This year, the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary celebrates a major milestone with its 80th anniversary on Sunday, June 23, 2019.
In the last eight decades, Auxiliarists have grown to become a vital component of the U.S. Coast Guard, and today the USCG Aux boasts 26,000 serving out nation in 825 local units with 1,800 vessels and 160 aircraft in between them.
Collectively, Auxiliarists volunteer over 4.5 million hours per year and complete nearly 500,000 missions in support of the Coast Guard, saving approximately 500 lives, assisting 15,000 distressed boaters and conducting over 150,000 safety examinations of recreational vessels.
To understand how the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary got its start, and how its role has expanded over the past 80 years, it's helpful to examine the civilian auxiliary's rich history.
Looking back on eight decades of being "Semper Paratus"
What is today the Auxiliary began life as the Coast Guard Reserve, which was authorized by an act of Congress on June 23, 1939. A response to the increase in the number of recreational boaters in America, the move gave the Coast Guard a legislative mandate to use civilian volunteers to promote safety on and over the high seas and the country's navigable waters. At its creation, the Coast Guard Reserve was a non-military service comprised of unpaid, volunteer citizens who owned motorboats or yachts.
Two years later, Congress amended the 1939 act by passing the Auxiliary and Reserve Act of 1941 on Feb. 19. The new legislation designated the Reserve as a military branch of the active service, and designated civilian volunteers as the Auxiliary.
Today, Feb. 19 is formally recognized as the birthday of the Coast Guard Reserve, and June 23 is celebrated as the birth of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
When America entered World War II, many Auxiliary members became temporary members of the Coast Guard Reserve. As many as 50,000 Auxiliarists joined the war effort, guarding waterfronts, carrying out coastal picket patrols and rescuing survivors from scuttled ships, among many other heroic acts. Many of the Auxiliary members had their private vessels pressed into service, as well.
Once the war was won, Auxiliarists returned to their recreational boating safety duties, which included a renewed interest in safety education. It was in 1952 that the Auxiliary first observed "Safe Boating Week," which has since grown to become an international campaign led by the National Safe Boating Council.
In 1976, a study commissioned by the Coast Guard concluded that the Auxiliary was one of the Guard's, and the country's, greatest assets.
"In summary, we consider the Auxiliary the greatest economical resource readily available to the COGARD," the study's authors wrote. "It performs in an outstanding manner and its personnel are among the most professional group of volunteers in the nation."
Twenty years later, Congress expanded the Auxiliary's role to allow members to assist in any Coast Guard mission, except those that involved direct law enforcement and military operations. This enabled Auxiliarists to begin examining commercial fishing vessels, flying in C-130 aircraft and working in Coast Guard offices, among other new prerogatives.
Today's Auxiliary members also perform free Vessel Safety Checks, teach boating safety to boaters of all ages, perform harbor and pollution patrols and serve an important role in the Coast Guard Search and Rescue team.
As an all-volunteer unit, Auxiliarists are said to save U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars every year through their acts of service, which include lifesaving rescue missions on our nation's waters. As the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary celebrates its 80th birthday, there's never been a better time to thank the tens of thousands of members who help keep our nation and its citizens safe at sea.