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Chapter 11

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Men, Wind and Sea

Riley Brown

published by
Carlyle House, New York 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Coast Guard Academy.

 p248  Chapter Twelve

The Coast Guard and the Future

The Coast Guard is moving forward, step by step, with the progress of the United States. More and more obligations and duties are being imposed upon the service by the consolidation of government agencies and the formation of defense plans designed specifically to protect both North and South America from assaults by aggressor foreign nations.

The placing of the Maritime Service under the direct supervision of the Coast Guard adds another solemn responsibility to the ever-growing scope of influence of the Coast Guard. The Merchant Marine Act of 1936, as recently amended, provides that the United States Maritime Service, a voluntary organization of the licensed and unlicensed personnel of the Merchant Marine, shall be administered by the Coast Guard, in order that a trained and efficient merchant marine shall be established by providing an adequate training system, and contributing benefits for seamen of good character and ability who serve aboard vessels of the Great Lakes and the high seas.

 p249  For 150 years prior to this legislation, there had been no determined effort on the part of the Federal Government to lay down the foundations of a Merchant Marine that would match growth with the nation's prosperity. Until comparatively recent years, there appeared no need for such governmental activity. From the Republic's earliest days until the '60's, American ships could be found on all oceans, and a significant part of the growth of the country can be attributed to American merchant ships and the men who sailed them. In the early days of the American Republic, ocean commerce was of prime importance to its citizens, since all of the original states lay along the Atlantic seaboard, and the vast majority of freight was carried by water.

However, as the United States gradually expanded inland and became absorbed in successive eras of agriculture and industry, the importance of the Merchant Marine was lost to the sight of the American people. The number of American ships dwindled from the oceans, until over 75 per cent of this country's commerce was carried in foreign ships. It is a matter of painful history that Dewey, when he was ordered to Manila at the outset of the Spanish-American War, was compelled to charter foreign ships to carry coal and supplies for his fleet.

Apparently even this did not bring home to the nation the realization that the American Merchant Marine was practically non‑existent, thus exposing a  p250 glaring weakness in the national defense system. In 1917, after war with Germany had been declared, and the problem of transporting millions of men and tons of supplies to France presented itself, the United States began a hurried and costly attempt to create, on the spur of the moment, as it were, a Merchant Marine that would meet the demands that war had placed upon it.

The result was a mass production of ships, all kinds of ships, steel and wooden. At the end of the war, the United States had afloat a vast fleet of cargo vessels, with no trained and experienced personnel to man them. Thus it came home to the American people that a Merchant Marine cannot be built upon the spur of the moment, nor within the space of two years. The foundations must be put down carefully, the importance of discipline must be stressed, men must be trained thoroughly in the things they will be called upon to do at sea.

The United States Coast Guard has undertaken that job. It is a big task, but the Service has the background and the experience to carry it through to a success­ful completion. There are no better sailors in the world today than the Coast Guardsmen, for it is their business to go to sea in small boats which require the most expert handling in heavy seas.

Commander William N. Derby, U. S. C. G., is charged directly with the training of both officers and seamen of the United States Merchant Marine.  p251 His office works in the closest coöperation with the Maritime Commission, two members of which are high ranking naval officers — Rear Admiral Emory S. Land and Rear Admiral Henry T. Wiley. It is the work of these two officers to bring the Merchant Marine closer to the Navy, thus coördinating the actions of the two branches against the possibility of war.

Three Maritime Service Training Stations, under the direct supervision of the Coast Guard, with Coast Guard instructors, have been established; two of these stations are on the East coast, one at Hoffman Island, New York Harbor, for the training of unlicensed personnel, another at New London, Conn., for licensed personnel. These two stations serve seamen from the Atlantic ports, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf, while the training station on the West coast, at Government Island, Oakland, Calif., receives both licensed and unlicensed personnel from the Pacific coast ports.

