Skip Navigation


Maritime Safety

A fundamental responsibility of the U.S. government is to safeguard the lives and safety of its citizens. In the maritime realm, this duty falls mainly to the Coast Guard. In partnership with other federal agencies, state, local, and tribal governments, marine industries, and individual mariners, we improve safety at sea through complementary programs of mishap prevention, search and rescue, and accident investigation.

Coast Guard prevention activities include the development of standards and regulations, various types of plan review and compliance inspections, and a variety of safety programs designed to protect mariners.

The Coast Guard is America’s voice in the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which promulgates measures to improve shipping safety, pollution prevention, mariner training, and certification standards. We develop and enforce vessel construction standards as well as domestic shipping and navigation regulations.

To ensure compliance, we review and approve plans for ship construction, repair, and alteration. We inspect vessels, mobile offshore drilling units, and marine facilities for safety. Our Port State Control program, aimed at eliminating substandard vessels from U.S. ports and waterways, is a key element. This program is critical since the majority of the passenger and cargo ships operating in U.S. waters are foreign flagged.

Nearly all Coast Guard prevention activities are designed to protect mariners. For example, our commercial fishing vessel safety programs are designed to safeguard commercial fishermen, many of whom earn their living performing some of the most dangerous work in the world. We operate the International Ice Patrol to protect ships transiting the North Atlantic shipping lanes. We document and admeasure U.S. flag vessels. And, we license commercial mariners.

As National Recreational Boating Safety Coordinator, the Coast Guard works to minimize loss of life, personal injury, property damage, and environmental harm associated with this activity. Our boating safety program involves public education programs, regulation of boat design and construction, approval of boating safety equipment, and vessel safety checks for compliance with federal and state safety requirements. The all- volunteer Coast Guard Auxiliary plays a central role in this program.

But the maritime domain is large and complex, and the sea is powerful and unforgiving. Despite our best efforts, mariners sometimes find themselves in harm’s way. When they do, the Coast Guard has a long heritage and proud tradition of immediate response to save lives and property in peril. As the lead agency for maritime search and rescue (SAR) in U.S. waters, we coordinate the SAR efforts of afloat and airborne Coast Guard units with those of other federal, state, and local responders. We also partner with the world’s merchant fleet to rescue mariners in distress around the globe through the Automated Mutual-assistance Vessel Rescue (AMVER) system. Using its Captain of the Port (COTP) authorities and responsibilities, the Coast Guard also coordinates response efforts on waterways after an incident or disaster.

In addition to responding to a variety of maritime accidents and emergencies, we investigate their causes. We determine whether applicable laws have been violated, or whether changes should be made to improve safety through our prevention programs. This work is often done in coordination with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Coast Guard activities in support of maritime safety are often inseparable from those we perform to protect the marine environment or secure the U.S. Marine Transportation System (MTS). A routine inspection for safety compliance may uncover a serious risk to the environment. Coast Guard vessel traffic services not only reduce the risk of vessel collisions, but also provide maritime domain awareness. This improves security. A buoy tender working an aid to navigation may immediately divert to a search and rescue case. The integration of all Coast Guard missions has saved many thousands of lives, helped secure our citizens, and contributed to our national economic and environmental well-being.

Search and Rescue (SAR)

  • Provide immediate response to save lives and property in peril Minimize loss of life, injury, and property damage
  • Coordinate SAR efforts of afloat and airborne Coast Guard assets with those of other federal, state, and local responders
  • Coordinate response efforts on waterways after accidents or disasters, exercising our Captain of the Port authorities and responsibilities
  • Partner with the world’s merchant fleet to rescue mariners in distress around the globe through the Automated Mutual-assistance Vessel Rescue (AMVER) system

Marine Safety

  • Enforce safe and environmentally sound operation of U.S. flagged vessels throughout the world
  • Assert authority over foreign vessels operating in U.S. Port State Controlled waters to enforce safe, secure, and environmentally sound operations in U.S. waters
  • Issue licenses and documents to qualified mariners, and promote competency through a combination of training courses, requisite experience, and examinations
  • Conduct inspections of U.S. and foreign vessels, marine facilities, and review plans for vessel construction, alteration, equipment, and salvage
  • Develop and monitor vessel construction and performance
Last Modified 3/20/2014