Semper Paratus- Always Ready!- is the motto of the US Coast Guard, and fewer organizations follow those words more closely. Seas and waterways can be terrifying places, filled with danger both to commerce and peoples' very lives. The United States has an unimaginably vast series of waters to navigate, from the enormous Atlantic and Pacific coasts to the myriad rivers that snake down its inland regions. It is the United States Coast Guard that takes responsibility for safeguarding these waters, a staggering and often thankless task that stretches its manpower and technology to the very limit.
The Coast Guard is responsible for halting smuggling and human trafficking before it can reach the shores, for rescuing the sick and wounded from endangered vessels, for aiding in the navigation of nautical hazards and even for protecting the environment from pollution and degradation. With a fleet of nearly 250 so-called "cutters" and other vessels, the US Coast Guard by itself is the 12th largest navy on Earth! These vessels are enormously flexible and more than capable of performing the many different missions that the service is called upon to do as part of its day-to-day labors.
How well do you know the cutters of the US Coast Guard? Prove your nautical prowess by clicking on this link and showing you have what it takes to run with the best!
The Kankakee class river buoy tender (WLR) is simply a river-based boat which bears river buoys for easy deployment and replacement. Not a glamorous job, but someone's got to do it!
The Red series were a series of 5 Coastal Buoy Tender vessels that each started their names with the word Red. Examples were the Red Beech and the Red Wood.
The Thetis class patrol boat is also known as the Stanflex 3000. It is designed to be an ocean cutter, also deployable in an icebreaker role. It is used by the Danish Navy as the well as the US Coast Guard.
The Healy Icebreaker is the Coast Guard's most sophisticated icebreaker, and its largest overall vessel. She's designed to break channels in ice for safe navigation.
The Mesquite Class buoy tender is a seagoing vessel designed to replace the buoys used as naval "landmarks" and warning signs. As one might imagine, it is mostly comprised of cargo space!
The Manitou class harbor tug (WYTM/WYT) is meant to work, you guessed it, out of harbors, and is used to help pull barges and smaller vessels into and out of port. The Manitou's sister vessel is the Kaw.
The Edsall class was actually originally designed as a Destroyer escort in WW2. After the war, they were repurposed to serve in the Coast Guard due to their smaller size.
The Treasury class Cutter (WPG) is actually called that because each of the seven extant vessels was named after a Secretary of the Treasury. They were versatile, multipurpose ships, designed to be workhorses for the fleet.
The Inland buoy tender fulfills the Coast Guard's mission to maintain waterway obstacle warnings in the nation's inland rivers and other waterways. There are currently four such vessels.
The Owasco class Cutters were post WW2 vessels which were reassigned to the Coast Guard due to their endurance. They were named after various lakes, and had to have their substantial wartime armaments reduced.
The Mackinaw is the solitary example of the Medium Great Lakes Icebreaker class. It is designed to do just what the name says- 290 feet long and purpose-built to shatter ice on the Great Lakes of the US.
A unique vessel, the Eagle is actually a sailing ship used for training officers! It also performs a public relations role, and has been sent to foreign ports as a goodwill ambassador.
The Gasconade class river buoy tender is designed to roam the rivers, replacing and maintaining river buoys. The Gasconade herself was created in St Louis, and was originally based from there.
The Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter is a patrol vessel designed to operate in oceanic waters. It is armed with a 5 mm Bushmaster autocannon, as well as 4 heavy machine guns, and is well suited for defense and maritime law enforcement.
An older variant of buoy tender, Sycamore Class vessels were used around the time of WW2. Besides tending buoys, they were also used to inspect pleasure vessels.
Another older WW2 and prior vessel, the Apalachee class harbor tug does what the name says, aiding as a tug for vessels and barges in harbors. It could also be used as a firefighter and for criminal investigations.
The Bay class Icebreaking Tug acts a standard tugboat, but also can be used as an icebreaker, shattering fresh water ice up to 20 inches thick. It is a comparatively younger vessel, the class coming about in 1979.
Medium Endurance Cutters constitute two classes in the Coast Guard, the Reliance and the Famous class. They are unusual in that they are not merely work vessels but have sufficient quarters for the crew to remain on board. They have armaments along the lines of Mark 75, 76 mm/62 caliber gun mounts.
