Feature | June 12, 2018


The Coast Guard's broad legal authorities associated with maritime transportation, hazardous materials shipping, bridge administration, oil spill response, pilotage, and vessel construction and operation are listed below.

  • Military Service

    The Coast Guard is a military service and a branch of the armed forces at all times. 14 U.S.C. § 1.

  • Vessel Boardings

    The Coast Guard may board any vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, whether on the high seas, or on waters over which the United States has jurisdiction, to make inquiries, examinations, inspections, searches, seizures, and arrests for the prevention, detection, and suppression of violations of U.S. laws. 14 U.S.C. § 89.

  • Navigation Safety

    The Coast Guard maintains broad authority over navigation safety in the navigable waters of the United States, including the ability to order vessels to operate as directed. 33 U.S.C. § 1223.

  • Naval Safety and Security

    The Coast Guard can control the anchorage and movement of vessels in the navigable waters of the United States to ensure the safety and security of U.S. naval vessels. 14 U.S.C. § 91.

  • Waterway Security

    When the President determines that U.S. national security is endangered, the Coast Guard may enforce regulations concerning the movement or anchorage of vessels within U.S. territorial waters, including vessel seizure and forfeiture, and may fine and imprison the master and crew for noncompliance. 50 U.S.C. § 191.

  • Assistance

    The Coast Guard may use its personnel and facilities to assist federal, state, and local agencies when Coast Guard assets are especially qualified to perform a particular activity. 14 U.S.C. § 141.

  • Pollution Response

    The Coast Guard may respond to discharges or threats of discharges of oil and hazardous substances into the navigable waters of the United States and promulgate certain pollution prevention regulations. 33 U.S.C. § 1321.

  • Vessel Inspections

    The Coast Guard prescribes regulations for the inspection and certification of vessels. 46 U.S.C. § 3306.

  • Customs

    The Coast Guard has the authority to enforce customs laws, including anti-smuggling regulations. U.S.C. Title 19.

  • Maritime Security

    The Coast Guard has a key role in preventing maritime transportation security incidents, which includes the implementation of international security standards. 46 U.S.C. VII.

  • Transportation

    The Coast Guard regulates hazardous materials in commerce. U.S.C. Title 49.

  • Intelligence Community

    The Coast Guard is a member of the intelligence community. U.S.C. Title 50.

  • Living Natural Resources

    The Coast Guard safeguards fisheries and marine protected resources by enforcing living natural resource authorities like the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act 16 U.S.C. § 1801, the Lacey Act 16 U.S.C. §§ 3371-3378, the Endangered Species Act 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1544, and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act 16 U.S.C. §§ 1431-1445. Additionally, the Coast Guard is often the best equipped to assist natural resource agencies with conservation responses to episodic events such as strandings and entanglements.