On August 4, 1790, Congress authorized the construction of ten vessels to “enforce tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling.” Organized as the Revenue Cutter Service, the Coast Guard is the oldest continuous seagoing service in the United States. In 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service was merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service to become the modern Coast Guard. In 1939, the Lighthouse Service was transferred to the Coast Guard and in 1946, the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation was transferred to the Coast Guard. In 2003, the U.S.C.G. was made a division of the newly created Department of Homeland Security.
The Coast Guard’s effort was extraordinary after Hurricane Katrina. After that storm, the Coast Guard evacuated or rescued over 33,000 people, almost six times as many as in all of 2004. According to the Coast Guard, on an average day it “saves 14 lives, assists 98 people in distress, conducts 74 search and rescue cases, interdicts 17 illegal migrants at sea, and seizes or removes over 1,000 pounds of illegal drugs.” As a boater and someone who has sailed from Annapolis, Maryland to Bermuda, knowing that the Coast Guard is available and capable should a disaster occur is comforting.
The Coast Guard is the only branch of the Armed Services that resides outside of the Pentagon although it reports to the U.S. Navy in times of war or at the direction of the President. There are approximately 40,000 men and women who serve on active duty with the Coast Guard. Coasties, some of whom are our students, today we salute you and congratulate you on your 218th birthday!