Joined
Mar 6, 2020
Messages
18
Hi! so I'm new to these forums, and have heard that a lot of people who graduate end up on "cutters." How does all of this work? What do cutters do? Do they serve as a miniature navy? Does this mean that people end up going to cold regions with ice mostly? Or do people travel around the world or up and down coasts with these boats? And if people do travel around the world in these types of vessels often, then how is it that USCG has bases primarily within the U.S? Are helicopter operations conducted on cutters or can they be conducted? And lastly, what is daily life like aboard a cutter for the enlisted and for officers? Does the nature of the degree earned at the academy correlate with what billet/job/rate you will earn after graduating/commissioning? What sea stories do people have to share here?
Sorry for asking, I'm just trying to better understand how cutters are associated with the Coast Guard, it is confusing for me.
 

ekb1398

5-Year Member
Joined
Apr 3, 2016
Messages
345
Lot's to digest here, but I'll take my best shot. You are correct in that most who graduate (usually 80-90 percent) go to cutters for their first tour.

Cutters can generally be divided into three different categories. The first category is the "white hulls," so named because they are painted white. These cutters do the bulk of what the Coast Guard is known to most for: Search and Rescue, drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, law enforcement, defense readiness, and fisheries enforcement. They range in size anywhere from 87 foot long patrol boats which are generally speaking away from home port no more than a week at a time all the way up to 418' National Security Cutters, which can best be likened to Navy Frigates, and they go on deployments up to six months all over the world in support of U.S. interests. The second group is the "black hulls." These are the real workhorses of the Coast Guard. They do nasty work that is mostly involved with maintaining Aids to Navigation (ATON) such as buoys and lighthouses. They are also capable of law enforcement and SAR missions, but it is by no means their primary duty. The bulk of the black hull fleet is made up of 225 foot Seagoing Buoy Tenders and 175 foot Coastal Buoy Tenders, but they are augmented by 140 foot Ice Breaking Tug Boats and 65' Harbor Tugs, which do minor ice breaking and maintenance of small buoys and day boards and the like. Lastly, there is an entire fleet of black hulled river tenders out on the Western Rivers to maintain those ATON and keep commerce flowing there. Officers will pretty much never come into any contact with river tenders of harbor tugs. Lastly, there is the "red hulls." Currently, there are only three, but we are slated to get up to six more by 2030. These ships primary mission is icebreaking; the Healy goes to the Arctic, largely in support of the science mission there, and the Polar Star goes south to the Antarctic annually to clear a path for the yearly shipment to McMurdo station. These two ships have long deployments followed by long drydock/inport periods. Lastly, the Mackinaw is a unique ship stationed on the Great Lakes that primarily breaks ice but also participates in the ATON mission.

As far as travel goes, the bigger the boat, the more you'll see. Smaller boats simply don't go as far, while larger boats are known to pull into foreign ports relatively frequently, especially South America and Asia. There are some pretty amazing travel opportunities in the Coast Guard no matter what career field you go into, and I'll leave that there.

The bases are primarily in the U.S. because the cutters generally always leave from and return to their home port in the United States, but they are certainly big enough to cross oceans and therefore do. Really the only place boats are stationed besides the United States is in Bahrain. There are also cutters outside the Continental US though, to include Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

Helicopter operations are conducted on all white hulls of a length north of 210' long - so pretty much any major white hull cutter. Additionally, the two Polar Icebreakers are capable of Helo ops as well.

Choice of the major at the Academy correlates to but does not dictate billet. In general, the Mechanical and Electrical Engineers and Naval Architects tend to lean towards student engineering, which is the people that work in the engineroom and with the ships machinery. The other majors tend towards Deck Watch Officer, who are responsible for the safe operation and navigation of the ship. I would say that Civil Engineers are split between the two. You find people interested in flight dispersed everywhere. That said, there are no rules saying that certain majors must take only certain jobs, it just tends to be how interests line up. Any major can do any job.

I am but a cadet and while I do have interesting stories from some of my summers, I will leave sea stories and what it's like to be afloat to those on here who have vastly more experience than I.
 
Joined
Mar 6, 2020
Messages
18
Lot's to digest here, but I'll take my best shot. You are correct in that most who graduate (usually 80-90 percent) go to cutters for their first tour.

