Research: On 228th birthday, here’s to Coast Guard

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Hats off to Mr. Hamilton.

It was the nation’s first Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, who created the Revenue Cutter Service — precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard — via the Tariff Act in August 1790.

Those first 10 single-mast cutters collected the new Republic’s revenue, combatted smuggling, and served as Treasury’s “useful sentinels of the law.”

That little fleet soon evolved into the nation’s premier maritime law enforcement service.

Although fundamentally domestic, the Coast Guard mission includes security as well as economic interests, deploying overseas for joint operations, training, and diplomatic missions with foreign counterparts. At home the USCG responds to environmental pollution, as well as smuggling, piracy, drugs, and other crimes. Coast Guard men and women have rescued stranded sailors in violent storms (sometimes losing their own lives), evacuated Marines from Guadalcanal in World War II, and suffered their own losses in the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts.

On an average day the Coast Guard:

• Conducts 45 search and rescue cases and saves 10 lives;

• Seizes more than 1,000 pounds of illegal drugs;

• Conducts 57 patrols of critical maritime infrastructure;

• Interdicts 17 illegal migrants;

• Escorts 5 high-capacity passenger vessels;

• Conducts 24 security boardings, and screens 360 merchant vessels near U.S. ports;

• Conducts 14 fisheries conservation boardings;

• Services 82 buoys and fixed aids to navigation;

• Investigates 35 pollution incidents;

• Completes 26 safety examinations on foreign vessels;

• Conducts 105 marine inspections, and investigates 14 marine casualties involving commercial vessels; and

• Facilitates movement of $8.7 billion worth of goods and commodities through the Nation’s Maritime Transportation System.

All in a day’s work.

Most coastal nations have some form of coast guard, by air as well as by sea. Some are part of the military (Argentina) or police (Vietnam), although in a few countries the service is civilian (Canada), or volunteer (Australia). The U.S. Coast Guard since 1915 is both a military and a law enforcement organization, one of seven components of the uniformed service. Other branches of armed services can’t enforce certain laws, so the Coast Guard provides enforcement detachments to Navy ships when arrests are warranted.

In peacetime, the Coast Guard reports to the Department of Homeland Security; in wartime, to the Secretary of the Navy. Our coast guard’s size compares to the entire navies of some nations, but is the smallest of the U.S. armed forces. With more than 40,000 active duty personnel, 7,000 reservists, 31,000 volunteer auxiliarists, 8,500 civilian staff, 244 cutters, 1,850 boats, and 205 aircraft, “small” is relative.

Thanks to all who serve “semper paratus” (always ready).


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at

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