The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for protecting and preserving our nation’s coasts. More specifically, it carries out six maritime-related duties: maritime law enforcement, maritime prevention, maritime transportation management, maritime response, maritime security and maritime defense. As a branch of the U.S. military, though, the U.S. Coast Guard has its own flag. What is the U.S. Coast Guard flag exactly, and what does it symbolize?
Overview of the US Coast Guard Flag
Even if you’re unfamiliar with it, you’ve probably seen the U.S. Coast Guard flag before. It features the Great Seal of the United States with the words “United States Coast Guard” on top and “Semper Paratus – 1790” on the bottom. The Great Seal of the United States is displayed in a blue color, but it features an overlay of red-and-white stripes. The rest of the U.S. Coast Guard flag is entirely white.
The U.S. Coast Guard flag features 1790 because this is the year in which the Revenue Service Cutter was founded. The Revenue Service Cutter was essentially the predecessor to the U.S. Coast Guard flag. Therefore, 1790 is a symbolic year for the U.S. Coast Guard flag and is depicted in its official flag.
History of the US Coast Guard Flag
The origins of the U.S. Coast Guard flag remain a mystery. It’s unknown who or when it was originally designed. One belief is that the U.S. Coast Guard flag was originally a variant of the Union Jack flag. A mid-19th century painting known depicted Alexander Hamilton holding a U.S. Coast Guard flag that’s closely resembled the Union Jack flag. There was even canton depicted in this flag — just like with the Union Jack flag.
What About the Ensign Flag?
There are technically two versions of the U.S. Coast Guard flag. The main and official version consists of the aforementioned design. It features the Great Seal of the United States with “United States Coast Guard” and “Semper Paratus – 1790.” However, there’s another version of the U.S. Coast Guard flag. Known as the Coast Guard Ensign flag, it was first displayed by the Revenue Cutter Service around the turn of the 19th century. The purpose of this alternative U.S. Coast Guard flag was to distinguish revenue cutter ships from merchant ships.
The Coast Guard Ensign flag didn’t use the same design as the official U.S. Coast Guard flag. Rather, it featured 16 vertical stripes in alternating red and white colors. In the upper-left corner of the Coast Guard Ensign flag was the Great Seal of the United States.