Maritime Log #39: Coast Guard’s Responsibilities Have Grown Greatly Since 1790

By Dyke Hendrickson, Custom House Maritime Museum Outreach Historian

Newburyport is the birthplace of the Coast Guard.

President Lyndon Johnson said so in 1965. A proclamation he signed is hanging on the wall of the Maritime Museum that documents this oft-challenged fact.

But much has happened since its birth in 1790. Indeed, Coasties now have many tasks.

Pictured here is an exercise teaching skills in ocean rescue.

The following is an evaluation by Coast Guard officials regarding the approximate activity in a given day. It comes from official service documents on its website.

“The Coast Guard is the principal federal agency responsible for maritime safety, security, and environmental stewardship in U.S. ports and waterways. In this capacity, the Coast Guard protects and defends more than 100,000 miles of U.S. coastline and inland waterways and safeguards an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) encompassing 4.5 million square miles stretching from north of the Arctic Circle to south of the Equator, from Puerto Rico to Guam, encompassing nine time zones.

“As one of the five Armed Services of the United States, the Coast Guard is the only military branch within the Department of Homeland Security. In addition to its role as an armed service, the Coast Guard is a first responder and humanitarian service that provides aid to people in distress or impacted by natural and man-made disasters whether at sea or ashore.

“The Coast Guard is a member of the intelligence community and is a law enforcement and regulatory agency with broad legal authorities associated with maritime transportation, hazardous materials shipping, bridge administration, oil spill response, pilotage, and vessel construction and operation.

“The 42,000 members of the Coast Guard operate a multi-mission, interoperable fleet of 243 cutters, 201 fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, and over 1,600 boats. Operational control of surface and air assets is vested in two Coast Guard geographical Areas (Pacific and Atlantic), nine Coast Guard Districts, and 35 sectors located at strategic ports throughout the country. Coast Guard program oversight, policy development, and personnel administration are carried out at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C.”

On an average day, the Coast Guard:

Conducts 45 search and rescue cases;

Saves 10 lives;

Saves over $1.2 million in property;

Seizes 874 pounds of cocaine and 214 pounds of marijuana;

Conducts 57 waterborne patrols of critical maritime infrastructure;

Interdicts 17 illegal migrants;

Escorts 5 high-capacity passenger vessels;

Conducts 24 security boardings in and around U.S. ports;

Screens 360 merchant vessels for potential security threats prior to arrival in U.S. ports;

Conducts 14 fisheries conservation boardings;

Services 82 buoys and fixed aids to navigation;

Investigates 35 pollution incidents;

Completes 26 safety examinations on foreign vessels;

Conducts 105 marine inspections;

Investigates 14 marine casualties involving commercial vessels;

Facilitates movement of $8.7 billion worth of goods and commodities through the nation’s Maritime Transportation System.

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