How To Become a Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard, a branch of the U.S. Navy during wartime, attracts men and women who love the sea and feel excited about the Guard's mission during peacetime to protect all activity happening on and around U.S. waterways.  Especially since the events of September 2001, the Coast Guard has been a key component of America's war against terrorism.

Coast Guard members are involved on a daily basis in a variety of activities either on or near the water.  These include search and rescue operations when boaters are in trouble, investigating illegal drug or immigration movement taking place on the water, marine resource management, as well as projects aimed at protecting national security at the shoreline as well as enforcing environmental protection laws.  Much of the activity that a Coast Guardsman or "Coastie" is involved in takes place aboard small cutter ships and patrol boats, so it's essential that you have a love for everything nautical.

To serve as an enlisted member of the Coast Guard, you must be between 17 and 27 years of age. If you are older than 27, ask the Coast Guard recruiter about Reserve and officer programs that have higher age limits. Acceptance into the Coast Guard program requires eight weeks of basic training or "boot camp" in Cape May, NJ where recruits train for peak physical fitness as well as to improve their swimming skills.  Training during this period includes:

  • Coast Guard history
  • The Uniform Code of Military Justice
  • Small firearms safety
  • Heavy lines and survival equipment
  • Seamanship
  • Firefighting
  • Damage control

Boot camp will test a recruit's mental as well as physical strengths, and not everyone can handle the military precision and discipline required by the Coast Guard. By the end of the fifth week of training, recruits receive notification of their first assignment orders either to a unit on the water (afloat) or seaside (ashore).

It's a good idea prior to signing up as a Coast Guard recruit to speak with members of the Coast Guard other than the recruiter, to get a sense of the pros and cons of the work and lifestyle.  Can you handle the rigors of boot camp discipline and testing?  Are you willing to be away from your family for as long as your four year term of service? Do you feel passionate about the Coast Guard's mission, and are you willing to give your full allegiance to its service?

If you answered yes, inquire about taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test to get started, and then prepare for a background check that includes drug testing and a physical examination. Upon successful completion of boot camp, you will be fully prepared to preserve and protect America coastal waterways as a U.S. Coast Guardsman.


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