Cutters can generally be divided into three different categories. The first category is the "white hulls," so named because they are painted white. These cutters do the bulk of what the Coast Guard is known to most for: Search and Rescue, drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, law enforcement, defense readiness, and fisheries enforcement. They range in size anywhere from 87 foot long patrol boats which are generally speaking away from home port no more than a week at a time all the way up to 418' National Security Cutters, which can best be likened to Navy Frigates, and they go on deployments up to six months all over the world in support of U.S. interests. The second group is the "black hulls." These are the real workhorses of the Coast Guard. They do nasty work that is mostly involved with maintaining Aids to Navigation (ATON) such as buoys and lighthouses. They are also capable of law enforcement and SAR missions, but it is by no means their primary duty. The bulk of the black hull fleet is made up of 225 foot Seagoing Buoy Tenders and 175 foot Coastal Buoy Tenders, but they are augmented by 140 foot Ice Breaking Tug Boats and 65' Harbor Tugs, which do minor ice breaking and maintenance of small buoys and day boards and the like. Lastly, there is an entire fleet of black hulled river tenders out on the Western Rivers to maintain those ATON and keep commerce flowing there. Officers will pretty much never come into any contact with river tenders of harbor tugs. Lastly, there is the "red hulls." Currently, there are only three, but we are slated to get up to six more by 2030. These ships primary mission is icebreaking; the Healy goes to the Arctic, largely in support of the science mission there, and the Polar Star goes south to the Antarctic annually to clear a path for the yearly shipment to McMurdo station. These two ships have long deployments followed by long drydock/inport periods. Lastly, the Mackinaw is a unique ship stationed on the Great Lakes that primarily breaks ice but also participates in the ATON mission.

As far as travel goes, the bigger the boat, the more you'll see. Smaller boats simply don't go as far, while larger boats are known to pull into foreign ports relatively frequently, especially South America and Asia. There are some pretty amazing travel opportunities in the Coast Guard no matter what career field you go into, and I'll leave that there.

The bases are primarily in the U.S. because the cutters generally always leave from and return to their home port in the United States, but they are certainly big enough to cross oceans and therefore do. Really the only place boats are stationed besides the United States is in Bahrain. There are also cutters outside the Continental US though, to include Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

Helicopter operations are conducted on all white hulls of a length north of 210' long - so pretty much any major white hull cutter. Additionally, the two Polar Icebreakers are capable of Helo ops as well.

Choice of the major at the Academy correlates to but does not dictate billet. In general, the Mechanical and Electrical Engineers and Naval Architects tend to lean towards student engineering, which is the people that work in the engineroom and with the ships machinery. The other majors tend towards Deck Watch Officer, who are responsible for the safe operation and navigation of the ship. I would say that Civil Engineers are split between the two. You find people interested in flight dispersed everywhere. That said, there are no rules saying that certain majors must take only certain jobs, it just tends to be how interests line up. Any major can do any job.

I am but a cadet and while I do have interesting stories from some of my summers, I will leave sea stories and what it's like to be afloat to those on here who have vastly more experience than I.


Wow thank you so much! Do cadets ever get to be on these cutters? Also, do cadets ever get to pick/rank which type of cutter they would like to be put on? Are the iscebreakers competitive to be put on? Lastly, do you know what type of Helo Ops are conducted with the cutters, (especially the icebreakers)?
 

ekb1398

5-Year Member
Joined
Apr 3, 2016
Messages
345
Wow thank you so much! Do cadets ever get to be on these cutters? Also, do cadets ever get to pick/rank which type of cutter they would like to be put on? Are the iscebreakers competitive to be put on? Lastly, do you know what type of Helo Ops are conducted with the cutters, (especially the icebreakers)?
Yes! During 3/c Summer and 1/c Summer, Cadets will often have the opportunity to spend anywhere from 6 to 11 weeks on a cutter. We do get to rank what we would like for the summer and they do what they can to accommodate, but it's definitely not guaranteed. We also get to rank what wed like before graduation and they really try to give people one of their top choices for their first 2 year assignment. Icebreakers are usually competitive, but changes from year to year. As far as what type of helo ops, I'm not entirely sure how to answer this, partially because I went to a small boat station, not a cutter over 3/c summer. It can pretty much be anything though. Search and Rescue, chasing down drug boats, putting eyes on a fishing boat before the cutter gets there, and I'm sure a lot more.
 

cave9269

Member
Joined
Nov 5, 2019
Messages
231
Lot's to digest here, but I'll take my best shot. You are correct in that most who graduate (usually 80-90 percent) go to cutters for their first tour.

Cutters can generally be divided into three different categories. The first category is the "white hulls," so named because they are painted white. These cutters do the bulk of what the Coast Guard is known to most for: Search and Rescue, drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, law enforcement, defense readiness, and fisheries enforcement. They range in size anywhere from 87 foot long patrol boats which are generally speaking away from home port no more than a week at a time all the way up to 418' National Security Cutters, which can best be likened to Navy Frigates, and they go on deployments up to six months all over the world in support of U.S. interests. The second group is the "black hulls." These are the real workhorses of the Coast Guard. They do nasty work that is mostly involved with maintaining Aids to Navigation (ATON) such as buoys and lighthouses. They are also capable of law enforcement and SAR missions, but it is by no means their primary duty. The bulk of the black hull fleet is made up of 225 foot Seagoing Buoy Tenders and 175 foot Coastal Buoy Tenders, but they are augmented by 140 foot Ice Breaking Tug Boats and 65' Harbor Tugs, which do minor ice breaking and maintenance of small buoys and day boards and the like. Lastly, there is an entire fleet of black hulled river tenders out on the Western Rivers to maintain those ATON and keep commerce flowing there. Officers will pretty much never come into any contact with river tenders of harbor tugs. Lastly, there is the "red hulls." Currently, there are only three, but we are slated to get up to six more by 2030. These ships primary mission is icebreaking; the Healy goes to the Arctic, largely in support of the science mission there, and the Polar Star goes south to the Antarctic annually to clear a path for the yearly shipment to McMurdo station. These two ships have long deployments followed by long drydock/inport periods. Lastly, the Mackinaw is a unique ship stationed on the Great Lakes that primarily breaks ice but also participates in the ATON mission.