Enrollment in the Maritime Service is limited to citizens over 21 years of age who have served at least two years on merchant vessels of the United States of 500 gross tons or more, operating on the Great Lakes or any ocean, 7 months of such service being within two years of the date of application for enrollment. An applicant must be able to pass a strenuous physical, mental and moral test in order to prove his fitness for service on a seagoing vessel. Licensed  p252 personnel who have served at least 7 months as officers under the requirements of their licenses in charge of a watch are eligible for enrollment as ensigns in the Maritime Service. Unlicensed personnel are eligible for enrollment under their different branches of service.

These enrollments are made for a probationary period of three months, the enrollees being furnished transportation by the Service to the training stations. Quarters, meals and a uniform outfit are supplied by the Government without charge. The enrollees are instructed in all subjects relating to the branch of service under which they serve; the courses of instruction are under direct supervision of Coast Guard officers and men. At the end of two months, those enrollees who have proven themselves fully qualified are advanced in grade and pay.

At the completion of his threemonth period of probationary training, the enrollee is given transportation from the training station to the place of his enrollment. If his qualifications and conduct are satisfactory, he is offered enrollment in a regular status in the Maritime Service before he leaves the training station, with the understanding that, upon his release from active duty, the enrollee will serve annually eight months on a seagoing merchant vessel, and one month in the Maritime Service.

In developing a training course to fit the need of the Merchant Marine, close attention was given to the  p253 wide variation in the abilities and requirements of the enrollees, and every effort was made to provide each man with a course of training individually suited to his particular branch of service. At the Fort Trumbull Training Station, in New London, Conn., which is open to licensed personnel only, successive classes of 100 Merchant Marine officers each are held, and in addition to the training facilities available at other stations, the laboratory equipment of the United States Coast Guard Academy is utilized for instructing enrollees.

The Maritime Service employs four training ships, two of which are square-rigged vessels, the Joseph Conrad and the Tusitala, both basing at Hoffman Island, New York. The Coast Guard cutter Northland has been assigned as a training ship for the Government Island station, at Oakland, Calif. The Maritime Service Training ship American Seamen — manned by a Coast Guard crew and commanded by Lieutenant Commander Charles Etzweiler, U. S. C. G. — is especially fitted as a training vessel. It has accommodations for two hundred enrollees and is equipped with four complete shops, various types of lifeboats with their attendant gear, and all navigational equipment of the most modern character.

After an enrollee in the Maritime Service has finished his period of training and leaves the station, a number of correspondence courses, administered by the Coast Guard Institute of New London, are available  p254 at no cost and thoroughly cover all phases of seaman­ship.

The American Merchant Marine is on the upswing again. A program has been undertaken wherein 500 merchant vessels are scheduled to be constructed within ten years! These ships are to be the best that science and the magic of engineering skill can produce; they will have incorporated within their construction several national-defense features which will make them truly remarkable vessels. Four of a series of twelve high speed tankers have already been launched, and they and their sister ships have been ordered by the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. Trials have shown that these ships can develop over four times as much horsepower as an ordinary tanker, being capable of attaining a speed of twenty knots with a full load of 150,000 barrels of oil.

At Newport News, Va., the biggest ship ever to be laid down in an American shipyard is under construction, and, in spring, will lead the parade of the new American Merchant Marine. Named the America, she will be one of the finest and safest ships afloat.

This reconstruction of the Merchant Marine will present a real demand upon the protective services of the United States Coast Guard, and the manning of such a huge commercial fleet will tax the Maritime Schools to the limit. Already, plans are being worked out with the intention of doubling the normal output of 4,000 men trained annually by the Coast Guard.  p255 The ultimate aim of this comprehensive Maritime problem is to have a Merchant Marine second to none, full trained and ready to take its place in the parade of American progress.

The Coast Guard moves forward!

In July, 1939, the Coast Guard, the second oldest bureau of the government, absorbed the Bureau of Lighthouses in accordance with the provisions set forth in President Roosevelt's re‑organization plan. Oldest of all government agencies, the Bureau of Lighthouses thus passes as a separate unit of government; with the consequent induction of the lighthouse personnel into the military establishment of the Coast Guard, it becomes a part of the Coast Guard. The general consolidation plan for the two services is to take these men into the Coast Guard, as far as is practicable, in ranks, grades and ratings analogous to the pay and responsibilities to which they had been accustomed in the Lighthouse Service. It has been estimated that the Coast Guard personnel will reach a total of 18,000 men after the absorption has been completed. In order to establish a single promotion list for both services such personnel entitled by their former rank in the Lighthouse Service to commissions will be inducted into the Coast Guard line.

