Coast Guard Officer Ranks

The United States Coast Guard is the country’s oldest continuous seagoing service. Yes, even older than the Navy. The Coast Guard was established in 1790 and the United States Navy? They came along to join their comrades at sea 18 years later. And while similar to the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard officer ranks vary their responsibilities and even time in service.

U.S. Coast Guard Officer Ranks

Though the U.S. Coast Guard Officer Ranks are different than the Navy’s they are still very similar. The U.S. Coast Guard officer ranks and rank insignia are the same as in the Navy, with the exception of color. On the enlisted side of Coast Guard ranks, the seaman recruit rank is different with one strip for the Coasties and two stripes for the sailors.

The U.S. Coast Guard Officer Ranks are as follows:

  • Ensign (ENS): Generally, Ensigns come into the Coast Guard with a four-year degree and have gone through Naval Officer training.
  • Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG): Typically, after about a year, an Ensign is promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade and begins serving as an officer in a billeted division.
  • Lieutenant (LT): Lieutenants follow LTJGs after approximately two years in service and are often responsible for petty officers and sailors.
  • Lieutenant Commander (LCDR): A Lieutenant Commander is considered a mid-ranking officer and often acts in executive and command roles. They are typically promoted to LCDR after approximately four to six years as Lieutenants.
  • Commander (CDR): To command squadrons of aircraft (yes, the Coast Guard has aircraft!) and ships, a U.S. Coast Guard Officer must first obtain the rank of Commander. A Commander also often serves as a senior officer aboard larger Coast Guard vessels.
  • Captain (CAPT): A Captain in the Coast Guard is a high-ranking authority figure who maintains that rank for several years before being promoted. Captains serve in a variety of duty stations and are given a relatively liberal amount of authority when it comes to decision making.
  • Rear Admiral Lower Half (DRML): Rear Admiral Lower Half is the first of the Admiral U.S. Coast Guard Officer ranks, and they generally command small ship flotillas. It’s quite a selection process to become a DRML, and typically comes four to six years after being a Captain.
  • Rear Admiral (RADM): During peacetime, the highest rank a United States Coast Guard Officer can obtain is that of Rear Admiral. Rear Admirals command ship fleets and air squadrons and typically, there are fewer than 40 Rear Admirals at a time in the entire Coast Guard.
  • Vice Admiral (VADM) WARTIME ONLY: During wartime, the temporary rank of Vice Admiral may be given to approximately 25% of the flag officers in the Coast Guard.
  • Admiral (ADM): Admiral is a temporary position appointed to fill roles in the United States Government (such as Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard), and admirals report directly to the president of the United States.

Coast Guard Ranks Officer

Coast Guard ranks Officer vs. Enlisted are also similar to those in the United States Navy. Both differ from other United States military services in that they organize their forces according to grades and rates.

The U.S Coast Guard enlisted ranks are different than those of the Officer ranks and are as follows:

  • Seaman Recruit (SR): This is the lowest enlisted rank of the U.S. Coast Guard, and has two separate pay grades based on how long an SR has been in service. They do not wear any rank insignia
  • Seaman Apprentice (SA/FA/AA): A Seaman Apprentice may fall in three different categories: Seamen, Firemen or Airmen apprentices. They wear different stripes on different uniforms to differentiate what field they are in.
  • Seaman (SN): The role of a Seaman depends on the career path and work a member is in. An SN may become a Leading Seaman if doing the work and responsibility of one who is in charge of two or more other non-rated members.
  • Petty Officer Third Class (PO3): After several years of showing responsibility as a Seaman, one may become a Petty Officer Third Class. To become so, one needs at least six months working on the job, a commanding officer’s recommendation, and school completion.
  • Petty Officer Second Class (PO2): Becoming a Petty Officer 2nd Class is based on a competition similar to PO3, and also requires six months in the job, a commanding officer’s recommendation, and course completion.
  • Petty Officer First Class (P01): This rank is where a Junior Petty Officer transitions to Senior Petty Officer and is based on Coast Guard-wide competition.
  • Chief Petty Officer (CPO): Chief Petty Officers maintain high levels of authority and responsibility for subordinates and are heavily depended upon by their officers in charge. Typically they are in this role for at least three to five years.
  • Senior Chief Petty Officer (SCPO): This rank is one in which senior technical supervisors exist and they’re primarily responsible for training and supervising enlisted personnel. They stay in this role for approximately three to five years.
  • Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO): Master Chief Petty Officers are given the highest level of enlisted command, trust, and confidence, and are the senior enlisted petty officers in the Coast Guard. They are often assigned as Command Master Chiefs and advise command on all things enlisted.
  • Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (MCPOCG): The Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard is the senior-most enlisted member of the U.S. Coast Guard. The Commandant of the Coast Guard appoints the Master Chief Petty Officer, who is the senior enlisted advisor to the Commandant.

Coast Guard Officer Ranks and Pay

While the United States Coast Guard is considered a military service, it does not fall under the direction of the United States Department of Defense as do the United States Marine Corps, the United States Navy, the United States Army and the United States Air Force. The Coast Guard instead falls under the direction of the Department of Homeland Defense. In March of 2003, President Bush signed the Homeland Security Act into law. As part of this Act, the U.S. Coast Guard was transferred from the Department of Transportation to the newly created Department of Homeland Defense.

That designation plays an interesting role when it comes to pay and particularly during times of government shutdown. In fact, in January 2019, over 42,000 members of the Coast Guard were not paid as the government was in a partial shutdown. The Department of Defense branches were funded under a provision of the shutdown, but the Coast Guard was not as it was part of the Department of Homeland Security. In June of 2019, House Representative Peter DeFazio introduced the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act to avoid Coast Guard members missing pay in the event of any future government shutdowns.

Though the Coast Guard falls under a different branch of the government than the Department of Defense, the pay schedule is still the same as the other military branches. For the latest pay rates for Coast Guard Officer ranks and pay, check here for a basic pay table, as well as here for other benefits such as basic allowance for housing and subsistence.

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