The Realities of Coast Guard Life: Pros and Cons

The major pros of joining the Coast Guard include free medical and dental care, housing and food allowances, education benefits through the GI Bill, and life insurance options.

However, joining the Coast Guard also has downsides: long periods away from family, intense basic training, a lengthy commitment period, and exposure to potential dangers in the line of duty.

Pros And Cons of Joining the Coast Guard

coast guard pros and cons

13 Pros of Joining the Coast Guard

Free Medical and Dental Care

The U.S. Coast Guard provides comprehensive medical and dental care services to its active duty and reserve members, retirees, and their families.

This healthcare is facilitated through TRICARE, United Concordia Dental Plan and shore-based clinics and sickbays.

  • TRICARE: The main health program for Coast Guard members, retirees, and families provides comprehensive medical coverage. It includes options like Prime, Select, and Standard, catering to different needs with a wide range of services such as preventive care, doctor visits, and prescriptions.
  • Dental Coverage: Dental coverage, distinct from TRICARE, is available through the United Concordia Dental Plan. This voluntary program offers additional dental care options for active duty members, retirees, and their families at an extra cost.
  • Coast Guard Clinics and Sickbays: As of 2024, the U.S. Coast Guard has 43 outpatient clinics and 122 sickbays offering outpatient medical and dental services to active duty personnel. These include routine checkups, preventive care, immunizations, and minor treatments. For specialized or complex procedures, referrals are made to civilian providers in the TRICARE network.

Moreover, the Coast Guard has its own healthcare professionals, including physicians, physician assistants, dentists, psychologists, social workers, environmental health officers, pharmacists, and nurses.

You will only become eligible for these benefits after serving in the Coast Guard, which is challenging due to the mental and physical strength required for each of their tasks and missions.

Read here: What Does the Coast Guard Do?

Housing and Food Allowances

The U.S. Coast Guard, along with other branches of the U.S. military, provides housing and food allowances to its service members.

These allowances are known as Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), respectively.

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH): The BAH rates have seen an average increase of 5.4% from 2023 to 2024. This allowance helps cover the cost of housing for service members when government housing is not available.

The rates are determined based on a combination of local costs for rent and utilities for various housing types, and they vary depending on location, pay grade, and whether the member has dependents.

It’s important to note that BAH rates are designed to cover 95% of housing costs, meaning members are expected to pay a portion of their housing costs out of pocket.

Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS): BAS is intended to offset costs for a service member’s meals. The BAS rates for 2024 are set at $460.25 per month for enlisted members and $316.98 per month for officers.

This allowance is non-taxable and is not dependent on the service member’s pay grade or dependent status. It also adjusts annually with food price changes. BAS only covers the service member’s meals, not family members.

Consistent Financial Earnings

Salaries range significantly, averaging between $40,500 and $124,155 annually. This variation underscores the need to consider various factors such as rank, experience, location, and specific job title.

Such a wide salary range reflects the diverse opportunities and career paths within the Coast Guard, ensuring financial stability and growth potential for its members.

Benefits from the GI Bill

Members of the U.S. Coast Guard have access to various educational assistance programs, including the GI Bill, which is provided through Veteran Affairs.

Key features of GI Bill benefits include:

  • Post-9/11 GI Bill: Offers tuition coverage, a monthly housing allowance, and a yearly book stipend. Benefits vary based on service length post-9/11 and can be transferred to dependents under specific conditions. Note that online classes qualify for up to 50% of the average housing stipend.
  • Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR): Available for Reservists with a six-year commitment, providing up to 36 months of educational benefits.
  • Tuition Assistance: Active duty members can receive financial support for classes at academic institutions.

The GI Bill benefits can be reallocated among dependents but must be revoked if leaving the service before completing the four-year obligation. This obligation runs concurrently with other service requirements.

Wide Range of Career Choices

Joining the U.S. Coast Guard opens the door to a diverse array of career paths, catering to various interests and skill sets.

  • Maritime Law Enforcement: Involves enforcing domestic and international laws at sea.
  • Search and Rescue Operations: Focuses on life-saving missions in various maritime environments.
  • Environmental Protection: Engages in activities like pollution response and marine wildlife conservation.
  • Aviation: Offers roles in piloting and aircraft maintenance.
  • Engineering and Technology: Involves maintaining ships, aircraft, and critical Coast Guard infrastructure.
  • Healthcare Services: Provides medical support to personnel, including roles like Health Services Technician.
  • Administrative and Support Roles: Encompasses functions like human resources, finance, and logistics.

30 Days’ Vacation Every Year

One of the standout advantages of a career in the U.S. Coast Guard is a generous vacation policy. Members are entitled to 2.5 days of paid vacation each month, accumulating to a total of 30 days per year.

