources a top priority. Constant poaching and over-fishing
threaten the biomass and future prosperity of resources within the U.S.
Whether patrolling the closed fishing grounds off New England so that
depleted species have the opportunity to return to harvestable levels,
or maintaining vigil in the Bering Sea to prevent foreign vessels from
poaching in the rich fishing waters off Alaska, the Coast Guard, working
closely with other federal and foreign agencies, is gaining ground in
the fight to keep our maritime natural resources a national treasure.
The Coast Guard leads the way in the prevention of water pollution from
all sources and activities, saving nearly $6 billion each year in oil
losses, cleanup costs, and environmental damage. When prevention and enforcement
fail, however, the Coast Guard has ways to identify the responsible party
and maintains a rapid-response capability to contain and recover from
pollution incidents such as the massive 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince
William Sound, Alaska.
The service’s Research and Development Center developed a technique
to “fingerprint” oil to identify the source of a spill and
three highly specialized national strike teams—located on the East,
Gulf, and West Coasts—are at the ready to respond to major oil or
other hazardous materials spills in the inland waterways and coastal regions.
In a future crisis, strike teams may be the nation’s first-responders
to a terrorist attack using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in
a crowded port or roadstead.
Ongoing coordinated efforts with government agencies, foreign governments,
and private industry led to a 50 percent decrease in the annual number
of oil gallons spilled in 2001 and, to reach a longer-term goal of virtually
eliminating environmental damage to U.S. waterways, the Coast Guard pursues
an aggressive three-pronged approach encompassing prevention, enforcement,
The Coast Guard Reserve
Operation Iraqi Freedom was only a few hours old when detachments from
Coast Guard Port Security Units (PSU) 311 and 313 embarked on a U.S. Army
landing craft for a pair of Iraqi oil terminals in the northern Arabian
Gulf. The terminals, captured a few hours earlier by U.S. Navy SEALs and
vital to future plans to rebuild Iraq, would be home for the reservists
for several weeks as they safeguarded them against potential enemy counterattacks
and terrorist threats. Back in Kuwait, other personnel from PSU 311 and
PSU 313 were providing waterside security at two major ports of debarkation
for U.S. and coalition forces.
As a branch of the armed forces, the Coast Guard maintains a state of
readiness to support combat commanders during times of war and other contingencies.
Coast Guard platforms and personnel provide unique and critical capabilities
to augment Naval forces at home and abroad. Operation Iraqi Freedom marked
the largest deployment of Coast Guard forces for combat operations since
Vietnam. The majority of Coast Guard men and women serving in the Central
and European Command theaters of operation were reservists.
The numbers tell the story. More than 5,400 of the Coast Guard Reserve’s
8,000 selected reservists have been recalled at one time or another since
the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. At the peak of Operation Iraqi
Freedom in April 2003, more than 4,400 reservists—well over half
the force—were on active duty.
Each PSU is equipped with fast, air-deployable 25-foot boats armed with
.50 caliber and 7.62mm machine guns and works in concert with other members
of the Naval coastal warfare community, including Joint Navy-Coast Guard
harbor defense command units (HDCUs), Navy mobile inshore undersea warfare
units (MIUWUs) and Navy inshore boat units (IBUs). PSUs have operated
in the Middle East since shortly after the October 2000 attack in Yemen
on the USS Cole that killed 17 crewmembers. PSUs have also provided waterside
security at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The war in Iraq marked
the most extensive deployment of the units—PSU 305, based in Fort
Eustis, Va.; PSU 307 in St. Petersburg, Fla.; PSU 308 in Gulfport, Miss.;
PSU 309 in Port Clinton, Ohio; PSU 311 in San Pedro, Calif.; and PSU 313
in Tacoma, Wash.—all of which have now served overseas for extended
At home, new Coast Guard units incorporating key features of PSUs and
Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs) are making their presence felt in
a big way in the war on terrorism. Maritime Safety and Security Teams
(MSSTs) are domestic, highly mobile units, comprised of both active-duty
and reserve personnel and provide specialized law enforcement and force
protection capabilities to meet heightened port security requirements.
MSSTs, which consist of 71 active-duty personnel and 33 reservists and
are equipped with six fast boats each, surge to support security requirements
for major marine events, such as the Olympics and Operation Sail, and
will support Coast Guard and other interagency forces performing more
traditional missions, including search-and-rescue, counterdrug operations,
and alien migrant interdiction operations.
Since the 1980s, reservists have performed the bulk of the Coast Guard
work enforcing security zones for space-shuttle operations in Florida.
An estimated 65 percent of the Coast Guard personnel employed in the massive
cleanup following the Exxon Valdez oil spill were reservists. And throughout
2003, reservists remained busy prosecuting search-and-rescue cases, enforcing
U.S. laws and protecting the marine environment, among other duties.
For fiscal year 2004, the Coast Guard Reserve training appropriation
totals $95 million, up from $86 million in fiscal year 2003 and sufficient
to support a selected reserve end strength of 8,100 personnel.
This significantly reduced the barriers between reserve and active-duty
personnel, enhancing training and overall readiness, which helped facilitate
the rapid response by the Coast Guard to the terrorist attacks of Sept.
11, 2001, including security patrols in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles
Since 1790, when Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton founded
the Revenue Cutter Service, the Coast Guard has been at the forefront
of maritime homeland security and a partner in our defense overseas. Since
1941, the men and women of the Coast Guard Reserve have likewise been
Semper Paratus–Always Ready.
Additional information on the Coast Guard may be obtained from the Office
of Public Affairs, Headquarters, U.S. Coast Guard, 2100 Second St., S.W.,
Washington, DC 20593 (202) 267-1587. The Coast Guard’s website is