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Homeland Security and the Maritime Nation

By Wayne Spivak, Branch Chief – National Press Corps
National Marketing & Public Affairs Department, United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

When Lief Ericson, the Norse explorer first stepped ashore in Newfoundland, he began what was to become a long-standing tradition of that maritime nation. Both Canada and the United States share this proud tradition. Using the great Atlantic Ocean as a means to explore, raid, pillage, grow, fish, prosper and live, the ocean and the harbors and ports of these two nations have been active now for over 1,000 years.

Defending this tradition became a national interest, during the pioneer years of this nation, as British and privateer fought for control of the sea-lanes. Both parties understood the need to control access of the sea-lanes, as well as access to protected harbors and ports. It is these same ports, which have always been the key to the success of our nation, as well as an Achilles heel.

A Brief History of the Coast Guard

Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, not only understood what wealth lay in our maritime traditions, but that these same ports could hold additional revenues for a young and struggling nation. This young nation had limited sources of income and a limited means to impose and collect taxes. It was the imposition of duties on foreign products that was introduced by the fledging Congress.

Congress was taking a major risk, since the recently fought American Revolution was based partially on just this type of taxation. However, Hamilton and the Congress realized they needed a vehicle in which to enforce collection of taxes. In addition, they needed a way to stem the tide of pirates and smugglers.  Hamilton’s idea was a fleet of cutters dedicated to these tasks. This bold venture was the beginning of the Revenue Cutter Service, the precursor service to today’s United States Coast Guard.

In the intervening years, from the creation of the Revenue Cutter Service (1790) and today, five different maritime entities were created and then merged into today’s Coast Guard. In addition to the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service (created 1789, transferred to the Coast Guard 1939), the Steamboat Inspection Service (created 1852, transferred to the Coast Guard 1946), the Bureau of Navigation (created 1884, transferred to the Coast Guard 1946), and the Lifesaving Service (created 1878, transferred to the Coast Guard 1939) are at the heart of the Coast Guard.

In 1967, one of the last major changes to the Coast Guard occurred when the President transferred the Coast Guard from the Treasury Department, where it had been housed since its beginnings to the newly formed Transportation Department. Thirty-six years later, a new transformation will occur, one predicated on the defense of our maritime heritage.

Homeland Security

In March of 2003, the Coast Guard, in its entirety (which consists of active duty, reserve, auxiliary and civilian components, along with all assets) will be transferred to the newly formed Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  This new cabinet-level department was formed in the wake of the simultaneous Sept 11, 2001 commercial jet airliner attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, in Arlington, VA and at least a third target, which we can only theorize about, since that aircraft was brought down in the Pennsylvanian country-side.

The DHS will take 22 different agencies and combine them into four operational directorates plus two agencies that will directly report to the Secretary (the Coast Guard and the Secret Service), along with parts of the Immigration and Naturalization Service that will be re-named and report to the deputy secretary.

But how will this move between departments affect the Coast Guard and maritime safety? More importantly, how can you and I, as part of the public and more importantly the boating public, help protect our shores, or national, our families and livelihoods?

Some of these questions still remain un-answered or only partially answered, but this is what we currently know:

The Coast Guard will be moving (currently slated for March 1), pardon the pun; lock, stock and barrel from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security. All current missions assigned to the Coast Guard will remain with the Coast Guard. From search and rescue to environmental protection, stewardship of the ocean’s resources to recreational boating safety, the Coast Guard will be there, providing oversight, manpower and security.

As a boater, you will, for all intents and purposes, see no real difference in the varied services the Coast Guard provides to the public. But there will be changes. The Coast Guard Commandant is the Military Commander of the Maritime Defense Zone. This means the Coast Guard is the lead agency for maritime defense.

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s web sit in December 2002, the Department of Homeland Security is charged with:

“The many men and women who daily protect our borders and secure our country are committed to the safety of our homeland. The new Department will help them do their jobs better with increased communication, coordination and resources. Specifically, the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will have three primary missions:

  • Prevent terrorist attacks within the United States,

  • Reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and

  • Minimize the damage from potential attacks and natural disasters.”

