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The United States Coast Guard is one of the nation's Armed Forces, right up there with The Army, The Navy, The Air Force, and The Marines. Despite this, most people forget that it even exists. Part of that is its small size: with 42,000 active duty members, it is only slightly larger than the New York City Police Department. Another is that while it is a military organization, it's not part of the Department of Defense: depending on the era, it has been under the auspices of the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Transportation, or, most recently, the Department of Homeland Security. With about 40,000 men and women serving, the Coast Guard is something of a Little Miss Badass to the Navy's bigger, wealthier forces. And the CG is covering the whole damn country. As such, the Coast Guard has a longstanding, mostly friendly rivalry with the Navy, wherein Coast Guardsmen like to boast that they're better, tougher sailors than the Navy's denizens.

The upshot is that the other four branches get to pool their advertising budget on unified prime-time TV spots that chant, "Army! Navy! Air Force! Marines!" -- while the Coast Guard is relegated to late-night TV.

It's fairly popular to say, depending on who you ask, that the Coast Guard is the oldest US armed service, the oldest US Naval Service, or the oldest continuously operating armed service, or the oldest continuously operating naval service. It is both the oldest and oldest continuously operating US naval service. The Continental Navy and Continental Marine Corps, from which the Navy and Marines date themselves, were not the US Navy or the US Marines, and they were disbanded after the war. The US Navy and Marine Corps were both formed in 1794, four years after the Revenue-Marine was founded. The Revenue-Marine, after several name changes and agglomerations with other services, became the modern Coast Guard. The "oldest/oldest continuous US armed service" bit is debatable. The Continental Army was disbanded, but the early US did raised a number of different armies, of varying degrees of professionalism and longevity, in the early years. It could be argued that they weren't cohesive enough to be "continuous," but it'd be pushing it.

The Coast Guard can also claim to be the first service to be involved in powered flight. In 1903, the Wright Brothers made the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Men from the local US Lifesaving Service Station served as the ground crew (and the photographer) for the first flight, and for many of their other experiments.

Another claim the Coast Guard can certainly make is that it is continually in service. While the other services come into action when America is at war, the Coast Guard is more constabulary then military and is in a constant state of "war" with criminals and with nature.

The official Coast Guard marching song is "Semper Paratus", which conforms to the Common Meter, and can thus be sung to the tune of "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island".

Beginning in the 1980s, the Coast Guard's role in drug interdiction took on renewed importance. Today, much of the public perceives that as the Coast Guard's main role, with the help of many other organizations and the Navy.

By law, the Coast Guard has 11 missions (listed in order of percentage of operating expenses):

  • Ports, waterways, and coastal security
  • Drug interdiction
  • Aids to navigation
  • Search and rescue
  • Living marine resources
  • Marine safety
  • Defense readiness
  • Migrant interdiction
  • Marine environmental protection
  • ICE operations
  • Other law enforcement

The Coast Guard is responsible for boating safety and regulation, water rescue, merchant shipping rules and safety, immigrant (sea) interdiction and rescue, fishing regulation, and waterway environmental clean up and enforcement. More recently, they have been assigned to support the United States Navy on combat missions in Iraq. This is not the first time the Coast Guard has deployed overseas in wartime, either. Many of the American landing craft used in World War II were operated by the Coast Guard, with one Guardsmen, Douglas Albert Munro, earning the Medal of Honor during the Battle of Guadalcanal.

Coast Guard vessels range from small, fast 25' interceptors of the "Zodiac" design, through 47-foot "self-righting" Motor Life Boats, to 378' High Endurance Cutters and 420' icebreakers and the fancy new 418' Legend Class cutters, with a wide range of patrol boats, tugs, and buoy tenders in between. They also have a wide range of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.

Television and film depictions of Coast Guard operations either show small, 40'-48' Search & Rescue and Law Enforcement craft or the Dolphin Search and Rescue helicopters.

Examples of Coast Guard include:


  • Most often seen as support in a disaster drama. The most potent exception, perhaps, is The Guardian a 2006 film focusing on Coast Guard rescue swimmers.
  • Seen, but seldom identified, in any movie about the Normandy Invasion: most of the landing craft were piloted by Coast Guardsmen. In addition, many of the river patrol boats used in the Vietnam War movies were Coast Guard vessels.
  • At the beginning of The Santa Clause 2, the North Pole is overflown by a C-130- apparently part of the Coast Guard Ice Patrol, but so many things wrong with it not even Rule of Funny covers it.
  • A Coast Guard chopper features prominently in Licence to Kill.
  • The 1958 dramedy Onionhead features a character (played by Andy Griffith) joining the Coast Guard as a cook during World War II.
  • A Coast Guard cutter can be seen off the coast of Los Angeles at one point in Battle: Los Angeles, though is eliminated in short order by an alien artillery barrage.
  • In Overboard, Billy says that he used to be in the Coast Guard. Later at the climax of the film, the Coast Guard helps Dean catch up with Joanna's yacht--complete with the Semper Paratus march playing in the background.
  • In a throwaway line from Back to The Future, Marty explains away his "life preserver" vest to his future mother and grandmother by saying that he is in the Coast Guard. Later, Doc uses a mind-reading helmet to incorrectly guess that Marty is a member of the "Coast Guard Youth Auxiliary."
  • The Coast Guard gets a lot of screen time in Bad Boys 2, which fits with the bad-guys of the film being drug dealers. We see them at the start when a cutter loses a Go-Fast, then again later when Coast Guard helicopters stop another one. They even help secretly insert an assault team into Cuban waters.


