Seamanship Aboard USCG Cutters

We are all learning about the systemic problems and the erosion of basic collision avoidance skills aboard US Navy vessels. There is also a lot of talk about the number of people on the bridge of a Navy ship at any one time and the problems of communcation between the bridge and CIC but… they are not alone in increased manning on the bridge or in the use of a remote CaiC… the Coast Guard also has both of these aboard their larger cutters.

So how does the USCG compare to both American flagged and US Navy in terms of shiphandling, navigation and collision avoidance. Also, if you have communicated with a cutter via VHF how would you rate the interaction?

Collision between US Coast Guard Cutter Key Largo and Fishing Vessel Sea Shepherd, with Subsequent Sinking of Sea Shepherd
Executive Summary

On September 23, 2014, about 0635, the 110-foot-long US Coast Guard cutter Key Largo collided with the 42-foot-long fishing vessel Sea Shepherd in the Virgin Passage, about 9 miles east-northeast of Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. Just before the collision, the two Sea Shepherd crewmembers, who were hauling lobster traps on board, jumped in the water. No one was injured. The Key Largo sustained minor damage; the Sea Shepherd sank about 2 hours after the collision.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the collision between the Coast Guard cutter Key Largo and the fishing vessel Sea Shepherd was the failure of the cutter’s officer of the deck to detect and avoid the Sea Shepherd, most likely because he had fallen asleep prior to the accident. Contributing to the collision was the officer of the deck’s failure to report to the commanding officer his unfitness for duty due to lack of sleep.

I was just on the bridge of a container ship, pilot conning and pulling into LA Terminal Island. We got the most ridiculous but funny call from a USCG Cutter.

We were well inside the breakwater heading to the dock which is to the right. The Cutter was well behind us probably 1/4 mile just entering the breakwater and planning to go way to the left when they called us.

They told us their intentions and that they would give us plenty of room.

If they rang up a flank bell they wouldn’t have come near us (us going right them going left). The kid that called us sounded quite young. We all got a good laugh about it. Followed by the Captain teasing me about the Navy (I was a SWO) aagh…

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funny thing, in my career i have had way more interaction with the navy than the uscg while being out and about.
I feel the uscg has a better understanding of small boat handling, maybe because they have a lot of smaller vessels (bouy tenders, patrol boats, etc) but even those are overmanned. don’t those 87 ft boats have around 13 personnel onboard?
the few times I have had radio coms with a uscg vessel I will say they were less cryptic than having a similair conversation with a navy vessel.

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Yeah, it’s a whole lot easier to figure out who’s calling you when it’s “Cutter Dauntless” vs. “US Navy Warship.” Seriously, I know that you consider it a security risk to say the ship name, but dammit, can ya at least say “Destroyer” or “Cruiser” or “Aircraft Carrier” so I may have some idea which one I’m talking to?

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It’s hilarious when the “USCG vessel” calls anonymously (apparently due to bogus ‘security concerns’) in the Eastern Bering Sea. Even more hilarious when I recognize the USCG vessel and answer using their name. They keep up the fiction pretending to be anonymous, I repeate their name three times with every exchange. Better yet, when I ask to speak with some officer that I met at the Unisea.

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If you think that’s confusing try going in and out of Norfolk when a gaggle of them are getting underway and outbound. Between them all calling everything that floats and their constantly repeated security calls you can barely get a word in on 13.

You obviously have never worked out of Fourchon then… :joy::joy:


Coast Guard cutters are not merchant ships in the sense that you have crews that have sailed aboard the same ship for years and years. There is constant turn around every two to three years. I saw them as essentially training ships. You’re probably going to hear some green ensign on the radio. I’m just glad I don’t have to give nav briefs anymore before coming into port. 30minutes with a power point presentation in front of the CO, XO, and everyone else involved in the transit through restricted waters. For the 210 I was on, risk of collision was considered anything with a CPA 2NM or less according to the standing orders.


When I served afloat 87-89 it was the real deal. We steamed with 6 bridge watchstanders. Officer of the watch, Quartermaster, Messenger, Helmsman, lookout, and a Boatswain Mate of the watch. There was a radioman on watch in the radio room and 5 engineers on watch in the two engine rooms.

This was on a 205’ cutter. Most of the navigation was by Loran, however I remember shooting a lot of visual bearings when close to land. We had a Navsat but they didn’t work as well as the Lorans We had two the size of a top loading VCR, which we also had aboard, as well as Betamax for the motion picture service films.

Officers were required to take visual bearings on all contacts and inform the captain if any risk of collision existed.

The daily routine included calculating and observing sunrise and sunset. Polishing brass on the bridge. Calculating true wind for weather reports, winding chronometers etc. All that old school stuff.

We actually stood watches in the literal sense. There was only one seat for the captain and he was always in it whether he was physically in it or not.

Going really old school, I was a Boatswain mate so I was required to be proficient with the lead line. We had several aboard and practiced occasionally. We also used the OBAs for firefighting.