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The United States Coast Guard uses cutters and small boats on the water, and fixed- and rotary wing (helicopters) aircraft in the air. The Coast Guard employs various small arms including handguns, shotguns, rifles, and machine guns.


Originally, the Coast Guard used the term cutter in its traditional sense, as a type of small sailing ship. Today it officially uses the term for any vessel which has a permanently assigned crew and accommodations for the extended support of that crew, and includes only and all vessels of 65-foot (20 m) or more in length.[1] Larger cutters (over 180 feet (55 m) in length) are controlled by Area Commands (Atlantic Area or Pacific Area). Smaller cutters come under control of District Commands. Cutters usually carry a motor surf boat and/or a rigid-hulled inflatable boat. Polar-class icebreakers (WAGB) carry an Arctic Survey Boat (ASB) and Landing Craft. The Coast Guard formerly leased three 179-foot Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships from the U.S. Navy. All are homeported in Pascagoula, Mississippi. These vessels were used primarily for counterdrug patrols.[2][3][4] All have now been returned to the Navy.

Any Coast Guard crew with officers or petty officers assigned has law-enforcement authority (14 USC Sec. 89) and can conduct armed boardings.

378-foot High Endurance Cutter (WHEC) USCGC Hamilton (WHEC-715), commissioned in 1967 (U.S. Coast Guard Photo)

  • For a complete list of Cutters see: United States Coast Guard Cutter and List of United States Coast Guard cutters
  • Polar-class icebreaker (WAGB): There are three WAGB's, all home ported in Seattle, Washington. Two are 399-foot (122 m) icebreakers (the Polar Sea and the Polar Star), and one newer 420-foot (130 m) icebreaker, the Healy.
  • National Security Cutter (WMSL)[5]
  • High Endurance Cutter (WHEC): These are Hamilton class cutters, 378 feet (115 m) along the waterline. There are 12 WHECs (homeports are: Charleston, South Carolina (2); Seattle, Washington (2); Alameda, California (3); Kodiak, Alaska(1); San Diego, California (2); and Honolulu, Hawaii (2).)
  • USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30): The Mackinaw is a 240-foot (73 m) heavy icebreaker built for operations on the North American Great Lakes and home ported at Cheboygan, Michigan.
  • USCGC Eagle (WIX-327): The Eagle is home ported at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. It is used for training voyages for Coast Guard Academy cadets and Coast Guard officer candidates. The USCGC Eagle was built in Germany as the Horst Wessel, and was taken by the United States as a war reparation in 1945.
  • Offshore Patrol Cutter (Still in development)
  • Medium Endurance Cutter (WMEC): These are mostly 210-foot (64 m) and 270-foot (82 m) cutters, although two "mature" class cutters fall into the WMEC category (the Alex Haley and the Acushnet, both stationed in Alaska).
  • Seagoing Buoy Tender (WLB): There are 16 Juniper-class buoy tenders being commissioned.
  • USCG coastal buoy tender
  • USCG Katmai Bay class icebreaking tug
  • 156-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter
  • 110-foot Island Class Cutter (WPB): There are currently 41 110′ patrol boats in active duty service in the U.S. Coast Guard. Eight additional 110-foot patrol boats were extended to 123 feet (37 m) but structural issues developed shortly after these conversions and the cutters were deemed unsafe to operate. The Coast Guard as of 2014 the USCG was seeking a $50 million refund from Bollinger Shipyards. Six of the WPB fleet are assigned to the Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) in the Persian Gulf to assist guarding Iraq's waters.[6]
  • 87-foot Marine Protector Class Cutter(WPB): This is a class of 87-foot (27 m) patrol boats.
  • Island class patrol boat


A USCG HC-130 Hercules near Oahu

The Coast Guard operates about 210 aircraft. Fixed-wing aircraft (such as Lockheed HC-130 Hercules turboprops and Dassault HU-25A Guardian jets) operate from Air Stations on long-duration missions. Helicopters (Aérospatiale HH-65 Dolphin, Sikorsky HH-60J Jayhawk, and Agusta MH-68 Stingray) operate from Air Stations, Air Facilities, and flight-deck equipped cutters, and can rescue people or intercept smuggling vessels. Some special MH- designated helicopters are armed with guns and some are equipped with armor to protect against small arms fire.

The Coast Guard flies several aircraft types:

HC-144A Ocean Sentry (CASA CN-235-300 MP Persuader).

