Harking back to the days of the United States Life-Saving Service, a Surfman is a consummate Coast Guard boat coxswain. Through years of specialized training and experience, he or she is intimately familiar with search and rescue planning, operations and equipment. Surfmen are trusted to operate the most seaworthy craft in the Coast Guard inventory in extreme weather conditions. Their motto, coined at the turn of the twentieth century underscores their commitment: "The book says that you've got to go out, but it doesn't say a word about coming back". Today, you will find Surfmen standing duty at one of nineteen designated "surf stations" ranging from Quillayute River, Washington to Morro Bay, California; from Merrimack River, Massachusetts to Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina; and at the world famous National Motor Lifeboat School at the mouth of the Columbia River at Cape Disappointment, Washington. 161 Surfmen stand ready at these stations to respond to calls for assistance with 47 foot motor lifeboats and, at select stations in Oregon and Washington – the venerable 52 foot motor lifeboats – INTREPID, VICTORY, TRIUMPH, and INVINCIBLE.
Much like their counterparts at other stations nationwide, Surfmen typically stand duty or recall 84 hours a week. These 161 Surfmen make up the smallest operational specialty in the Coast Guard today. Dubbed "storm warriors" and "surf soldiers" at the turn of the 20th century, these men and women are the core of what the Coast Guard calls "‘the soul of the service"- Coast Guard Boat Forces.
When the Lord breathes His wrath above the bosom of the waters,
When the rollers are a-pounding on the shore,
When the mariner's a-thinking of his wife and son's and daughters,
And the little home he'll, maybe see no more;
When the bars are white and yeasty, and the shoals are all a-frothing,
When the Nor'easter's cutting like a knife;
Through the seethin' roar and screech he's patroling on the beach,
The Government's hired man for saving life.
He's a-struggling with the gusts that strike and bruise him like a hammer;
He's a-fighting sand that stings like swarmin' bees,
He's a-listening through the whirlwind and the thunder and the clamor,
A-listening for the signal from the seas.
He's a-breaking ribs and muscles launching lifeboats in the surges,
He's dripping wet and chilled in every bone,
He's a-bringing men from death, back to flesh and blood and breath,
And never stops to think about his own.
He's a pulling at an oar that is freezing to his fingers,
he's a-clinging to the rigging of a wreck.
He knows destructions nearer every minute that he lingers;
But it doesn't seem to worry him a speck.
He is draggin' draggled corpes from the clutches of the combers,
The kind of job a common man would shirk;
But he takes them from the waves and fit them for graves,
And he thinks it's all included in his work.
He is a rigger, rower, swimmer, sailor, doctor, undertaker,
And he's good at every one of them the same;
And he risks his life for others in the quicksand and the breakers,
And a thousand wives and mothers bless his name.
He's an angel dressed in oilskins; he's a saint in the "Sou'wester,"
He's a pluck as they come, or ever can;
He's a hero born and bred, but it hasn't swelled his head,
For he's just the U.S. Government's hired man.