Each of the points relate directly to not only one or more of the 22 agencies that are moving to DHS, but ultimately to the Coast Guard. Our nation’s navigable water and ports need to be protected.  Freedom of the high seas needs to be maintained. And, the safety of all coastal communities needs to be assured.

To meet these expanded demands, the Coast Guard will increase in size. This means the Coast Guard will need more men and women to fill roles in both their enlisted ranks and officer corps. They will need highly trained, qualified and motivated people who will be able to meet the demands of today while planning for the requirements of tomorrow.

For the boater, who may not be of “enlist-able” age or may have other plans, the Coast Guard can use your skills, and talents. Since 1939, men and women have been volunteering their time and energy to the Coast Guard, first in the Coast Guard Reserves, and later in the Coast Guard Auxiliary (in 1941, Congress re-created the Reserves into military service, and re-designated the volunteer force the Auxiliary).

The Auxiliary will be involved in all aspects currently allowed by both law (Title 14, USC Chapter 23) and Coast Guard Policy, the 37,000 members of the Auxiliary will be involved in both homeland security and all the other missions they have been performing side by side with the active duty members of the Coast Guard.

Proposed areas in which the Auxiliary will become more involved in are:

“While it likely means many things, from my view, it foremost means more on the water (and in the air) support to Coast Guard missions. More Auxiliary presence on our Nation’s lakes, rivers, coasts and bays. Clearly, the Coast Guard is counting, more than ever, on the Auxiliary to carry out boating safety activities, in the classrooms and on the boat ramps.

That has been and will continue to be a major, cornerstone mission for the Auxiliary. But, at the same time, there is an operational need for the Auxiliary, as the volunteer arm of Coast Guard Forces, to carry out a major support role in maritime security operations. That role includes many things, starting with more backfill support for many normal as well as high tempos “surge” Coast Guard station, group, air station, and maritime safety office functions and activities. It also means more volunteer search and rescue, multi-mission safety surface patrol, and air operations capability and capacity.

We will need more operational facilities [boats, and planes], more coxswains, pilots, and crew, and more training to do it all safely. With more and more Auxiliary presence on the water and in the air, a new and most significant supporting role for maritime domain awareness is likely to emerge.

Who else knows our Nation’s waters better, than our thirty seven thousand Auxiliaries? Besides, America’s Volunteer Lifesavers are already out there, doing what they do best, every day.”

[Capt. David B. Hill, Chief Director, USCG Office of the Auxiliary; A MESSAGE FROM THE CHIEF DIRECTOR AUXILIARY #1, December 24, 2002.]

Keeping Informed

As members of the public and the boating public, how can you be kept abreast of the changes in homeland security, and its impact on boating? One way is to stay in contact with your local merchants who participate with the Coast Guard Auxiliary Marine Dealer program.

These merchants, be they marinas, boat stores, or even your local dry cleaners or pharmacy, will be kept up to date with brochures and information about changes in boating laws, rules and policies. Frequent these merchants because not only do they provide you with normal services you need, they are there to educate you!

The second way is to read articles such as these. The Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary will be providing news organizations both in and out of the marine industry with articles on the changing tides of homeland security and how it effects and affects the boating industry, and the sport of boating.

The last way is by stepping up to the proverbial plate and becoming a member of the United States Coast Guard, Coast Guard Reserve or Coast Guard Auxiliary. Team Coast Guard as these three units are called, working together to provide safety and security to the boating public and this country.

To find out more information about the Coast Guard active duty and reserve, either see your local Coast Guard recruiter (tell them I sent you) or go on the web to

If your interested in volunteering your time, and receiving valuable training, either contact your local Auxiliary flotilla, by contacting your local Coast Guard unit or go to

Homeland security and maritime defense, pleasure boating and you – information you need to know.

[Authors Note: This is the first of a series of articles to inform the public and boatingpublic about changes in our sport.]