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Our Mission

Maritime Safety

The Coast Guard is renown throughout the world as " America's Lifesavers," a reputation for personal courage and selflessness that goes back to the earliest days of the Revenue Cutter Service. In the 19th century, the Coast Guard's "Surfman" conducted beach patrols, deployed breeches buoys and life cars, and muscled lifeboats through raging surf, always ready to go out when no others could – or would. At the dawn of the 21st century, with modern platforms and systems to aid them, America’s Lifesavers still need courage, dedication, and unique skills to protect lives and property at the mercy of angry seas.

The Coast Guard’s job of ensuring maritime safety and security will become even more challenging in the years ahead, a fact of life driven by today’s and tomorrow’s trends: domestic and ocean borne trade and cruise ship demand are poised for explosive growth in the size and number of ships plying inland, coastal and deepwater waterways; fishing vessels and offshore platforms venture farther offshore in search of the sea’s bounty; and a dramatic increase in personal watercraft and recreational boating fuels ever greater congestion on the nation’s waters. Prevention, founded on expert risk assessments to reduce the probability of mishaps, will be the watchword of the future, and advance technologies will continue to be embraced to increase the success of maritime safety and security measures. 

Maritime Mobility

Charged with ensuring a safe, efficient, and effective marine transportation system, the Coast Guard regulates and inspects commercial and private vessels, licenses merchant mariners, manages waterways, and protects the security of America’s ports. With some 13 million Americans employed in domestic, shipping-related activities, the marine transportation system contributes some $740 billion to America ’s economy each year. Additionally, U.S. military strategy and operations depend upon efficient inland waterways and multimodal transport nodes, safe ports, and secure sealift for nearly all material sent to overseas conflicts.

The Service’s Aids to Navigation Program and Vessel Traffic Services help to ensure safe vessel movements. Today, more than 8,000 foreign-flag vessels call at U.S. ports annually, and 25 percent of U.S. domestic/intercity trade moves by water; more than 134 million passengers transit U.S. waters in ferries, cruise ships, and gaming vessels; some 110,000 commercial fishing vessels harvest waters under U.S. jurisdiction; and millions of Americans and foreign tourists use 16 million recreational craft and frequent thousands of miles of U.S. beaches. Greater numbers of ultra-large, deep-draft ships will soon call at "mega-ports," cruise ships carrying 6,000 or more people will head for more remote areas, and maritime trade will likely double if not triple during the next quarter-century. These trends put a premium on the effective control of waterborne flow of ships, boats and people.

Maritime Security

The only Federal law enforcement agency with jurisdiction in both U.S. waters and on the high seas, the Coast Guard’s enforcement of U.S. laws and treaties focuses on conducting multi-agency counter-drug operations, interdicting illegal migrants and contraband, protecting living marine resources and helping to stem weapons proliferation, among other critical tasks.

Its counter-drug missions are critical to achieving the National Drug Control Strategy goals: to detect, disrupt, deter, and seize illegal drugs that kill 15,000 Americans and cost the public more than $110 billion each year. In fiscal year 1999 alone, the Coast Guard interdicted more than 111,000 pounds of cocaine, keeping some 500 million "hits" with a value of $4 billion off America ’s streets and out of its schools.

The U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone holds some 20 percent of the world’s fishery resources and supports a commercial industry valued at more than $25 billion. The Coast Guard’s boarding and inspections of both foreign- and U.S.- flagged fishing vessels have increased significantly in recent years and are critically important factors in helping to rebuild and maintain fish stocks at risk from over fishing.

The nation confronts a significant threat of illegal migrants from the sea. Between 1980 and 2000, the Coast Guard interdicted more than 290,000 illegal migrants from 44 countries. This flood of people is expected to increase in the years ahead, as economic, cultural, ethnic, and political strife remain endemic throughout much of the world. The Coast Guard will be at the front lines ensuring the sanctity of America ’s maritime frontiers.

National Defense

Innovative concepts of homeland security, maritime sovereignty, and global engagement have continued to shape the Coast Guard's roles, missions, and tasks since the birth of the nation. Today, Coast Guard units play critical roles in peacetime deployments, humanitarian support, peacekeeping and enforcement, crises response, and combat operations, across the spectrum of U.S. national security and military strategies.

Coast Guard peacetime active and acceptable engagement reaches out to all elements of other countries’ maritime interests and agencies. Coast Guard support to numerous bilateral and multilateral international initiatives – including search and rescue, law enforcement, and environmental exercises – helps to underscore America ’s commitments to regional stability and peace.

The Coast Guard’s extensive peacetime responsibilities for coastal and port maritime functions and a variety of country-to-country operations provide broad spectrum capabilities to respond to threats and crises. The Service maintains a high state of readiness to function as a specialized service within the Navy and has command responsibilities for the U.S. Maritime Defense Zones. Moreover, its operational capabilities figure importantly in small-scale contingencies, humanitarian assistance efforts, maritime interdiction operations in support of United Nations sanctions, and port security in overseas theaters, as well as in other important military-operations-other-than-war (MOOTW) missions.

Finally, Coast Guard tasks in the maritime aspects of major theater warfare encompass critical elements of naval operations in littoral regions, including port security and safety, military environmental response, maritime interception and coastal se control, and force protection. More than two centuries of littoral warfare operations at home and overseas have honed the Coast Guard’s skills that are most needed in support of the nation’s military and naval strategies for the 21st century.

Not a second navy, the Service will remain the world’s best coast guard, offering unique, non-redundant, and complementary military capabilities to America’s national defense needs.

Protection of Natural Resources

The Coast Guard’s prevention, enforcement, and response tasks in marine environmental protection help to reduce the amount of pollution entering America’s and the world’s waterways. Coastal tourism and marine recreation – worth more than $70 billion to state and local economies each year- demand clean shorelines and marine environments. As a world leader in marine environmental protection, the Coast Guard shapes the safety and pollution control standards for international and domestic maritime transportation and offshore industries that can pose grave threats to America ’s fragile marine ecosystems.

The Coast Guard’s prevention of oil spills form all sources and activities saves nearly $6 billion each year in oil losses, cleanup costs, and environmental damage. When prevention and enforcement fail, however, the Coast Guard maintains a rapid response capability to contain and recover from pollution incidents such as the massive 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound , Alaska . Three well-trained and well-equipped Coast Guard National Strike Teams – located on the East, Gulf, and West coasts – are at the ready to respond to major oil or other hazardous material spills in the inland waterways and coastal regions. In some future crisis, these strike teams may be the nation’s "first responders" to a terrorist attack using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in a crowded port or roadstead.

Last Modified 9/19/2013