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A Day in the Life of a Coast Guard-Enlisted

The United States Coast Guard does not typically fight our wars, but they are vital to national security. In their own words, the Coast Guard "prevents spills, clears waterways, and keeps narcotics off our shores." In fact, the Coast Guard is under the authority of the Department of Transportation, not Defense. While this list of responsibilities may seem short, the number of jobs included in those three categories is staggering. The Coast Guard is responsible for Bridge Administration over some waterways, maintaining an International Ice Patrol, assisting in the navigation of American vessels at sea (since 1790), seizing drugs that come into the country through waterways, rescuing vessels in distress, monitoring illegal immigration into the U.S. by sea, and more. One might classify the Coast Guard (if it is possible to classify an organization that performs so many diverging services) as a law-enforcement, environmental and military agency. They board ships every day to inspect the cargo, and, when the need arises, impound enormous amounts of drugs or other contraband.The Coast Guard employs 38,000 active duty men and women, 8,000 reserves, and 35,000 auxiliaries. On an average day, the Coast Guard saves 14 lives.

Paying Your Dues

As with all other armed service branches, the Coast Guard requires an intensive training session called boot camp. There is a boot camp for all potential Coast Guardians at Cape May, New Jersey. The eight weeks of training includes exercises that are both physically and mentally grueling, including a swim test, a fitness test, and several academic tests.

Present and Future

The Coast Guard was founded in 1790 and was recognized as a vital protector of U.S. shores in ensuing years spent patrolling shipping lanes in dispute with France. In the War of 1812, when British Marines invaded and burned Washington D.C., the Coast Guard was caught unprepared in the midst of enforcing slave-trade restriction and fighting piracy. In World War Two, the Coast Guard inspected merchant ships for the allies, and in 1970 the Coast Guard's authority to protect water life was broadened with the passage of the Water Quality Improvement Act. Today, the Coast Guard protects vital national security interests such as the prevention of illegal immigration and narcotics trafficking.

Quality of Life


To join up as an enlistee, you must be between 17 and 27 and have a high school diploma, although a 17-year-old must submit written parental consent. You must also be a citizen or resident alien to be considered for a position. Unlike other branches of the armed forces, all of the jobs in the Coast Guard (including combat roles) are open to both men and women. Promotion opportunities are possible for those who are ambitious and talented enough to earn them. For the first year or two of active service, enlistees are assigned to a ship. On that ship, they will be working in a galley peeling potatoes, so to speak. Promotions come, but only to those with healthy work attitudes.


There are nine districts covered by the Coast Guard: the districts numbered 1,5,7,8 and 9 are all classified as Atlantic, and districts numbered 11,13,14 and 17 are all Pacific (these include Hawaii and Alaska). So the good news is that no matter where you are sent to work, you will be somewhere in the United States. The bad news, depending on your point of view, is that you may still be very far away from your home state. There are several landlocked offices of the Coast Guard, and if you want to work for Coast Guard public relations or mechanical repair, you might not need to see water, except for basic training. But if you suffer from aquaphobia, you need not apply.


Generally speaking, enlistees do not stay for this long and do not make the Coast Guard a career for themselves, since in most cases, enlistees commit to 8 years of service.  Depending on the terms of the contract, 2 to 6 years are spent on active duty and the rest spent in the Coast Guard Reserves. The enlistment contract obligates the Coast Guard to provide the agreed-upon job, rank, pay, cash bonuses for enlistment in certain occupations, medical and other benefits, occupational training, and continuing education. In exchange, enlisted personnel must serve satisfactorily for the specified period of time.