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Operations at sea

The U.S. Coast Guard, one of the country's five armed services, is a unique agency of the federal government. We trace our history to 4 August 1790, when the first Congress authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling. Known through the 19th and early 20th centuries as the Revenue Cutter Service, we expanded in size and responsibilities as the nation grew. 

The service received its present name in 1915 under an act of Congress when the Revenue Cutter Service merged with the Life-Saving Service. The nation then had a single maritime service dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation's maritime laws. The Coast Guard began to maintain the country's aids to maritime navigation, including operating the nation's lighthouses, when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the transfer of the Lighthouse Service to the Coast Guard in 1939. In 1946, Congress permanently transferred the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation to the Coast Guard, thereby placing merchant marine licensing and merchant vessel safety under our purview. The Coast Guard took over the administration of bridges over navigable waterways in 1967. 

We've continued to protect the nation throughout our long history and have served proudly in our nation's conflicts. Our national defense responsibilities remain one of our most important functions even today. In times of peace, we operate as part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, serving as the nation's front-line agency for enforcing our laws at sea, protecting the marine environment and our vast coastline and ports, and conducting search and rescue operations. In times of war, or at the direction of the President, we serve under the U.S. Department of the Navy. The Coast Guard is simultaneously and at all times a military force and federal law enforcement agency dedicated to maritime safety, security, and stewardship missions. We save lives. We protect the environment. We defend the homeland. We enforce federal laws on the high seas, the nation, coastal waters and its inland waterways through our 11 missions:

  • Ports, Waterways
  • Coastal Security
  • Drug Interdiction
  • Aids to Navigation
  • Search & Rescue
  • Living Marine Resources
  • Marine Safety
  • Defense Readiness
  • Migrant Interdiction
  • Maritime Environmental Protection
  • Polar, Ice & Alaska Operations
  • Law Enforcement 

The Coast Guard's units, vessels and aircraft are permanently deployed in the communities we serve. Our unique role as the only armed service in the Department of Homeland Security gives us both civilian and military responsibilities. We protect America, economic prosperity, national security, and border - from the heartland to cyberspace.

The Coast Guard is divided into two geographic commands, the Atlantic Area and Pacific Area. The Areas are further divided into nine district commands. The Atlantic Area Includes five district commands covering the Eastern United States, the Atlantic Ocean. the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. The Pacific Area includes four district commands covering the Western United States and the Pacific Ocean. The Coast Guard also has personnel assigned to eight Department of Defense Combatant Commands and often has a presence on all seven continents and the world's oceans, protecting national sovereignty with our icebreakers, cutters. aviation assets, and deployable specialized forces.