As far as travel goes, the bigger the boat, the more you'll see. Smaller boats simply don't go as far, while larger boats are known to pull into foreign ports relatively frequently, especially South America and Asia. There are some pretty amazing travel opportunities in the Coast Guard no matter what career field you go into, and I'll leave that there.

The bases are primarily in the U.S. because the cutters generally always leave from and return to their home port in the United States, but they are certainly big enough to cross oceans and therefore do. Really the only place boats are stationed besides the United States is in Bahrain. There are also cutters outside the Continental US though, to include Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

Helicopter operations are conducted on all white hulls of a length north of 210' long - so pretty much any major white hull cutter. Additionally, the two Polar Icebreakers are capable of Helo ops as well.

Choice of the major at the Academy correlates to but does not dictate billet. In general, the Mechanical and Electrical Engineers and Naval Architects tend to lean towards student engineering, which is the people that work in the engineroom and with the ships machinery. The other majors tend towards Deck Watch Officer, who are responsible for the safe operation and navigation of the ship. I would say that Civil Engineers are split between the two. You find people interested in flight dispersed everywhere. That said, there are no rules saying that certain majors must take only certain jobs, it just tends to be how interests line up. Any major can do any job.

I am but a cadet and while I do have interesting stories from some of my summers, I will leave sea stories and what it's like to be afloat to those on here who have vastly more experience than I.

Awesome response. Above and beyond!
 

Tex232

5-Year Member
Joined
Nov 24, 2015
Messages
429
Lastly, do you know what type of Helo Ops are conducted with the cutters, (especially the icebreakers)?
I’m not a CG pilot nor have I ever served on an Icebreaker but my old man did as a pilot and told me many sea/flying stories about his time in the CG. Helo Ops on CG Icebreakers usually revolve around supporting the icebreaker and it’s many missions. Examples can be scouting ahead of the cutter for areas of thin ice that the ship can more easily traverse, flying people/equipment to and from the ship for repair/resupply, supporting National Science Foundation (NSF) missions by transporting their personnel to site study areas, and other missions. There’s usually one to two helicopters aboard, with a few pilots and a compliment of maintenance EM’s. Life is different for pilots assigned to a cutter than it is for pilots assigned to an Air Station. Aircrew at a Coast Guard Air Station (CGAS) report to the commanding officer/executive officer of the air station who are also pilots, whereas deployed aircrew report to (and are rated by) the ship’s commanding officer/executive officer who are always cuttermen, AKA blackshoes. This can be undesireable, because as a deployed pilot you have to work for non-flyers outside of your career field, who may or may not look favorably upon aircrew. Also, you will probably average less time in the cockpit aboard a cutter than if you were at a CGAS. The CO/XO of the ship dictate when you get to fly. Furthermore, icebreaker aviation duty in the CG is sometimes undesired since you are basically trapped on the ship for 4-6 months at a time. If sea faring and travel are your thing, then you may like it, however many pilots prefer shore duty since it means more flying and more career stability. This is partly why fixed wing assignments in the CG are competitive. Up until recently, Icebreakers could only handle the lighter duty helicopters the CG flies (HH-65’s), meaning only HH-65 pilots would be forced to deploy. However I read recently that the newer icebreakers on the production line may be able to accommodate all of the helicopters in the CG’s inventory, which would mean all rotary wing pilots would be open to deploy.
 

USCGA13STN

10-Year Member
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
336
Served my first tour on an icebreaker so I'll add a bit here about icebreaking operations specifically.

Back in the day when helos used to regularly deploy on icebreakers, they were used to help scout leads in pack ice. The idea being that you launched a helo and used it to look ahead and help the cutter find a path through the ice that would be the easiest on the ship; avoiding pressure ridges, dead end leads, and Tabbys. Additionally when you got closer to a place that you needed to get supplies from but didn't have a sustainable pier or good harbor water (think Nome or Barrow in AK) the Helo could be used to transport personnel and supplies.

Now a-days helos don't typically embark with Icebreakers, its a case of not enough bang for the buck. With so many cutters needing the operational resources a deployed helicopter can bring the benefits provided to the icebreakers don't outweigh the amount of time they'd be out of service.

Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any more cutter related questions! I've served on a Red Hull, Black Hull and now as an OPS on a White Hull.
 

USCGA13STN

10-Year Member
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
336
However I read recently that the newer icebreakers on the production line may be able to accommodate all of the helicopters in the CG’s inventory, which would mean all rotary wing pilots would be open to deploy.

Not only will the new PSC's be able to embark a 60', the new OPC (Offshore Patrol Cutters) will be able to as well! Big news for the 60 fleet - time to start readying those sea bags!
 
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