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Lifesaving Medal
Gold and Silver Lifesaving Medals
Awarded by United States Coast Guard
Country United States
Eligibility Open
Awarded for Rescuing, or endeavoring to rescue, any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils of the water.
Established 20 June 1874
Total awarded 600+ Gold Lifesaving Medals
1,900+ Silver Lifesaving Medals
Gold Lifesaving Medal ribbon.svg
Gold Lifesaving Medal
Silver Lifesaving Medal ribbon.svg
Silver Lifesaving Medal

Famed life-saver Joshua James wearing the Gold Lifesaving Medal among other awards

The Gold Lifesaving Medal and Silver Lifesaving Medal are U.S. decorations issued by the United States Coast Guard. The awards were first established by Act of Congress, 20 June 1874; later authorized by 14 U.S.C. § 500.[1] These decorations are two of the oldest medals in the United States and were originally established at the Department of Treasury as Lifesaving Medals First and Second Class. The Department of the Treasury initially gave the award, but today the United States Coast Guard awards it through the .[2] They are not classified as military decorations, and may be awarded to any person.[3]


The Lifesaving Medals were first authorized in an Act (18 Stat 125, 43rd Congress) that furthered the United States Life-Saving Service. The Secretary of the Treasury was directed to, amongst other provisions of the act, to create "medals of honor", to be distinguished as life-saving medals of the first and second class, and bestow them upon any persons who endanger their own lives in saving, or endeavouring to save lives from perils of the sea, within the United States, or upon any American vessel.

The Lifesaving Medals have had three designs in their history. The original design in 1874 was "non-portable" and could not be worn by the recipient, but rather displayed much like a trophy. In 1882 the design was changed so that the medal was suspended from a two inch wide ribbon. The ribbon was red for the Gold Lifesaving Medal and light blue for the Silver Lifesaving medal. Finally on 4 August 1949 the medals and ribbons were reduced in size so that they were more proportionate to medals awarded by the U.S. Armed Forces. The ribbons were also redesigned to have multiple colors.

The laws governing the awarding of medal were amended over the years, and is currently awarded by the Coast Guard. The Commandant of the Coast Guard makes the final determination in authorizing the award.

"The Gold Lifesaving Medal or the Silver Lifesaving Medal may be awarded to any person who rescues or endeavors to rescue any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils of the water. The rescue or attempted rescue must either take place in waters within the U.S. or subject to the jurisdiction thereof, or one or the other of the parties must be a citizen of the U.S. or from a vessel or aircraft owned or operated by citizens of the U.S."[3]

The Lifesaving Medal is issued in two grades, being silver and gold. "The Gold Lifesaving Medal may be awarded to an individual who performed a rescue or attempted rescue at the risk of his or her own life, and demonstrates extreme and heroic daring. The Silver Lifesaving Medal may be awarded to an individual who performed a rescue or attempted rescue where the circumstances do not sufficiently distinguish the individual to deserve the medal of gold, but demonstrate such extraordinary effort as to merit recognition. If neither the Gold nor Silver Lifesaving Medal is appropriate, then a Certificate of Valor or an appropriate Coast Guard Public Service Award may be considered."[3]

Until the mid-20th century, the Lifesaving Medal was often bestowed upon members of the military; however in recent times the decoration has become somewhat rare. This is due primarily to the creation of a variety of additional military decorations that are often considered more prestigious than the Lifesaving Medal. The United States Navy often issues the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, instead of the Lifesaving Medal, for sea rescues involving risk of life. "Military personnel serving on active duty would normally not be recommended for Gold and Silver Lifesaving Medals; however, military personnel may be recommended for a Lifesaving Medal if the act of heroism was performed while the individual was in a leave or liberty status. In all other circumstances, a military award should be considered."[3] The Lifesaving Medal is authorized for wear on U.S. military uniforms.[4]

The Lifesaving Medal is unusual among U.S. medals because it is actually struck from precious metal, silver or gold, depending on the grade.[5] Most other medals are struck from inexpensive alloys.

Multiple awards of the Lifesaving Medal are denoted by award stars on the decoration’s ribbon and a gold clasp, inscribed with the recipient’s name, is worn on the actual medal.

Since 1874, more than 600 Gold Lifesaving Medals and more than 1,900 Silver Lifesaving Medals have been awarded.[5]

Notable recipients

See also


  1. "14 U.S.C. § 500". Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  2. "Timeline 1800-1899 (see June 20, 1874)". Retrieved 2012-09-12. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 (PDF) Medals and Awards Manual. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, United States Coast Guard COMDTINST M1650.25D. May 2008.  Chapter 4
  4. "U.S. Army Human Resources Command, Awards and Decorations Branch". Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Traditions: 200 Years of History". 1990. Retrieved 2012-09-12. 
  6. "Captain Joshua James, USLSS". Retrieved 11 April 2011. 
  7. "Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz". Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  8. Christley, Jim. "Submarine Hero: TM2 Henry Breault". Undersea Warfare Spring 1999 Vol. 1, No. 3. Chief of Naval Operations Submarine Warfare Division. Retrieved 26 July 2011. 
  9. Emily Yoffe (August 4, 2002). "Afterward – Page 9 – New York Times". The New York Times. New York: NYTC. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 5, 2011. "In a dusty glass-fronted case on the piano bench, Skutnik keeps the palm-size Carnegie Medal for heroism and the Coast Guard's Gold Lifesaving Medal" 
  10. Coastal Guide. "E.S. Newman Rescue". Retrieved 19 August 2013. 

External links

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