Coast Guard History
Frequently Asked Questions
When was the Coast Guard established?
The Coast Guard is an amalgamation of five formerly
distinct federal services. The following timeline reflects the
establishment of those services and when they became part of what is now the
United States Coast Guard as well as changes in the organizational structure
of the Coast Guard itself.
- 7 August 1789: The service, eventually to be
known as the U.S. Lighthouse Service, was established under the control of
the Treasury Department (1 Stat. L., 53).
1 September 1789: Navigation law administration was placed under Secretary of the Treasury
by an act of 1 September 1789 (1 Stat. 55), with local enforcement by
Treasury customs officials. On 22 January 1793, the Register of the
Treasury became responsible for vessel documentation and for navigation
and tonnage statistics. The Bureau of Statistics was established by an act of
28 July 1866 (14 Stat. 331), to collect navigation statistics, assign
numbers to merchant vessels, and publish the annual list of American
merchant vessels. Pursuant to acts of 26 May 1790 (1 Stat. 122) and
3 March 1797 (1 Stat. 506), district court judges submitted requests to
the Secretary of the Treasury for remission of fines and penalties under
the navigation laws. The Navigation Division was established in the Treasury
Department in 1870 to administer the fines and penalties function. Redesignated
as the Internal Revenue and Navigation Division in 1878 it was redesignated Mercantile Marine and Internal Revenue Division
in 1884. It was
abolished in 1887. U.S. circuit courts handled disputes between seamen and
masters until 7 June 1872 when judges were authorized to appoint
shipping commissioners at various ports to administer navigation laws
relating to merchant seamen.
- 4 August 1790: Congress authorized the
Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to create a maritime
service to enforce customs laws (1 Stat. L. 145, 175). Alternately
known as the system of cutters, Revenue Service, and Revenue-Marine
this service was placed under the control of
the Treasury Department.
- 7 July 1838: Vessel inspections, first
required by an act of 7 July 1838 (5 Stat. 304), were performed by
engineers appointed by U.S. District Court judges. The Steamboat Act (10
Stat. 61), 30 August 1852, formally established the Steamboat Inspection
Service in the Department of the Treasury and authorized the appointment
of supervising steam vessel inspectors, who collectively constituted the
Board of Supervising Inspectors. An act of 28 February 1871 (16 Stat.
458), authorized the appointment of a Supervising Inspector General for
the Steamboat Inspection Service. Steamboat Inspection Service was
transferred to the Department of Commerce and Labor by act of 14
February 1903 (32 Stat. 825), and to the Department of Commerce by act
of 4 March 1913 (37 Stat. 736). It was combined with the Bureau of
Navigation to form Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection by act
of 30 June 1932 (47 Stat. 415). It was renamed Bureau of Marine
Inspection and Navigation in 1936.
- 14 August 1848: Congress appropriated funds
to pay for life-saving equipment to be used by volunteer organizations
(9 Stat. L., 321, 322).
- 30 August 1852: Steamboat Act established
the Steamboat Inspection Service under the control of the Treasury
Department (10 Stat. L. 61, 1852).
- 9 October 1852: The Lighthouse Board, which
administered the nation's lighthouse system until 1 July 1910, was
organized. "This Board was composed of two officers of the Navy,
two officers of the Engineer Corps, and two civilians of high scientific
attainments whose services were at the disposal of the President, and an
officer of the Navy and of the, Engineers as secretaries. It was
empowered under the Secretary of the Treasury to "discharge all the
administrative duties" relative to lighthouses and other aids to
navigation. The Secretary of the Treasury was president of the Board,
and it was authorized to elect a chairman and to divide the coast of the
United States into twelve lighthouse districts, to each of which the
President was to assign an army or navy officer as lighthouse
- 18 June 1878: U.S. Life-Saving Service
established as a separate agency under the control of the Treasury
Department (20 Stat. L., 163).
- 5 July 1884: U.S. Bureau of Navigation was established in the Treasury Department by act of
5 July 1884 (23 Stat 118), to consolidate the administration of all
navigation laws except those relating to vessel inspection, lighthouses,
lifesaving, and revenue collection. Comprised of employees
from the Bureau of Statistics concerned with numbering merchant vessels;
the Register and Tonnage Division of the Register of the Treasury; the
Internal Revenue and Navigation Division; and shipping commissioners,
thereafter appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury. It was transferred to
Department of Commerce and Labor by act of 14 February 1903 (32 Stat.
825), and to the Department of Commerce by act of 4 March 1913 (37 Stat.
736). It was consolidated with Steamboat Inspection Service, effective 1 August 1932, by an appropriations act of
30 June 1932 (47 Stat. 415) to
form the Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection. It was redesignated Bureau
of Marine Inspection and Navigation by Public Law 622 (49 Stat. L.,
1380), 27 May 1936.
