The Navigation Office was established in 1862 with the main responsibilities of providing nautical charts and instruments and overseeing several activities that involved navigational research, including the Naval Observatory. In 1884, the missions expanded to include the enforcement of laws relating to the construction, equipment, operation, inspection, safety and documentation of merchant ships. The Bureau also investigated marine casualties and accidents; tonnage taxes and other navigation charges levied; and screened, certified and licensed Merchant Seamen. In 1889, the Bureau acquired responsibility for personnel management, which eventually became its primary function.
The Steamship Inspection Service was established in 1871 to protect life and property at sea. It was merged with the Bureau of Navigation in 1932 to form the Bureau of Navigation and Steamship Inspection which in 1936 was reorganized in Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation.
The lighthouse service is the oldest, best known and busiest of all maritime coastal services. Created in 1790, it simply warned ships at night where land was. Eventually, hundreds of these quasi-permanent structures dotted all of America’s coasts. While they have undoubtedly saved many overnight voyages from disaster, the storms have still claimed thousands of shipwrecks each year. Alone, they would not be enough.
Coast Guard Missions Today
Eventually, all of these separate organizations with their specialized missions merged into the United States Coast Guard at various points in history, with the Lighthouse Service being the last in 1939. The Coast Guard therefore inherited all missions from the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lifesaving Service, Lighthouse Service, Bureau of Navigation and Steamship Inspection Service. In modern times, more missions have been added to deal with current situations. Today’s Coast Guard is under the Homeland Security banner and now has 11 missions:
- Port and river security
- Drug ban
- Aids to navigation
- Search and rescue
- Living marine resources
- Marine Safety
- Defense Preparation
- Migrant ban
- Protection of the marine environment
- Ice operations
- Application of maritime law.
Coast Guard Day Date
With so many origin dates in its history, it was only natural to choose the first and oldest as the day to celebrate Coast Guard history. It was the date of August 4, 1790 for the Revenue Marine Service, the first and oldest American maritime service, was a logical choice. So, happy 232nd birthday to the prestigious United States Coast Guard. Ho-Rah!
The first official US Coast Guard rescue
I was curious about the first rescue once the service officially became the US Coast Guard. To this end, I sought out the first annual report of the United States Coast Guard for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1915. Anyway, wherever it was in the country, I wanted it recognize. As the author of the Life-Saving Service shipwrecks and salvages of North Carolina’s iconic Outer Banks, to my surprise, here’s what I found:
As part of this very detailed report, continuing in the style of the Rescue Service’s annual report, it contained an extremely comprehensive section entitled “Tabular statement of assistance provided by cutters and stations, involving the rescue of life and property “. It was 81 pages from page 141 to 222 with details of EVERY operation of every station and cutter in the country. The summary averaged about 20 entries per page. There was only one for January 28, 1915. From this annual report, page 196:
The Carolina Supply Boat at Cape Hatteras Station, a 17-ton White Wing motorboat with 11 crew on board was rescued with the following official remarks: “Ground; transported in deep water. See the copy of the original file for more details.
It was 107 years ago! Congratulations, United States Coast Guard, still protecting in the Cemetery of the Atlantic in North Carolina.
About the Author: James D. Charlet is a published author and performs a variety of “live theater” programs for “Keeper James Presentations” based on excerpts from chapters in his book.
Please click here to read the first part of this story.