The Coast Guard flag is a white flag bearing the national coat of arms, which also appears on the Great Seal of the United States. Above the arms are the words “United States Coast Guard,” and below is the Coast Guard’s motto, Semper Paratus, which means “always prepared.”
The flag carries the date 1790 because on August 4 of that year, Congress established the Revenue Cutter Service with a fleet of ten cutters to enforce tariff laws. From 1790 to 1798, the Revenue Cutter Service was the nation’s only armed force on the sea. In the early days of the republic, its cutters chased smugglers, battled pirates, captured slave ships, and fought in the War of 1812.
In 1915 the Revenue Cutter Service merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service to form the U.S. Coast Guard, whose mission included the duty for which the Coast Guard is now renowned: coming to the aid of stricken ships. Over the following decades, Coast Guard cutter activities ranged from rescuing hurricane victims to chasing rum-runners during Prohibition and patrolling for enemy subs during World War II.
The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security during peacetime. In times of war, it becomes part of the Navy. Its many missions include search and rescue operations, enforcing maritime laws, keeping ports secure, intercepting illegal immigrants, catching drug smugglers, and defending the nation from terrorism.