The Bureau of Navigation was established in1862 with principal responsibilities of providing nautical charts and instruments and to oversee several activities that involved navigation research, including the Naval Observatory. In 1884, missions expanded to include enforcing laws relating to the construction, equipment, operation, inspection, safety, and documentation of merchant vessels. The Bureau also investigated marine accidents and casualties; collected tonnage taxes and other navigation fees; and examined, certified, and licensed merchant mariners. In 1889, the Bureau gained responsibilities for personnel management, and this eventually became its primary function.
The Steamboat Inspection Service was created in 1871 to safeguard lives and property at sea. It merged with the Bureau of Navigation in 1932 to form the Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection which, in 1936, was reorganized into the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation.
The Lighthouse Service is the oldest, best-known and has the most fans of all the maritime coastal services. Established in 1790, it simply warned ships at night where the land was. Eventually hundreds of these nearly-permanent structures dotted all of America’s coastlines. While they undoubtedly saved many night voyages from disaster, still storms claimed thousands of shipwrecks annually. Alone, they would not be enough.
Today’s Coast Guard Missions
Eventually, all of these separate organizations with their specialized missions merged into the United States Coast Guard at different times in history, with the Lighthouse Service being the last in 1939. The Coast Guard therefore inherited all of the missions of the Revenue Cutter Service, the Life-Saving Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Bureau of Navigation and the Steamboat Inspection Service. In modern times, more missions were added to deal with current situations. Today’s Coast Guard is under the banner of Homeland Security and now has 11 missions:
- Port and Waterway Security
- Drug Interdiction
- Aids to Navigation
- Search and Rescue
- Living Marine Resources
- Marine Safety
- Defense Readiness
- Migrant Interdiction
- Marine Environmental Protection
- Ice Operations
- Maritime Law Enforcement.
Coast Guard Day date
With so many dates of origin in its history, it was natural to choose the first and oldest as the day to celebrate Coast Guard history. That was the Aug. 4, 1790 date for the Revenue Marine Service, America’s first and oldest maritime service, was a logical choice. So, Happy 232nd Birthday Anniversary to the esteemed United States Coast Guard. Hoo-Rah!
The First Official U.S. Coast Guard Rescue
I was curious about the first rescue once the service officially became the U.S. Coast Guard. To that end, I researched the first Annual Report of the United States Coast Guard for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1915. Whatever it was, wherever in the country it was, I wanted to recognize it. As an author of Life-Saving Service wrecks and rescues of North Carolina’s iconic Outer Banks, very much to my surprise, this is what I found:
Part of that highly detailed report, continuing the style of the Life-Saving Service’s Annual Report, it contained an extremely exhaustive section entitled “Tabular statement of assistance rendered by cutters and stations, involving saving 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 twenty entries per page. There was only one for Jan. 28, 1915. From this Annual Report, page 196:
The Carolina Supply Boat at the Cape Hatteras station, a 17-ton White Wing motor boat with 11 crew aboard was rescued with the following official remarks: “Stranded; hauled into deep water.” See copy of original record for more details.
That was 107 years ago! Congrats, United States Coast Guard, still protecting in the North Carolina Graveyard of the Atlantic.
About the author: James D. Charlet is a published author and performs a variety of “live-theater” programs for “Keeper James Presentations” based on extracts from chapters in his book.
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