The Coast Guard is planning to purchase 36 CASA CN-235 from Spanish aircraft manufacturer Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA (CASA) for medium range search. As of 26 February 2008, 3 aircraft have been delivered for testing and integration with a further 5 planned.[13] During testing, one aircraft was pulled into active duty for the search downed Air Force pilots, in which the aircraft demonstrated its capabilities.

The Coast Guard was to purchase the Bell Eagle Eye UAV as part of the Deepwater program, but this has been cancelled.[14]

In addition to regular Coast Guard aircraft, privately owned general aviation aircraft are used by Coast Guard Auxiliarists for patrols and search-and-rescue missions.


USCG 47-foot Motor Lifeboat escorting the Spirit of Ontario I Fast Ferry into the port of Rochester, New York on 2004-08-08

A Coast Guard 25-foot (8 m) Defender-class boat from Station Seattle enforces a security zone around a Washington State Ferry in Elliott Bay December 22, 2003.

The Coast Guard operates about 1,400 boats, defined as any vessel less than 65 feet (20 meters) in length, which generally operate near shore and on inland waterways. The most common is 41 feet (12.5 m) long, of which the Guard has more than 200; the shortest is 12 feet (4 m).

The Coast Guard boat fleet includes:

  • Arctic Survey Boat (ASB)
  • 52-foot Motor Life Boat (MLB): The Coast Guard currently has four of the 52-foot motor life boats, a craft designed from the ground up to serve in challenging surf conditions. All four craft are currently assigned to surf stations in the Pacific Northwest.
  • 47-foot Motor Life Boat (MLB): The Coast Guard's primary heavy-weather boat used for search and rescue as well as law enforcement and homeland security.[15]
  • 41-foot Utility Boat (UTB): A general purpose boat used for nearly all Coast Guard missions. (This boat is being replaced by the 45-foot Response Boat Medium.)[16]
  • Deployable Pursuit Boat (DPB) (no longer in service)
  • Aids to Navigation Boats (TANB/BUSL/ANB/ANB)
  • Transportable Port Security Boat (TPSB): 25-foot (7.6 m) boat, based on the commercial version of the 25-foot (8 m) center-console Boston Whaler, suitable for work in inland waters, easily transportable by trailer. These are primarily used by Port Security Units for force protection in naval support areas abroad, as well as, ports of embarkation/debarkation in expeditionary areas. Most recently these boats and units were deployed to Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The durability, versatility, and mobility of these boats make them ideal for this type of operation.[17]
The Coast Guard planned to reduce the inventory of Boston Whalers because of the lack of interoperable spare parts. On Friday, July 13th, the General Services Administration approved the transfer of 10 Coast Guard boats to the Army in Iraq. The boats, 24-foot and 27-foot Boston Whalers with trailers, had an original acquisition cost of more than $800,000. The Army is looking for approximately 55 Riverine or Patrol style boats to conduct water interdiction, river denial and island clearance missions, troop transport and insertion on a regular basis; the Coast Guard is providing the Army with the Boston Whalers and one Ambar boat, a patrol type vessel.[18]
  • Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHI): a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, powered by a gasoline outboard motor or an inboard/outboard diesel engine. The RHI can be easily deployed from a cutter with a four-point bridle for davit lifting and lowering. The RHI's portability and ruggedness allow it to be used on many kinds of missions.
  • USCG Short Range Prosecutor (SRP): A 7-meter (23 ft) launch that can be launched from a rear launching ramp, at speed.
  • Response Boat-Small (Defender-Class): A high-speed boat, for a variety of missions, including search and rescue, port security and law enforcement duties. The original 25-foot boats built by SAFE Boats International (Secure All-around Flotation Equipped) of Port Orchard, Washington are being replaced by 29-foot boats built by Metal Shark Alunimun Boats, LLC of Jeanerette, LA.[20][21]