To accomplish this great consolidation, a complete re‑organization of the Coast Guard and the Lighthouse Service has been considered. In fact, a new system of Coast Guard districts (replacing the old  p256 Coast Guard divisions and districts and the lighthouse districts) has been installed, with the former division commanders taking over the rank of district commanders and being charged with the responsibility of both the Coast Guard activities and those of the former Lighthouse Service. These commanders will be assisted by a Coast Guard officer, who, before his commissioning, had served as a lighthouse district superintendent.

The Lighthouse Service brings to the Coast Guard traditions and stories steeped in the essence of American history. The first lighthouse to be erected in this country, probably the first on the American continent, was built by the Province of Massachusetts in 1716 on Little Brewster Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor. This work was accomplished at a cost of approximately $10,000 and an old mezzotint of 1729 pictures it as a tall and imposing structure of gray stone. The light was supported by a tax of one penny per ton on all incoming and outgoing ships except coasters. These vessels paid two pence each upon clearance, and all fishing vessels were required to pay five shillings a year.

Here, at this old station, the first fog signal to be established on this continent was put into service. In 1719, the keeper of the lighthouse requested the General Court to place a large gun on the island for the purpose of answering ships in the fog. This old  p257 gun, dated 1700, may still be seen at the Boston Light Station.

The history of the Lighthouse Service as an administrative agency of the National Government is practically coincident with that of the nation itself. The First President, George Washington, took a personal interest in the lighthouses. One of his first official acts upon becoming President was to write a letter to the keeper of the lighthouse at Sandy Hook, directing him to keep the light burning until Congress should provide funds for its upkeep. The Lighthouse Service formally became an administrative part of the Government by an Act approved August 7, 1789 — the ninth law to be passed by Congress, the first provision to be made for any public work. The Lighthouse Service was created one year before the Coast Guard.

After a long delay the original states finally deeded the various lighthouses, which they had built and operated, to the Federal Government — with the understanding that the United States would be responsible for their upkeep and the salaries of the keepers. An old letter from the President's secretary, Tobias Lear, to the Secretary of the Treasury, shows that the salaries paid to the keepers were small even for those days, ranging from $120 to $266.66 per year.

The Lighthouse Service, with the location of the lighthouses and lightships in such strategic positions and the continuous patrol of the coastal waters by  p258 the tenders, will prove a valuable adjunct to the Coast Guard in its lifesaving duties. It brings with it an enviable record in rescue work, and the fact that the Service has been primarily concerned with other duties makes the risks and hardships taken in these rescue cases all the more commendable.

In 1916 alone, 165 cases of lifesaving were reported, and in July of the same year the tender Cypress did yeoman work in removing twenty‑two persons from a sinking collier during the height of a hurricane, under circumstances requiring the highest courage and seaman­ship.

On board the Diamond Shoals Lightvessel, there hangs a framed letter from President Roosevelt, commending the lightship's crew for the manner in which they handled their duties during the hurricane of September 15‑16, 1933:

"I have read with keen satisfaction the report of the heroic work done by the officers and crew of the Diamond Shoals Lightvessel during the hurricane of September 15‑16. I am fully appreciative of the exceptional character of the service performed in saving this vessel, and in the protection of the shipping along the coast; and I wish you would convey to them my personal commendation for the manner in which they performed their dangerous duties during this storm."

This hurricane reached an estimated velocity of one hundred and twenty miles per hour, its center touching the Atlantic coast at Cape Hatteras and  p259 passing directly over the lightship's station on its journey to seaward. The following report of the master of the Diamond Shoal Lightship, C. C. Austin, gives a keen insight into the terrible experiences suffered by the men aboard the ship:

On the morning of the 15th the weather showed indication of a hurricane. At 8 A.M. wind east between forty and forty-five miles per hour, increasing, barometer falling. I got the engine underway and began to work ahead slow. From noon to 4 P.M. wind east-northeast between fifty and sixty miles per hour, increasing, barometer falling. Seas getting rough and washing ship badly.

