The USA Coast Guard: A History


The United States has a long history with military forces, both in and out of wartime. The formation of United States Coast Guard (USCG) dates back to the year 1790. It was previously referred to as the Revenue Cutter Service. An additional title held at one time by the USCG was the Revenue Marine. Another entity, known as the Life-Saving Service, joined forces with the Cutter Service in the early nineteen hundreds, at which time the USCG took on its current title. The USCG serves actively in wartime under the Navy and continuously bears a huge weight in the Nation’s Defense Program.

The Revenue Marine (jointly referred to as the Revenue Cutter Service until the RCS was officially proclaimed as such in 1862) was launched on August 4, 1790. The secretary of treasury, Alexander Hamilton, established the Revenue Cutter Service in order to have a systematic way of colleting dues owed to the Treasury. British ships transporting cargo were avoiding the import tariffs by circumventing proper porting locales. The Revenue Cutter Service patrolled the waters to ensure ships importing goods unloaded at authorized ports only—where tonnage taxes and other fees were to be rightfully collected.

The Revenue Cutter Service was the sole naval operation for the United States from 1790 until 1798. Ten vessels were engaged in service during this time. Other duties of the RCS included searching incoming loads, seizing illegal cargo, protecting people and assisting with needed aid. After the ban on slave importation in 1808, the RCS had the responsibility of intercepting the ships carrying people about to be forced into slavery. The RCS responded under command of the Navy during the War of 1812, the Mexican War (1846-1848), the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the Spanish American War (1898). Other wars in this era include the Quasi-War (1798-1800) and the Seminole Wars (1817-1818 and 1835-1842); the RCS played a role in the defense and protection of the people during these times as well.

The U.S. Life-Saving Service merged with the revenue Cutter Service on January 28, 1915 to form what we now refer to as the United States Coast Guard. This merger occurred due to numerous reasons, namely the lack of new recruits for the Life-Saving Service and the inability for the Service to keep up with forth-coming technology. The Life-Saving Service had been administered by Sumner Increase Kimball who also had a great impact on the search and rescue efforts displayed by today’s USCG. The United States Coast Guard now handles the duties that once belonged to the Life-Saving Service, along with the duties that were taken on by the Cutter Service.

The United States Coast Guard’s main duty is to protect. They aim to protect the people as well as the United States in whole. As a maritime military service, the USCG operates along the coasts of the U.S. and in the surrounding waters. Stewardship responsibilities include disaster recovery and response, animal and environmental protection and even law enforcement. In addition to stewardship, the USCG maintains responsibility for security and safety.

  • Go Coast Guard A comprehensive source for information on the responsibilities of the United States Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard’s number of people on active duty currently stands at nearly 40,000 service men and women. The ships used by the Coast Guard are to this day referred to as cutters. The list of those in current use ranges in vessels measuring less than 70’ long, such as the Small Harbor Tug, up to those measuring more than 400’ long, such as the National Security Cutter and the Icebreaker Healy. The USCG currently operates over 200 aircraft including an HU-25 Guardian and an HC-130J Long Range Surveillance Aircraft. A .40 caliber Sig Sauer is the Coast Guard’s pistol of choice with the M240B being the standard issue machine gun.

  • USCG Pertinent Numbers Statistics on various aspects of the USCG including the average number of inspections, seizures and calls to aid made on any given day.
  • Air and Sea Equipment List This listing of aircraft, boats and cutters is provided by the USCG. Each description links to more details, along with a picture of the named vessel.
  • USCG Weaponry List A complete listing of non-lethal weapons used by the USCG. (see Appendix B.1, pg 53)

Timeline of United States Coast Guard: War and Other Military Operation Involvement

1914 - 1918 World War I

1939 - 1945 World War II

1950 - 1953  Korean War

1964 - 1975  Vietnam War

1975            Mayaguez

1983        Grenada

1989        Panama

1990 - 1991  Persian Gulf War

1994, 2010  Haiti

1999       Kosovo

2001 - TBD  Operation Noble Eagle

2003 - TBD  Operation Iraqi Freedom

In addition to wartime involvement and assisting with other military operations, the USCG has completed heroic search and rescue missions, provided aid in times of natural disaster and helped with the stabilization of marine life. Despite the dedication and effectiveness of the USCG’s efforts, controversy over continued funding has recently ensued. In fact, the 2011 budget proposal lists a 3% cut in funding.

The United States Coast Guard uniform is Tropical Blue or Service Dress Blue. Other distinctive uniforms are worn as prescribed by commanding officers. The U.S. Coast Guard uses two distinct symbols including the Coast Guard Seal and the Coast Guard Emblem/Logo. The motto of the USCG is “Semper Paratus, meaning Always Ready."