A U.S. Coast Guard RB-M underway during testing

  • 45-Foot Response Boat – Medium: The Coast Guard has signed a multi-year contract for 180 Response Boat – Medium (RB-M) boats that were delivered starting in 2008 to replace the 41′ UTB boats. These aluminum boats are 45 feet (13.7 m) in length, have twin diesel engines (total 1650 hp), be self-righting, have four crew, six passenger capacity, be equippable with two .50 caliber machine guns, have an excellent fendering system, have a top speed of 42 knots (78 km/h), and be capable of towing a 100-ton vessel in eight-foot seas. The boats were built by Kvichak Marine Industries of Kent, Washington and Marinette Marine of Manitowoc, Wisconsin.[22][23]
  • There are a number of Special Purpose Crafts (SPC), as follows:[24] 18', 20' and 22' Airboats (SPC-AIR & SPC-Airboat),[25] 36' Boarding Team Delivery (SPD-BTD), 52' Heavy Weather (SPC-HWX), 33' Law Enforcement (SPC-LE),[26] 42' Near Shore Lifeboat (SPC-NSB), 24' Shallow Water (SPC-SW),[27]

64' Screening Vessel (SPC-SV), 38' Training Boat (SPC-TB),[28] 39' Tactical Training Boat (SPC-TTR)

Small arms

From 1986 until 2006, Coast Guardsmen on patrol were armed with Beretta M9 9 mm pistols. The Coast Guard has since transitioned to the .40 S&W caliber SIG-Sauer P229R DAK as the standard personal defense weapon, completing the changeover as of April 2006. However some USCG units attached to other Military services in Operations still use Beretta M-9s. Other small arms in service include the M16A2 rifle, the M4 Carbine and the Remington 870 police magnum riot shotgun, from which the Coast Guard employs both lethal and non-lethal rounds. The M14 Tactical rifle, (a variant of the M14 service rifle fitted with the same stock used on the Mk 14 Enhanced Battle Rifle), and a variant of the .50-caliber M107 precision rifle are used for Airborne Use of Force (AUF) missions. Specialized units within the Deployable Operations Group also employ the Mk 18 carbine and the Mk 11 7.62mm precision rifle.[29] The Coast Guard's standard general purpose machine gun is the FN M240 machine gun which has replaced the M60. The M240B variant of this weapon is employed aboard surface vessels while the M240H is used aboard the MH-60 Jayhawk and MH-65 Dolphin helicopters. Many Coast Guard units are also equipped with the .50 caliber M2 machine gun. Weapons above .50 caliber are considered "weapons systems", rather than "small arms". Specific units such as Port Security Units use the M203 grenade launcher.[30]


Rescue 21 Logo.

Coast Guard radio stations cover a wide geographical area using very high frequency, high frequency, and medium frequency radios. There are eight major radio stations covering long-range transmissions and an extensive network of VHF radio stations along the nation's coastline and inland rivers.

The current communication system is being replaced by Rescue 21. Rescue 21 is an advanced maritime command, control, and communications (C3) system.

The OMEGA navigation system and the LORAN-C transmitters outside the USA were run until 1994 also by the United States Coast Guard, and LORAN-C transmitters within the US were decommissioned on June 1, 2010, with the exception of 5 CONUS LORAN-C stations that continue to be manned due to international agreements.

See also


  1. USCG Regulations. Chapter 10. Accessed 11 December 2006.
  2. PA3 Brian Leshak, "CG Leases Navy Ships, Fights Drug War". Coast Guard Magazine 2/2006, pp. 32–33.
  3. WPC Fact Sheet
  4. Naval Vessel Register
  5. "Northrop Grumman to Supply Polar Ice Breaker Navigation Support for U.S. Coast Guard". October 20, 2013. 
  6. "Our Opinion: Shipbuilding issues should be solved". The Mississippi Press. July 23, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-07-23. 
  7. HU-25 Guardian at
  8. HH-60J Jayhawk at
  9. Air Forces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire: Key Publishing Ltd. March 2013. p. 31. 
  10. "EADS North America Delivers 15th HC-144A Ocean Sentry to U.S. Coast Guard". June 7, 2013. 
  11. [1] at
  12. DOD 4120.15-L - Addendum
  13. EADS CASA’s HC-144A finds a downed pilot during its maiden SAR mission in U.S. Coast Guard service
  14. Bell Eagle Eye HV-911 on the USCG official Web site
  18. U.S. General Service Administration. "Boats Transferred to Iraq". Accessed September 4, 2007.
  22. U.S. Coast Guard press release 2007-06-28
  24. USDHS, USCG, Boat Management Manual: COMDTINST M16114.4B
  29. Joint Service Small Arms Systems Annual Symposium - 20 May 2008
  30. PA2 John Edwards and PA1 Kimberly Smith, PADET Atlantic City. "Learning to Shoot All Over Again". Coast Guard Magazine, Issue 2, 2006, pp. 4–19.

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