  • Features prominently in the book (and later movie) Clear and Present Danger, highlighting the Coast Guard's drug interdiction role. The novel goes into more detail about "Red" Wegner's background, most of which focuses on their search and rescue role.
    • They also get a good bit of time in the Prequel Without Remorse, mostly in regards to the start of the USCG becoming involved in drug interdiction.
  • The book and movie The Perfect Storm are partially about the USCGC Tamaroa and other Coast Guard assets trying to rescue victims of the titular storm.
  • One book of the Worldwar series by Harry Turtledove features the guy carrying stolen Uranium (or possibly Plutonium) to the Manhattan Project getting a ride across the Great Lakes on a Coast Guard cutter so he can catch a train through Canada.
  • Blindfold Game, a thriller by Dana Stabenow, has a USCG Cutter as the primary force in place to prevent a terrorist attack on the western United States.
  • The Keeper's Son and its sequel, The Ambassador's Son are novels by Homer Hickam featuring an officer of the Coast Guard named Josh Thurlow. The first book takes place off the coast of North Carolina and the second in the Pacific, both during WWII.
  • MAYDAY, MAYDAY! is a children's book by Chris Demarest about a Coast Guard rescue.
  • In Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, after the kids escape from the Underworld and end up floating in the ocean, the Coast Guard pulls them out. In the midst of dealing with the huge earthquake that just hit LA, they kinda just dump the kids on land. On the other hand, the kids are apparently Junior Coast Guardsmen now.
  • The Coast Guard, specifically the Training Barque Eagle, features prominently in S.M. Stirling's Island in The Sea of Time.
  • In The Dresden Files book Death Masks, Harry, two Knights of the Cross, and Gentleman Johnny Marcone assault a moving train from a surplus Coast Guard helo piloted by a Valkyrie, blasting Ride of the Valkyries the whole way. Whaddaya think, were they flying an H-3 or did they somehow manage to get an H-60 or H-65? We know that Marcone and Monoc Securities like flying old Vietnam-era aircraft.

Live Action TV

  • The main characters of Boston Legal, after trying the National Guard, Army, Navy, etc., end up trying to join the Coast Guard, since it's the only organization they can technically qualify for. Hilarity Ensues. This is odd, because the Coast Guard requires the highest score (45) on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) to qualify, as well as much tighter regulations regarding criminal background.
    • Note that they join the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which is the non-military civilian volunteer component of the Coast Guard. Still requires the background check, but the only test you have to pass is an open book exam on what the CGAUX is about.
  • CSI: Miami has featured a number of cases involving the Coast Guard, from bodies found at sea, to migrant interdiction, to drug runners.
    • Or just when a suspect is trying to make a dash for international waters.
  • The documentary series Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel often prominently features the Coast Guard in its search-and-rescue role.
  • An episode of NCIS, called "Jurisdiction," features the CGIS, Coast Guard Investigative Service, in a major role. Including Special Agent Abigail "Abby" Borin, who is essentially Gibbs' Distaff Counterpart. The CGIS team even had their own probie, named something that sounded vaguely like McGee.
    • Since then, CGIS Agent Borin has become a vaguely recurring character, showing up Once a Season since her first appearance.
  • Psych: Chief Vick's sister works for the Coast Guard.
  • In an early episode of Magnum, P.I., TC's chopper is intercepted by Coast Guard aircraft as TC tries to smuggle a Vietnam War deserter friend into Hawaii. The CG's interception was deliberate--the episode's Big Bad had called the CG via radio, intending for TC to be captured as part of an elaborate Xanatos Gambit.
  • A Coast Guard team recovers a small airplane's black box in the episode "Lapaʻau" on the revival of Hawaii Five-O.
  • The documentary-style show Coast Guard Alaska on The Weather Channel follows a USCG unit in Kodiak, Alaska, that performs search and rescue missions.
  • The series finale of the show Dogfights shows a hypothetical combat scenario where an air-battle is started after enemy aircraft fire on a Coast Guard rescue helicopter.

Video Games

  • The Survival Horror game Cold Fear has a member of the Coast Guard as its protagonist, battling zombies onboard a freighter and an oil rig.

Western Animation

  • G.I. Joe has a Coast Guard member, codenamed 'Cutter'.
  • Homer Simpson once told the members of the Coast Guard after rescuing him that "you Navy rejects are all right."
    • Grandpa Simpson, according to one of his stories, served as an officer in the Coast Guard at some time prior to 1936.

 Grandpa: ...And I guess he won the argument, but I walked away with the turnips; the following morning I resigned my commission in the Coast Guard. The next thing I heard there was civil war in Spain!

    • In Homer the Vigilante, Homer recognizes that the Coast Guard is a possible obstacle to his vigilante group:

 Lisa: ...If you're the police, who will police the police?!

Homer: I dunno, Coast Guard.

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