AskDefine | Define coastguard

Dictionary Definition

coastguard n : a military service responsible for the safety of maritime traffic in coastal waters

User Contributed Dictionary



coastguard, also spelt coast guard
  1. An enforcer of maritime law, in charge of policing the seas

Extensive Definition

A coast guard is a national organization responsible for various services at sea. However the term implies widely different responsibilities in different countries. Among the responsibilities that may be entrusted to a coast guard service are enforcement of maritime law, maintenance of seamarks, border control, and other services. During wartime coast guards might be responsible for harbour defense, port security, naval counterintelligence and coastal patrols.
In some countries it is part of the military. In a few countries it is a civilian or even private sector organization. Most coast guards operate ships and aircraft including helicopters and seaplanes for this purpose.
In some countries (such as Ireland) the coast guard has a limited law enforcement role and is the co-ordinating agency for maritime rescue but enforcement powers are growing dealing with maritime safety law ie. The marine safety bill and the Merchant shipping act and has officially become part of the uniformed services and assistance may come from other organizations in the rescue role. In these cases, lifeboats may be provided by civilian voluntary organizations, such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, whilst aircraft may be provided by the countries' armed forces Aircorps and Naval service, in addition to any coast guard owned assets. In the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard has both law enforcement and military roles.

Types and roles

The following lists a select number of coast guards around the world, illustrating the varied roles they play in the respective countries they operate in:

Military units


In France, the Maritime Gendarmerie is a military unit, part of the French Navy, and serves as France's coast guard.


In India, the Indian Coast Guard is a military unit. It secures the country's coast, carries out rescues, and aids shipping.


In Italy, the Guardia Costiera is part of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, but is a military organization.

Combination military and law enforcement units


The Icelandic Coast Guard is primarily a law enforcement organization and is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice. It is however commonly involved in military operations and exercises, such as Enduring Freedom and Northern Challenge.

United States of America

In the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is both a military and a law enforcement organization. It is one of the seven components of the Uniformed services of the United States and one of the five elements of the United States Armed Forces.
During peacetime the USCG falls under the administration of the United States Department of Homeland Security. During wartime, the USCG may, at the direction of the President of the United States, report to the Secretary of the Navy but does not become part of the US Navy and is not part of the Department of Defense; however, its boats and cutters are integrated into U.S. military operations (see ).
The U.S. Coast Guard Academy and Officer Candidate School are located in New London, Connecticut. The Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Academy is located in Petaluma, California. The Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, New Jersey is the Coast Guard's only Recruit Training Center. Many other countries' naval forces are comparable in size and/or strength to the USCG. The USCG enables the US Navy to concentrate on its main mission of power projection — while the USCG manages maritime security, port security, and coastal patrols.
The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the other branches of United States armed services from enforcing U.S. laws, with the exception of the USCG. Thus, the USCG provides Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs) to US Navy ships and the members of the LEDETs do the actual boarding, interdiction and arrests with the assistance of US Navy personnel.
The USCG maintains an extensive fleet of coastal and ocean-going patrol ships, called cutters by tradition, and small craft, as well as an extensive aviation division consisting of HH-65 Dolphin and HH-60 Jayhawk helicopters, including fixed wing aircraft such as the C-130 Hercules and the HU-25 Guardian. USCG helicopters are equipped with hoists to rescue survivors and also play a major role in law enforcement. The helicopters are able to land and take off from USCG ships, making them an indispensable tool in fighting illegal drug traffic and the influx of illegal migrants. The fixed wing aircraft are used for long range search and rescue and law enforcement patrols.


In Taiwan, the Coast Guard Adminisration (ROCCGA) is both a military and a law enforcement organization. The ROCCGA is considered a civilian law enforcement agency under the administration of the Executive Yuan, though during wartime it may be incorporated as part of the military.
ROCCGA is instituted Maritime Patrol Directorate General and Coast Patrol Directorate General. Officers of Maritime Patrol Directorate General are law executors, but officers of Coast Patrol Directorate General are soldiers who have partly law- enforced power.

Law enforcement agencies


In Malaysia, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) or Malaysian Coast Guard is part of the Malaysian Civil Service and is placed under the Prime Minister's Department. The Agency is headed by a Director General who is appointed by the Yang Di Pertuan Agong (King) on the advice of the Prime Minister while other personnel are appointed by the Public Service Commission. It is tasked with enforcing national and international laws, coordinates search and rescue operations and other matters incidental to maritime enforcement in the Malaysian Maritime Zone and on the high seas. In times of war, special crisis or emergency, the Agency may be placed under the command of the Malaysian Armed Forces by order of the Minister.


In Singapore, the Police Coast Guard (PCG) is an operational department of the Singapore Police Force. Functions of the coast guard were transferred from the Republic of Singapore Navy to what was then the Marine Police in February 1993 The Marine Police was thus restructured and renamed as the Police Coast Guard, one of the few law enforcement organisations in the world to combine water policing and coast guard duties while remaining as a policing unit.

Combination civil and law enforcement organizations


The German Federal Coast Guard, known as the Küstenwache, is both a civilian service and a law enforcement organization, staffed with both police officers and certain civilians from the various German federal agencies associated with maritime administration.

Civil organisations


In Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) is a civilian service under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans responsible for patrolling the world's longest coastline of 243,042 km (~151,000 mi).
The CCG holds responsibility for all marine search and rescue in Canada, as well as maintaining and operating seamarks, coastal light stations, vessel traffic services, marine pollution response services, marine communications systems and providing icebreaking services. CCG also operates all federal scientific research and hydrographic survey vessels. To accomplish these tasks, CCG has a sizeable fleet of vessels and aircraft, all serviced from various bases and smaller stations located on three coasts (Atlantic, Arctic, Pacific) and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, Her Majesty's Coastguard is purely concerned with search and rescue. It has no role in the maintenance of seamarks which is instead the responsibility of Trinity House, the Northern Lighthouse Board (in Scotland) and the Commissioners of Irish Lights (in Northern Ireland). Neither has it any concern with customs enforcement, which is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. HM Coastguard does not possess all-weather lifeboats, instead calling on those of the volunteer Royal National Lifeboat Institution and other independent Lifeboats, although it often wet leases commercial helicopters—mainly Sikorsky S-69s—and tugs to provide search and rescue cover in certain areas. It does, however, maintain a number of search, cliff and mud rescue teams as well as some inshore rescue boats and is a coordinating body and public face for the maritime search and rescue services. It is part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Links and information about specific coast guards

coastguard in Old English (ca. 450-1100): Sǣweard
coastguard in German: Küstenwache
coastguard in Modern Greek (1453-): Ακτοφυλακή
coastguard in French: Garde-côtes
coastguard in Italian: Guardacoste
coastguard in Dutch: Kustwacht
coastguard in Japanese: 沿岸警備隊
coastguard in Norwegian: Kystvakt
coastguard in Norwegian Nynorsk: Kystvakt
coastguard in Simple English: Coast guard
coastguard in Swedish: Kustbevakning
coastguard in Ukrainian: Берегова оборона
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