Coast Guard Officer

The United States Coast Guard is a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces charged with protecting coastal waters, preserving maritime law and generally serving the interests of its country. Part of the Department of Homeland Security, the branch contains over 42,000 active duty members and 8,700 full-time civilian employees. It also maintains enough vessels to make up the world’s 12th largest naval fleet all by itself.

U.S. Coast Guard officers fill a wide range of roles within the organization. Law enforcement, homeland security, border patrol, customs, marine environmental protection, search and rescue, aids to navigation service, migrant interdiction and drug interdiction all make up major missions of U.S. Coast Guard personnel.

While having a formal military structure, the U.S. Coast Guard and its officers must have an adaptive approach to conducting operations and managing bureaucratic administration. This agile, flexible approach was praised during their response to Hurricane Katrina in 2003 when U.S. Coast Guard rescue teams evacuated over 33,500 people following the storm’s aftermath.

What Does a Coast Guard Officer Do?

Officers in the Coast Guard are charged with a wide range of duties. Members are frequently stationed on vessels known as “Cutters” along the U.S. coastline. Operating aircraft, especially helicopters, is another main duty of Coast Guard personnel. Personnel may also operate in a team of lightweight patrol boats protecting U.S. coastal regions in a law enforcement capacity.

In addition to these duties, officers in the Coast Guard may be found on icebreaking ships in the Arctic, taking soil samples along the Mississippi Delta, servicing aids to navigation near the Chesapeake Bay, boarding and inspecting merchant vessels in the Port of Los Angeles, patrolling for illegal fishing vessels in the Pacific or rescuing civilians anywhere they are in need.

Some Coast Guard officers or vessels are deployed on active duty, either as an independent Coast Guard operation or as a contingency augmenting Navy operations.

To illustrate the diversity of duties a Coast Guard officer might fulfill on a typical day, the Coast Guard site published this list of one year’s accomplishments averaged out to a single day:

  • Saving 9 lives
  • Conducting 48 search and rescue cases
  • Assisting 73 people in distress
  • Seizing 297 pounds of marijuana and 549 pounds of cocaine worth $8.2 million
  • Saving over $132,000 in property
  • Conducting 54 waterborne patrols of critical maritime infrastructure
  • Interdicting 6 illegal migrants
  • Conducting 24 security boardings in and around U.S. ports
  • Investigating 24 pollution incidents
  • Escorting 5 high-capacity passenger vessels
  • Inspecting 127 vessels, containers and marine facilities
  • Issuing 173 credentials to merchant mariners
  • Servicing 134 buoys and fixing aids to navigation

Facilitating movement of $8.7 billion worth of goods and commodities through the U.S. marine transportation system

Where Do Coast Guardsmen Work?

Coast Guardsmen are stationed mainly in coastal areas, naturally. Florida, California, Hawaii, Washington, New York, Texas and Oregon are all major states where Coasties can be found. Additionally, Coast Guardsmen may be stationed in freshwater areas like the Great Lakes, in the North Arctic escorting ships, on land facilitating Search and Rescue cases or anywhere throughout the United States and world where Coast Guard operations are conducted.

As a branch of the military, Coast Guard members may also be deployed abroad to protect critical United States assets or augment Navy operations.

Coast Guard Salaries & Job Outlook

U.S. Coast Guard members are paid according to military pay scales, which vary based on rank, commission status, experience and other mitigating factors. The GoCoastGuard recruiting site suggests that new enlisted members will be making “approximately $20,000 annually” as basic pay.

Coast Guardsmen are also entitled to allowances, bonuses and other compensation based on their current duties. For instance, while stationed on a vessel, you are eligible for “sea pay” that can range from $200 to $700 per month. Housing allowances, meal allowances and other stipends can augment your typical salary. Additionally, a myriad of benefits including life insurance plans, free healthcare, free or subsidized room and board, 30 days paid vacation a year, GI Bill education funding and more are provided.

Petty Warranty Officers and other ranking enlisted personnel are entitled to higher salaries based on experience, duties and performance. Promoted third class Petty Officers who have served over two years of active duty receive $25,800 annually plus benefits, allowances and other pay, as an example.

Additional Careers in Law Enforcement

Consider these additional careers in law enforcement.

Police Officer
Crime Scene Investigator
FBI Agent
Game Warden
Police Detective
Private Investigator
State Trooper
U.S. Marshal