This article covers the organization of the United States Coast Guard.
The commandant of the Coast Guard is the Coast Guard's most senior officer, who, by law, holds the rank of admiral. The commandant is selected for a four-year term, which may be renewed for additional four-year periods. The current incumbent is Admiral Karl L. Schultz, who replaced Admiral Paul F. Zukunft on June 1, 2018.
The commander of the Atlantic Area is Vice Admiral Steven D. Poulin.
The deputy commandant for mission support is Vice Admiral Paul F. Thomas.
The commander of the Pacific Area is Vice Admiral Michael F. McAllister.
The deputy commandant for operations is Vice Admiral Scott A. Buschman.
There are approximately 48 rear admirals in the Coast Guard who are either in the rank of rear admiral or rear admiral (lower half). Positions held by rear admirals include the commanders of each of the nine Coast Guard Districts, the nine assistant commandants, and the deputies to each of the vice admirals. They are also located at Coast Guard Headquarters, Department of Defense commands, and other Coast Guard commands.
The Coast Guard also utilizes members of the civilian Senior Executive Service (SES) to serve as executives within the organization. There are approximately 18 SES officials in the Coast Guard as of Fiscal Year 2017.
The rank of commodore is no longer used in the Coast Guard. The equivalent rank used today is rear admiral (lower half). The chief elected officers of the Coast Guard Auxiliary are referred to as commodores, signifying their senior elected office, rather than a military rank.
The title of commodore is occasionally granted to senior officers (typically of pay grade O-6, which is a captain) who are placed in command of a group or squadron of cutters. It is not a flag rank, but rather a title used to signify command of multiple units afloat.
Coast Guard captains, like their Navy counterparts, rank immediately below rear admiral (lower half). Coast Guard captains command most large operational units—sectors, large cutters, large air stations, integrated support commands, training centers and large headquarters units. Captains also direct most headquarters, area and district staff elements. Most captains have served in the Coast Guard for 21 to 30 years.
By maritime tradition, the commanding officer of a ship is also called "captain", regardless of actual rank held. Thus, a young junior officer commanding a patrol boat is properly called "captain" even if his or her actual rank is lieutenant, or lieutenant (junior grade). This tradition has also carried over to many shore units. Occasionally, terms like "old man" and "skipper" are also used, though not usually in the presence of the "captain". However, in current usage, the person in charge of a Coast Guard or Coast Guard Auxiliary small boat is the "coxswain" (pronounced cok-sun).
Coast Guard commanders (Pay grade O-5) may head departments in large operational units or staff positions, or they may be the commanding officer of a medium-sized unit. The term commander is also associated with specific commanding officer positions, such as sector commander (usually a captain) or district commander (usually a rear admiral).
The other commissioned officer ranks are (from most senior to least senior)
The Coast Guard has three active grades of chief warrant officers. Chief warrant officers are commissioned officers, and are promoted from senior enlisted ranks. The grade of warrant officer (WO1) is not used in the Coast Guard. Although authorized in 1994, the Coast Guard does not currently use or have any active CWO5 grade. The three grades in use are (from most senior to least senior):
An example of a position held by a chief warrant officer is commanding officer of a small cutter, such as USCGC Abbie Burgess.
A chief warrant officer is not addressed as "chief"; that title that is normally reserved for the enlisted rank of chief petty officer (E-7). The proper way to address a chief warrant officer is to refer to their title (CWO, CWO3) or to address them as "Mr." or "Ms."
Due to the small and decentralized nature of the service, Coast Guard warrant officers often fill command roles. Warrant officers may serve as officers-in-charge of Coast Guard Stations, or as Command warrant officers.
As in the Navy, Coast Guardsmen in the rates of Chief Petty Officer (E-7), Senior Chief Petty Officer (E-8), and Master Chief Petty Officer (E-9), are collectively called "chiefs," and serve as the service's senior non-commissioned officers. The Coast Guard is often found short of leaders therefore. Chiefs often can fill roles that would normally be filled by commissioned officers in other branches. Chiefs can serve as officers-in-charge of Coast Guard Stations, command or serve as engineering petty officers on smaller cutters, and act as department heads on larger cutters.
Jason M. Vanderhaden is the current Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (MCPOCG) and is the senior enlisted person of the Coast Guard and serves as an advisor to the Commandant. Like the Commandant, the MCPOCG serves a four-year term.
Since most Coast Guard operations are domestic, the service has always been organized along regional lines. The Coast Guard's shore establishment divides the continental United States and its territories into two area commands--Coast Guard Atlantic Area and Coast Guard Pacific Area—each commanded by a vice admiral. The area commands are divided into districts, each commanded by a rear admiral and responsible for a portion of the nation's coastline and/or inland waterways. Each district is further divided into sectors. Sectors are the primary organizational unit for many of the duties the public most closely identifies with the Coast Guard, such coordinating search and rescue missions and conducting law enforcement operations.
Operational units report to various levels in this organizational structure. For example, small boat stations report to Sector Commanders while air stations report to District Commanders; both sectors and air stations are typically commanded by a captain.
Cutters are not organized into standing fleets as in most naval forces. Instead, individual cutters report to shore establishment commanders at various levels. Generally speaking, the larger the cutter, the higher up the chain the cutter reports. For example, USCGC William Trump (WPC-1111), a Sentinel-class cutter based in Key West, Florida, reports to Coast Guard Sector Key West, while USCGC Thetis (WMEC-910), a larger Famous-class cutter also based in Key West, reports to the Atlantic Area Commander.
Additionally, there are three major operational commands located outside the United States:
|District||Area||District Office||Area of Responsibility||Note|
|First District||Atlantic||Boston, Massachusetts||New England states, eastern New York and northern New Jersey||1|
|Fifth District||Atlantic||Portsmouth, Virginia||Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina||5|
|Seventh District||Atlantic||Miami, Florida||South Carolina, Georgia, eastern Florida, Puerto Rico,
and the U.S. Virgin Islands
|Eighth District||Atlantic||New Orleans, Louisiana||Western Rivers of the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico||8|
|Ninth District||Atlantic||Cleveland, Ohio||Great Lakes||9|
|Eleventh District||Pacific||Alameda, California||California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah||11|
|Thirteenth District||Pacific||Seattle, Washington||Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana||13|
|Fourteenth District||Pacific||Honolulu, Hawaii||Hawaii and Pacific territories||14|
|Seventeenth District||Pacific||Juneau, Alaska||Alaska||17|
Within each District, large operational shore-side units known as Sectors are responsible for mission execution within their area of responsibility. Sectors were formed when "groups" were merged with what were formerly known as Marine Safety Offices. Coast Guard small boat stations are called Stations and report to Sectors. Each Sector Commander reports to the appropriate District Commander.
Coast Guard Air Stations provide aviation support for other Coast Guard activities. Unlike small boat stations, air stations are not subordinate to Sector commanders. Instead the commanding officer of a Coast Guard Air Station reports to the appropriate District Commander.
On July 23, 2007, the Coast Guard instituted a consolidated acquisition directorate, which handles major systems and future equipment acquisitions. It is the second-largest staff element at Coast Guard headquarters. Rear Admiral Michael J. Johnston, Assistant Commandant for Acquisition, leads the directorate. The directorate’s programs include all platforms and mission systems designed to modernize and recapitalize the Coast Guard’s fleet of cutters, boats, aircraft, and information technology assets. Under the new organization, these programs are consolidated from the legacy Coast Guard acquisitions directorate and the Integrated Deepwater System Program. The new directorate also brings together the office of procurement management; the office of research, development and technical management; the Research and Development Center; and the head of contracting.