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Historic Missions

   Coast Guard migrant interdiction at sea

The history of the many missions of the U.S. Coast Guard
 and its predecessor services.




When originally established in 1790 Congress authorized the Coast Guard to protect the nation's revenue through enforcing tariff laws and preventing smuggling.  As the nation grew though, so did the mission-set of the nation's oldest federal sea service. 

Today the Coast Guard has eleven statutory missions (listed in order of percentage of total operating expenses):

Ports, Waterways & Coastal Security

Drug Interdiction

Aids to Navigation (ATON: including maintaining the nation's lighthouses, buoys & VTS; also legacy ATON missions including lightships & LORAN)

Search & Rescue (SAR)

Living Marine ResourcesLaw Enforcement: seizing a semi-submersible

Marine Safety

Defense Readiness (National Security & Military Preparedness)

Migrant Interdiction

Maritime Environmental Protection

Polar, Ice & Alaska Operations (including the International Ice Patrol)

Law Enforcement (including Prohibition Enforcement History)

Historical Timeline for each mission

These eleven missions may be generally grouped under three different classifications:

Maritime Safety: includes SAR, Marine Safety & Boating Safety

Maritime Stewardship: includes ATON, Ice Operations, Living Marine Resources (fisheries law enforcement), Marine Environmental Protection & US EEZ protection.

Maritime Security: includes Drug Interdiction, Migrant Interdiction, Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security & Defense Readiness.

Thus, the Coast Guard prides itself on being military, multi-mission, and maritime.

A Military Service

The legal basis for the Coast Guard is Title 14 of the United States Code, which states: "The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times." Upon the declaration of war or when the President directs, the Coast Guard operates under the authority of the Department of the Navy.


Marine Inspection: checking a foreign merchant vessel


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Last Modified 11/19/2014