"At about 2 P.M. station buoy sighted for the last time as the weather was thick with rain and spray. I judge the ship began to drag anchor at about 4 P.M., wind increasing to about seventy miles per hour. I began to increase the speed of the engine from forty to sixty revolutions per minute. From 8 P.M. to midnight, wind east-northeast, between seventy and eighty-five miles per hour, barometer falling. Seas were getting mountainous high and washing the ship terribly. Engine speed increased to ninety revolutions per minute.

"September 16, between midnight and 1 A.M. ship went into breakers on southwest point of Outer Diamond Shoals (having dragged the fifty-five-hundred-pound anchor and twenty-four thousand pounds of chain the five miles from her station). Wind about  p260 one hundred twenty miles per hour. The first breaker which came aboard broke an air port in the pilot house which struck me (master) in the face and around the neck and on arm, cutting face and neck badly. This same breaker carried away one ventilator close to the pilot house. Mate S. F. Dowdy tried to get a stopper in the hole in the deck, and washed against a davit and broke some ribs. He was almost washed overboard. From 4 to 5 A.M. wind decreasing to about fifty miles per hour, barometer falling to 28.19 (lowest point).

"We laid in the breakers from 12 midnight until 6:30 A.M., breakers coming aboard, breaking up everything on upper deck, washing boats, ventilators, awning stretchers away, bending awning stanchions inboard. Taking water in around umbrella of smokestack and through ventilators to such an extent that the water was rising at times above fire-room floor with all pumps going, and every means we had to keep the water out of the ship.

"At 5:30 A.M. day began to break, so I could see the conditions outside. I could see an opening about south-southwest from the ship that looked like a chance to get away. Breakers coming over at intervals and I decided that it was the only chance out. I told the mate to get ready to slip the mooring, as we had to get out of that place, for when the wind comes from the west it would carry her into the breakers and finish her up. I slipped the mooring at  p261 6:30 A.M. and got the ship outside the breakers, at about 7:15 A.M. being in the center of the hurricane. I had just got the ship clear of the breakers when the wind struck from the west at about ninety miles per hour. I ran the ship southeast until I was sure I was all clear and then ran northeast thinking the hurricane would pass. I ran this course for a while and it did not get any better. I considered it was moving very slow (the barometer was rising very fast) so I changed my course to the south and ran this course until I ran out of the hurricane.

"September 17th, 5 A.M. Wind northwest, strong gale, but decreasing. At 6 A.M. I called the mate and told him to get the crew out and see if he could get the wireless antenna fixed up so that we could establish radio communication. (There had been no radio communication since Friday evening.) At about 9 A.M. I got radio-compass bearings which put the ship approximately sixty miles east-northeast from Cape Hatteras Lighthouse; at 4 P.M. radio bearings placed ship about one hundred and ten miles east-southeast from Cape Henry. All the crew were at hand at all times and ready to do everything they could to help save the ship, both deck and engine force. During the storm one of the fusible plugs in the boiler blew. They let all steam from the boiler and opened up the furnace, went inside and took out the fusible plug that had blown and put in a new one, and closed the furnace and got steam on the boiler in the strength of  p262 the hurricane. I consider this a brave deed, and M. W. Lewis and J. J. Krass, firemen and A. D. Ameyette, seaman, are due all credit for accomplishing this job. I consider each and every man of the crew did all in his power, and through their bravery, energy and will power, we brought the ship through the hurricane and safely into port. The vessel I consider a most excellent seaworthy ship to come through such a severe hurricane with such comparatively slight damage as was sustained; so much water came aboard that at times there were three feet of water in the engine-room bilges."

These are the sort of men who are coming into the Coast Guard, bringing with them traditions and examples of unwavering devotion to one main ideal; to be of service to those who travel the sea. In this, the two services have never been far apart, and it is natural that they should unite to the further development of that ideal. While the Lighthouse Service has passed out of existence as a separate agency of the Government, the exploits and glowing record of achievement which it has maintained steadfastly throughout 150 years of independent life will remain irrevocably its own, and will tend to enhance the name, Lighthouse Service, in the hearts of the American people.