- 14 February 1903: Congress created the Department
of Commerce and Labor (32 Stat. L., Ch. 552). Bureau of Navigation,
Steamship Inspection Service, and Lighthouse Service (Lighthouse Board
and Lighthouse Establishment) were transferred to the new department (32 Stat. L.,
- 17 June 1910: An Act of Congress (36 Stat. L.,
534) abolished the Lighthouse Board and created the Bureau of
Lighthouses to have complete charge of the Lighthouse Service
(Establishment). This law
constituted the organic act under which the Lighthouse Service operated
thereafter. Mr. George R. Putnam, the first Commissioner of
Lighthouses, took office on 1 July 1910. He served in that
capacity until his retirement in 1935.
- 4 March 1913: The Department of Commerce and Labor
was renamed Department of Commerce.
- 28 January 1915: President Woodrow Wilson
signed into law the "Act to Create the Coast Guard," an act
passed by Congress on 20 January, 1915 that combined the Life-Saving
Service and Revenue Cutter Service to form the Coast Guard (38 Stat. L.,
- 6 April 1917: With the declaration of war
against Germany the Coast Guard was transferred by Executive Order to
the control of the Navy Department.
- 28 August 1919: Coast Guard reverted to
Treasury Department after President Wilson signed Executive Order 3160.
- 30 June 1932: Steamboat Inspection Service
and Bureau of Navigation were combined to form the Bureau of Navigation and
Steamboat Inspection (47 Stat. L., 415). The new agency remained under
Commerce Department control.
- 27 May 1936: Public Law 622 reorganized and
changed the name of the Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection
Service to Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation (49 Stat. L.,
1380). The Bureau remained under Commerce Department control.
- 1 September 1938: The U. S. Maritime Service was placed under the administration of the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard was then
responsible for administering the Maritime Service's training stations.
- 1 July 1939: The Lighthouse Service became part
of the Coast Guard (53 Stat. L., 1432).
- 1 November 1941: President Roosevelt’s
Executive Order 8929 transferred the Coast Guard to Navy Department
- 28 February 1942: Executive Order 9083
transferred Bureau of Marine Inspection temporarily to the Coast Guard.
- 1 September 1942: The Coast Guard's administration of
Maritime Service training ended and that power was transferred to the
newly established War Shipping Administration.
- 1 January 1946: In compliance with Executive
Order 9666, the Coast Guard returned to Treasury Department control.
- In April 1946 the Coast Guard created the Eastern,
Western, and Pacific Area commands to coordinate cases that required the
assets of more than one district.
- 16 July 1946: Pursuant to Executive Order
9083 and Reorganization Plan No. 3 the Bureau of Marine Inspection was
abolished and became a permanent part of the Coast Guard under Treasury
- 31 March 1948:
The Tenth District, with headquarters at San Juan, Puerto Rico
and comprising of the Panama Canal Zone, all of the island possessions
of the United States pertaining to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,
and all United States reservations in the islands of the West Indies and
on the north coast of South America, was abolished, and its functions,
responsibilities, and facilities were transferred to and combined with
the Seventh District, with headquarters at Miami, Florida.
- 1 April 1967: Executive Order 167-81
transferred the Coast Guard from the Treasury Department to the
newly-formed Department of Transportation.
- 1967: The Bridge Program
was transferred from the Army Corp of Engineers to the U.S. Coast Guard
within the Department of Transportation. The Coast Guard then became responsible for approval of the location
and plans of bridges and causeways constructed across navigable waters
of U.S. In addition, the Coast Guard was responsible for approval of the
location and plans of international bridges and the alteration of
bridges found to be unreasonable obstructions to navigation. Authority
for these actions is found in in the following laws: 33 U.S.C 401, 491,
494, 511-524, 525 and 535a, 535b, 535c, 535e, 535f, 535g, and 535h
(Note: these are all separate sections, not subsections of 535). Section 535 and following is popularly
known as the International Bridge Act of 1972. The implementing
regulations are found in Title 33, Code of Federal Regulations Parts 114
- In January 1973, the Coast Guard renamed the
Eastern and Western areas to the Atlantic and Pacific areas,
- 30 May 1996: The Eighth and Second Districts were
combined to form the new Eighth District.
- 1 March 2003: The Coast Guard formally transferred
from the Department of Transportation to the newly-created Department of
- 2004: To create unity of command in America’s
ports, better align field command structures, and improve Coast Guard
operational effectiveness, Sector Commands were created throughout
the Coast Guard by integrating Groups, Marine Safety Offices (MSOs), Vessel
Traffic Services (VTSs), and in some cases, Air Stations. Sector
Commands were established by 2006.