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Definition: coast guard from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1833) 1 : a military or naval force employed in guarding a coast or responsible for the safety, order, and operation of maritime traffic in neighboring waters 2 usu coast•guard chiefly Brit : coastguardsman

Summary Article: coast guard
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

special naval force assigned to seaboard duties. Its primary responsibilities usually consist in suppressing contraband trade and aiding vessels in distress. The British coast guard was established just after the Napoleonic Wars for the purpose of preventing smuggling. When the Coast Guard Act of 1856 put this task under the direction of the admiralty, the British coast guard was reorganized to perform coast-watching and lifesaving duties. In the United States a coast guard was formed in 1915 when an act of Congress combined the Revenue Cutter Service with the Life Saving Service. The cutter service had been established by Congress in 1790, at the suggestion of Alexander Hamilton, to prevent smuggling; until the creation of the navy in 1798 it was the only U.S. armed service afloat. The Life Saving Service developed some years later. The U.S. Coast Guard subsequently absorbed the Lighthouse Service (1939) and the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation (1942). In peacetime the Coast Guard is under the jurisdiction (since 2003) of the Dept. of Homeland Security; in wartime, and for such other periods as the president may direct, it is under the control of the navy. In addition to its rescue and antismuggling activities, the service enforces navigation rules and maintains jurisdiction over the regulations concerning the construction and equipment of merchant ships and over the licensing of merchant marine officers and seamen. It also operates and maintains weather ships, an ice patrol in the N Atlantic, and various navigational aids, including lighthouses, lightships, buoys, and loran stations. The Coast Guard Academy, for the training of officers, is located in New London, Conn.

  • See studies by M. F. Willoughby (1957), H. R. Kaplan (1972), and G. Gurney (1973).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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