In May, 1939, a bill to establish a Coast Guard Reserve, to be composed of owners of motorboats and yachts, was submitted to Congress. The purpose of the bill is to promote interest in the safety of life  p263 at sea and upon navigable waters, the promotion of efficiency in the operation of motorboats and yachts, a wider knowledge of and better compliance with the laws and rules and regulations governing the operations and navigation of such craft and to facilitate certain operations of the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard, as the Nation's maritime police force, is charged with the duty of boarding the 300,000 motorboats and the 4,000 yachts operating in our waters, to see that they comply with the navigation and other laws and also to assist them when they get into trouble.

Since 1935, many letters have been received by the Coast Guard requesting that a Reserve be established, but the actual plan had its birth in the Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington. It was put forth as a means of better law enforcement on a voluntary basis, and the furthering of competency in motorboat operation and navigation.

The plan is to form a Coast Guard Reserve whereby motorboat and yacht owners may enroll in the Reserve, under the rules and regulations drawn up by the Coast Guard, after an examination of the owners and an inspection of the boats. Those who pass will receive a Coast Guard Reserve flag to fly and will be given a uniform insignia. Penalties for the unauthorized usage of the flag and insignia will be provided. The existence of such a Reserve and the flying of such a flag by those qualified will prove an incentive  p264 to others who are not as proficient in acquiring competency in the various factors relating to the operation and navigation of motorboats and yachts so that they may have also the privilege of flying the Coast Guard Reserve flag.

In 1938, there were more than 14,000 cases of assistance — largely incident to the operation of motorboats — handled by the Coast Guard. Some of these craft put to sea without the necessary life preservers, others without compliance to law concerning the engines and seaworthiness of the boats. The purpose of the Coast Guard Reserve is to reduce the number of boats which get into difficulty because of the incompetence of the operators, or lack of proper equipment, or lack of compliance to law. The Coast Guard intends, by means of this Reserve, to disseminate among owners of motorboats, and particularly small fishermen, a knowledge of the regulations and laws applicable to motorboats so that they will not incur the many fines and inconveniences now imposed upon them.

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There is nothing compulsory about the Coast Guard Reserve. It is purely a voluntary organization to increase the safety of life at sea and to better the compliance with the laws without recourse to punitive measures. It will be a matter of pride for the owners of the motorboats traveling the Chesapeake, the Potomac, or any other place, to be able to display the Coast Guard Reserve flag at the masthead.  p265 For this flag will indicate to the world that they have been examined and passed on, that they know the rules of the road, that their vessels are seaworthy, properly equipped, and competently operated.

Last year, the fact that the Coast Guard patrolled nearly 500 regattas and marine parades in the various sections of the country, imposed upon it a great burden in the handling of requests for marine supervision. The Coast Guard Reserve will afford to the service a broader field of boats to call on for the patrol of these regattas; by putting aboard the Reserve boats a Coast Guard officer, the effective range of the Coast Guard in these duties will be increased. The use of a Coast Guard officer on the Reserve boat will be, of course, with the permission of the owner of the boat, since the Reserve is conceived wholly on a voluntary basis.

On this point, Admiral Waesche, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, said: "Being enrolled in this Coast Guard Reserve means the Coast Guard has placed its stamp of approval on that man as knowing the rules of the road, knowing how to operate a motorboat, and anyone else in that locality who does not know much about it can go aboard that boat and get information. So it is, in a measure, an enlarging of the facilities of the Coast Guard without any expense whatever to the Federal Government with the exception of the very slight cost for the administration of the act."

 p266  The Bill provides for the expenses incurred while the Reserve boat is at the disposal of the Coast Guard to be borne by the Coast Guard, but no compensation is provided for personal services of the operators. The Reserve Bill further states that the members of the organization, solely by reason of their member­ship, are not vested with, nor can they exercise any right, privilege, power, or duty vested in, or imposed upon the personnel of the Coast Guard.

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