The United States Coast Guard is this nation's oldest and its premier maritime agency.  They have fought in almost every war since the Constitution became law.  The history of the Service is very complicated because it is the amalgamation of five Federal agencies. These agencies, the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation, and the Lifesaving Service, were originally independent and ultimately united under the umbrella of the Coast Guard.

Throughout its history the Coast Guard's law enforcement responsibilities have primarily been threefold.  First, is to ensure that the tariffs are not avoided.  Second, to protect shipping from pirates and any other unlawful interdiction.  Third, to intercept material and human contraband.

The Coast Guard's philosophy toward boating safety has been to educate the public rather than carry out punitive measures.  There are fourteen million boats in American waters requiring constant vigil.  The dedicated volunteers of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which was created in 1939 and is a volunteer organization, ably assist the service in ensuring that these craft operate safely.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; the Department of Homeland Security was created and the Coast Guard was to become part of this new department.  After almost 36 years under the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Coast Guard became party of the Department of Homeland Security headed by Secretary Ridge.