Coast Guard Auxiliary marks 78 years of service to safety on U.S. waters

Coast Guard Auxiliary marks 78 years of service to safety on U.S. waters

A Coast Guard Auxiliarist demonstrates mooring line techniques on an Auxiliarist small boat at Coast Guard Station Golden Gate, Sausalito, California. More than 30,000 members serve in more than 1,000 local Auxillarist units across the nation. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Third Class Paul Krug)

By Rindi White

For 78 years, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary has been promoting boating safety, patrolling U.S. waters and helping recreational boaters of all ages learn proper boating habits.

Congress authorized what was then called the Coast Guard Reserve on June 23, 1939, with orders to use civilian volunteers to promote safety on and over the high seas and in the nation’s navigable waters.

According to the Auxiliary (, the Coast Guard Reserve was then a non-military service made up of unpaid volunteers who owned motorboats or yachts.

Two years later, Congress created the Reserve, which was designated as a military branch of the active-duty Coast Guard, and the civilian “Reserve” got a name change to become the Auxiliary but remained an unpaid, volunteer force.

The name change came in 1941, and when Pearl Harbor was bombed later that year, Lt. Cmdr. Frank D. Higbee ordered the Auxiliary into duty. During World War II, 50,000 Auxiliary members joined the war effort, guarding waterfronts, performing coastal picket patrols, rescuing survivors from scuttled ships and doing whatever else was needed, often using their own boats or yachts to do so.

Following the war, Auxiliary members returned to recreational boating safety promotion. In 1996, Congress further expanded the Auxiliary’s role to include assisting in any Coast Guard mission authorized by the Commandant, unless it was a direct law enforcement and military operation.

Today, more than 30,000 members serve in more than 1,000 local units across the nation.

In Sector Charleston, in South Carolina, Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers help extend the Coast Guard’s reach throughout local communities, according to an article by Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Soto. There, the sector began an initiative known as “Think Auxiliary!” in an effort to improve Coast Guard mission execution.

The Sector Charleston Auxiliary has a presence during daily command briefings and local watch-standers created a “Book of Auxiliary” to allow watch-standers to identify Auxiliary boats, aircraft and personnel in an area that could be launched to respond to emergencies.

According to Soto, two boaters were rescued from a burning vessel by Auxiliary members in April 2016. The “Book of Auxiliary” helped command center personnel identify which Auxiliary crew was closest to the vessel.

Soto wrote that, in addition to assisting in operations, Auxiliary members provide direct support to Coast Guard units by acting as unit cooks or by monitoring radios at units, such as Coast Guard Station Brunswick, Georgia.

“We have several Auxiliary members from the local Brunswick flotilla who provide immeasurable help to our crew and our operations,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Justin Irwin, the officer in charge of Station Brunswick. “One of the ways they support us is by standing communications watch in our radio room. This provides not only more watch-standers, but it allots more time for the active-duty members to work on various mission-critical certifications, such as boarding team member and boarding officer.”

Irwin said several Auxiliary members are also coxswains and, therefore, can participate in training exercises such as two-boat training and helicopter operations. When Auxiliary members allow their own boats to be used in training for members of Coast Guard Air Station Savannah, Georgia, it allows the station to focus more on operations, said Capt. Gary Tomasulo, Coast Guard Sector Charleston’s commanding officer.

“We’ve been able to reduce our station’s small boat hours so they can be used for law enforcement and search and rescue, and the Coast Guard Auxiliary has taken part of that load for us,” Tomasulo said. “They’ve basically given us some operational flexibility and at the same time supported the proficiency of Air Station Savannah.”

Some also assist in search-and-rescue missions conducted by the station, and others volunteer their culinary skills, providing breakfasts to personnel or bringing Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to them.

Interested in having a free vessel safety check done on your own boat? It’s possible to do it online, using the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s Virtual Vessel Examiner here: (

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