The Cape-class cutter was originally a WW2-era anti-submarine warfare boat, but after the war it was converted into a search and rescue and general patrol vessel. When they became obsolete, they were sold or otherwise transferred to Caribbean and South American navies.
Replacing the Cape class cutter in the 1980s, the Island class patrol boats are used for drug enforcement, coastal defense and search and rescue purposes. Several dozen of them are in active service today!
Not actually sweet at all, the Seagoing Buoy Tender Breaker, known as the USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30), is a buoy tender that is also designed to be a heavy icebreaker. It is assigned to do its work on the Great Lakes.
Surface effect ships are a form of hovercraft, propelled along the water atop a cushioned, inflatable surface. It also has twin hulls, similar in effect to a catamaran.
An archaic series of vessels from the '20s, the Tampa class was actually assigned the job of scouting out icebergs, which were seen as a menace to transatlantic shipping. They were typically repurposed for military usage come the Second World War.
The Keeper class Coastal Buoy Tender (WLM) is a modern series of vessels, having been commissioned in the 1990s. Besides buoy tending, it also aids navigation, engages in light icebreaking, and helps with naval resource management and protection.
High Endurance Cutters are some of the largest-ever Coast Guard vessels. An example of this would be the new Legend class of cutter, capable of ocean operations and in addition to normal Coast Guard duties, is also capable of serving in an anti-terrorism role.
The auxiliary tug (WATA) class was used as a rescue tug vessel for ships in trouble at sea, as well as normal tug duties in ports. An example of this class would be the USS Bagaduce (ATA-194).
The Calumet class harbor tug (WYTM/WYT) was an older form of harbor tug. It performed well in all the roles it was supposed to- aiding crippled vessels or barges- but was not equipped with firefighting equipment to help fight dockside fires.
Created as part of the Integrated Deepwater System Program, the Legend is a sophisticated, modern vessel. It is even equipped to function as an anti-air platform, thanks to its use of the Phalanx defense system.
The Patrol Boat (WPB) is actually an American variant on a British design. It can be used for all of the modern tasks the Coast Guard requires, from criminal interdiction to environmental conservation.
The Wind class Icebreakers were the first purpose-built icebreakers constructed and used by the US Coast Guard. Produced in 1944, they ran on diesel electric and were armed with a substantial weapon system, complete with rudimentary AA and depth charge capability, as befitting a wartime vessel.
The Point class patrol boat (WPB) was created in the '60s to replace the elder WW2-era patrol boats. 26 of them actually served as patrol vessels in Vietnam during the American intervention there.
The Class C (Iris) was a 180-foot vessel built to deploy and replace navigational aids. Most of the Iris class were later succeeded by Juniper class vessels. The class was decommissioned in 2006.
The Class A (Cactus) is another class designated to replace and deploy buoys so as to aid in navigation. Like many such craft, it was pressed into military service in the Second World War.
The Algonquin class Patrol Boat (WPG) is a now out of service 165-foot patrol boat. Like its namesake indicates, it was used for patrolling waters and dealing with naval threats, smuggling, and search and rescue missions.
The Polar Class Icebreaker (WAGB) is a heavy icebreaker designed to work in arctic and antarctic environs. In the past it has been used to clear the path to McMurdo station, the antarctic research base.
The Magnolia class Bay and Sound Tender (WAGL) was a ship class that only had two members, created around the turn of the 20th century. The Magnolia itself was destroyed in WW2, rammed by a submarine.
The Active class Patrol Boat (WSC) was perhaps the longest lived class of Coast Guard cutters. The eldest of the line, which began in the '20s, was still in service as late as 1978!
The White class Coastal Buoy Tender (WAGL/WLM) was a group of WW2 and post-WW2-era buoy tenders. Being designed during that war, it was actually originally designed to use to transport ammunition and supplies to and from docked vessels.
The Oceanographic Vessel (WAGO) was originally simply the USCGC Evergreen. It was the first oceanographic ship to have a computer installed in it, and was used to chart the depths of the ocean.