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Thursday, August 03, 2017

U.S. Coast Guard's Birthday - August 4, 1790


Original content from Night Beacon (a dead link)

United States Coast Guard History and Present Role

The United States Coast Guard is this nation’s oldest and its premier maritime agency. The history of the Service is very complicated because it is the merger of five Federal agencies. These agencies, the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation, and the Lifesaving Service, were originally independent, but had overlapping authorities and were shuffled around the government. They sometimes received new names, and they were all finally united under the umbrella of the Coast Guard. The multiple missions and responsibilities of the modern Service are directly tied to this diverse heritage and the magnificent achievements of all of these agencies.

Aids to Navigation

One of the first acts of the young federal government was to provide for aids to navigation. On 7 August 1789, the First Congress federalized the existing lighthouses built by the colonies and appropriated funds for lighthouses, beacons, and buoys. Lighthouses generally reflect the existing technology of the time they were built. Each is also unique because their specific sites required special considerations. The earliest Colonial and Federal lighthouses were built of stone and had walls up to seven feet thick. Later advances allowed even taller structures made of brick. Screw-pile structures, reinforced concrete towers, steel towers, and caisson structures all added to the rich and unique architecture. There have been more than 1,000 lighthouses built and they provided the main guidance to mariners into the main harbors of the United States. For the first five decades there existed little bureaucracy, no tenders, only the lone keepers who kept the lights burning. The administration of the lighthouses bounced from the Treasury Department to the Commerce Department and was transferred to the Coast Guard in 1939.
Law Enforcement

The Coast Guard’s law enforcement responsibilities have been threefold. First, to ensure that the tariffs are not avoided. Second, to protect shipping from pirates and third, to intercept contraband. Today tariffs hardly seem controversial. But for the first Congress under the Constitution (1789), the imposition of these taxes was a bold act since such taxes had been a primary catalyst for the War of Independence. The young government’s need for money was urgent. Trade revenue had to be the lifeblood of the treasury if the new nation was to survive. During colonial days and the War of Independence, smuggling had been a patriotic duty of maritime America. Seamen were admired who circumvented King George’s trade laws, and later outran his fleet during the war. In 1789, a new respect for tariffs was needed.

Military Readiness

The Coast Guard, through its forefathers, is the oldest continuous seagoing service and has fought in almost every war since the Constitution became the law of the land in 1789. Following the War of Independence (1776-83), the Continental Navy was disbanded and from 1790 until 1798, when the U.S. Navy was created, the revenue cutters were the only national maritime service. The Acts establishing the Navy also empowered the President to use the revenue cutters to supplement the fleet when needed. Laws later clarified the relationship between the Coast Guard and the Navy.

The Coast Guard has traditionally performed two roles in wartime. The first has been to augment the Navy with men and cutters. The second has been to undertake special missions, for which peacetime experiences have prepared the Service with unique skills.

Environmental Protection


The Coast Guard has helped to protect he environment for 150 years. In 1822 he Congress created a timber reserve or the Navy and authorized the President to use whatever forces necessary to prevent the cutting of live-oak on public ands. The shallow-draft cutters were well-suited to this service and were used extensively.
The ecological responsibilities of the Service were greatly expanded by the purchase of Alaska in 1867. Fur seals were being hunted into extinction due o the value of their coats. Seal herds congregated each year to breed on the Pribilof Islands. The seals had been ruthlessly slaughtered. A quarter-million were killed during the first four years of American control. In 1870 Congress restricted the number that could be killed. Beginning in 1894, small parties of Revenue Cutter Service personnel were camped on the Pribilof Islands to prevent raids on the rookeries. On 11 May 1908, Revenue Cutters were given the authority to enforce all Alaskan game laws.

In 1885 the Revenue Cutter Service cooperated with the Bureau of Fisheries in connection with "propagation of food fishes." Twenty years later, cutters enforced the regulations governing the landing, delivery, cure, and sale of sponges in the Gulf of Mexico.

Clean waters have been a concern for many decades. The Refuse Act of 1899 was the first attempt to address the growing problem of pollution and was jointly enforced by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Revenue Cutter Service. Today, the current framework for the Coast Guard’s Marine Environmental Protection program is the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972.

In 1973, the Coast Guard created a National Strike Force to combat oil spills. There are three teams, a Pacific unit based near San Francisco, a Gulf team at Mobile, Ala., and an Atlantic Strike Team stationed in Elizabeth City, N.C. Since the creation of the force, the teams have been deployed worldwide to hundreds of potential and actual spill sites, bringing with them a vast array of sophisticated equipment. Their most notable "battles" were with Metula in the Straits of Magellan during August 1974, Showa Maru in the Straits of Malacca during January 1975, Olympic Games in the Delaware River during December 1975, and Argo Merchant during December 1976.

The 200-mile zone created by the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 quadrupled the offshore fishing area controlled by the United States. The Coast Guard has the responsibility of enforcing this law.

Search and Rescue

Ever since man has gone down to the sea in ships, great risks have been run to rescue those in danger. To improve the possibility of success, responsibility had to be delineated and means appropriated. In 1831 the Secretary of the Treasury directed the revenue cutter Gallatin to cruise the coast in search of persons in distress. This was the first time a government agency was tasked specifically to search for those who might be in danger. In 1837 Congress authorized the President "to cause ... public vessels ... to cruise upon the coast, in the severe portion of the season ... to afford such aid to distressed navigators as their circumstance and necessities may require; and such public vessels shall go to sea prepared fully to render such assistance." This addressed rescue on the high seas.

Preventive Safety

Safety at sea requires preventative and corrective measures. Too much is as bad as too little. A ship is similar to a delicately tuned instrument. If excessive cost and weight are devoted to safety, the ship will not be competitive and probably will never be built. Throughout the history of commercial vessel safety, there has been the constant struggle to provide a balance between the greatest degree of safety and reasonable cost.

As the nation's lead agency for waterways management, port safety and security, and vessel safety inspection and certification, the Coast Guard maintains a continuous and clear focus not only on the prevention of marine accidents but also on the response measures needed to cope with manmade and natural disasters. The Coast Guard also is responsible for maintaining and patrolling the safe and efficient navigable waterways system needed to support domestic commerce, facilitate international trade, and ensure the continued availability of the military sealift fleet required for national defense. Domestic icebreakers that keep shipping lanes open for commercial traffic in winter and the Vessel Traffic Services system that coordinates the safe and efficient movement of commercial vessels through congested harbors are two examples of how the Coast Guard maintains the waterways.

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