Recreational Boating Safety – US Coast Guard Anniversary

By Bob Currie, Vessel Examiner
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 081-06-08

United States Revenue Cutter Service Established
On August 4, 1790, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton established the United States Revenue Cutter Service as the Revenue-Marine. The Revenue-Marine fell under the jurisdiction of the US Department of the Treasury.

The Revenue-Marine served as an armed customs enforcement service. As time passed, the service gradually gained missions either voluntarily or by legislation, including those of a military nature. The service was officially renamed the Revenue Cutter Service in July 1894. After the American Revolutionary War, the new United States was struggling financially. National income was greatly needed, and the government determined that a great deal of this income would come from tariffs on imports. Because of rampant smuggling, the need was immediate for strong enforcement of tariff laws. Congress established the Revenue-Marine at the urging of Secretary Hamilton.

Flotilla 081-06-08 is based at Coast Guard Station Galveston. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed civilian component of the US Coast Guard and supports the Coast Guard in nearly all mission areas. The Auxiliary was created by Congress in 1939. For more information, please visit

Ten cutters were initially ordered and constructed. A cutter is a small or medium-sized boat or sailing ship designed for speed and with a shallow draft. Two cutters were assigned to the coasts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, one for Long Island Sound, one for New York, one for the Bay of Delaware, two for the Chesapeake Bay, one for North Carolina, and one for Georgia. Each cutter was constructed where it was to be assigned, a detail designed to satisfy the members of Congress and gain their votes for the establishment of the service. Washington suggested to Hamilton that it would be advantageous to have each master supervise the construction of his own cutter. Although Hamilton initially put into place a limitation that each cutter cost no more than $1,000, three of the new cutters cost considerably more. The Massachusetts cost $2,050, while the Scammel cost $1,255 and the General Green cost over $1,500.

The same legislation that established the Revenue-Marine also provided for the complement (members of the crew) and the pay scales for the crew of each vessel. Each vessel was provided with a master with pay set at $30 a month, three mates at $20 for the first mate, $16 for the second mate, and $14 for the third mate. Each cutter was allowed four mariners at $8 apiece and two boys at $4.

Early Missions of Revenue Cutters
Since the US Navy had been disbanded at the end of the Revolutionary War, the Revenue-Marine was the only armed maritime service operating between 1790 and 1798. Each cutter master was answerable to and received his sailing orders from the Collector of Customs of the port to which his ship was assigned. The orders were usually general in nature, and each master exercised his own discretion in carrying out the orders. Their authority allowed them to seize vessels and cargoes for breaches of the revenue laws. They also sent inspection parties aboard vessels already in port to ensure that cargo destined for foreign ports did not violate revenue laws. Although the masters had wide discretion in the performance of their duties, they were advised by Hamilton to treat their fellow countrymen fairly. After the Slave Trade Act of 1794 was enacted, the Revenue-Marine cutters began intercepting slave ships illegally importing slaves into the US.

Wartime Operation of Revenue Cutters
When war broke out with France in 1798, the US Navy was formed and the Revenue-Marine fought alongside the Navy, capturing or assisting in capturing 20 French ships. During the War of 1812 the Revenue-Marine was placed under the command of the US Navy, and cutters themselves were often placed into military service. USRC Jefferson made the first American capture of an enemy ship in June 1812. During the American Civil War the USRC Harriet Lane fired the first shots of the maritime conflict of the war. The cutter fired a shot across the bow of the civilian steamship Nashville when it tried to enter Charleston Harbor during the bombardment of Fort Sumter. The Nashville was flying no identifying flag, but quickly raised the US standard, and the Harriet Lane broke off the engagement.

Counter-Piracy Operations
After the War of 1812, British and Spanish sea power in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico weakened, and pirates once again began to terrorize the Gulf Coast. Revenue cutters were dispatched to fight the pirates. Several successful missions resulted in the loss of many pirate ships.

Reorganization and Controversy
After the Civil War, demands by the public to do something about the losses in lives and property at sea resulted in a reorganization of the service. The Revenue Marine Bureau was established to oversea the Revenue Cutter Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Marine Hospital Service, and the Life-Saving Service. A fleet board produced a study that resulted in a request for more steam cutters, all of which were to be equipped with sails to cut down on coal consumption. The board also found that the Revenue Cutter Service was rife with abuses of power due to political control by local customs collectors in the ports where the cutters were assigned. Some cutter captains appointed by the customs collectors had never served aboard a ship.

Formation of the US Coast Guard
President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Coast Guard Act on January 28, 1915. This act combined the Revenue Cutter Service with the United States Life-Saving Service to form the United States Coast Guard. The US Coast Guard assumed the responsibilities of the United States Lighthouse Service in 1939 and the Navigation and Steamboat Inspection Service in 1942.

US Coast Guard Today
The men and women of the US Coast Guard proudly serve with knowledge of the rich tradition they uphold. The Coast Guard has been in continuous service longer than the US Navy, and has upheld their duties to defend our Coast Line and has served in every major conflict since the Revolutionary War, including the War in Vietnam, where fast boats patrolled the dangerous rivers of Vietnam. The core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty define who we are as the United States Coast Guard. Our motto is Semper Paratus: Always Ready. And that we are.

For more information on boating safety, please visit the Official Website of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at Questions about the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or our free Vessel Safety Check program may be directed to me at I am available to perform free Vessel Safety Checks, and I will come to your location to perform them. SAFE BOATING!


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