The flexibility of this policy allows members to plan their vacations strategically.

Comprehensive Life Insurance Policy Options

Members of the U.S. Coast Guard have access to Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI), a low-cost term life insurance program. This program offers coverage up to $500,000, with the premium rates being very affordable compared to individual life insurance plans on the open market.

The cost is determined by the amount of coverage selected, and it is set at 6 cents per $1,000 of coverage.

For example, for the maximum coverage amount of $400,000, the monthly premium is $24, with an additional $1 per month for Traumatic Injury Protection coverage (TSGLI), making the total monthly premium $25. Members can elect to purchase coverage in $50,000 increments, up to the maximum of $400,000.

In addition to SGLI, there are related life insurance programs available, such as Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI), Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI), and Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI).

After leaving the military, SGLI coverage continues for 120 days post-discharge. Members then have the option to convert their SGLI policy to VGLI or a civilian policy.

Serving Your Country

When I think about joining the U.S. Coast Guard, it strikes me as more than just a career choice; it’s a deep dive into patriotism and duty.

Imagine playing a key role in safeguarding our maritime borders and ensuring national safety – that’s what you’d be signing up for.

Wearing the Coast Guard uniform, you’d feel a sense of pride and honor, knowing every day you’re making a real, meaningful impact. It’s not just work; it’s a calling that resonates with a profound sense of purpose.

Opportunities for Great Life Experiences

Being in the Coast Guard is more than a job; it’s an adventure. You serve your country and travel to exciting places around the world.

One day, you might be involved in a high-stakes rescue operation, and the next, you could be patrolling some of the most scenic waters in the world. So, This isn’t your typical nine-to-five job; it’s a chance to collect stories and experiences that last a lifetime.

Unlikely to Engage in War Zones

In the Coast Guard, you’re less likely to be in war zones. Most work involves law enforcement on the sea, rescue missions, and protecting the environment, usually far from combat.

This matters if you’re concerned about the risks of military life. While there are still challenges and dangers, the chance of being in typical war situations is much lower.

Advanced Pay Grades for Academic Achievement

The Coast Guard values your education before you join. If you’ve done well in school, you could start at a higher rank and earn more pay. This shows they appreciate your hard work in academics and support your growth in your career and as a person.

Domestically Located Stations

Coast Guard stations are mostly in the U.S., which is excellent if you want to stay in the country and avoid being sent overseas. You’ll likely work at a base within the United States. This is helpful for those who want to stay close to home, have a stable family life, or prefer to be in familiar surroundings.

Enhanced Job Application Prospects

Working in the Coast Guard can really help your job chances later. The skills and experience you get are respected outside the service, too. Plus, the discipline, teamwork, and problem-solving you will learn will be great for many other jobs.

13 Cons of Joining the Coast Guard

Long Periods Away from Family

The first and foremost drawback of joining the Coast Guard is being away from family for a long time. This can be hard, as it affects your life and relationships.

You might be gone for days or months, depending on where you’re sent. This means missing out on family time and important moments.

Potential Danger and Exposure to Hazards

Joining the Coast Guard means facing some dangers and risks. Jobs like search and rescue, law enforcement, and responding to emergencies can be risky, with tough conditions at sea and other challenges.

Performing these jobs can be hard physically and mentally. Even though the Coast Guard trains well for safety, the risks are still there.

Longer Commitment Period

When you join the Coast Guard, you’re signing up for eight years. This usually means two years of active duty, then four years in the reserves, followed by two more years on standby. It’s a big commitment that can affect many parts of your life, like your long-term plans and career goals.

Challenging Basic Training

Coast Guard basic training is tough. It lasts eight weeks in Cape May, New Jersey, and it’s both physically and mentally hard. You’ll do a lot of physical training like running, swimming, and strength exercises. There’s also classroom learning about maritime law and first aid.

This intense training is essential for each member of USCG because this gets you ready for the many challenges in the Coast Guard and teaches you important skills.

Highly Selective Recruitment and Stringent Requirements

As a smaller branch, the Coast Guard has high standards for its candidates. These include strict physical fitness criteria, educational qualifications, and often a thorough background check, making the selection process very selective.

Limited Choice in Stationing and Assignment

In the Coast Guard, you don’t really get to choose where you work. You could be placed anywhere, from quiet coastlines to busy port cities, depending on what the Coast Guard needs. This can be tough, especially if it means being far from your family or moving them around a lot.

Operating with Fewer Resources and an Aging Fleet

The Coast Guard always has a lack of resources that is not common in other branches.

This might mean not always having the newest tech or gear. Also, a lot of the ships are old and need more repairs, which can affect how well missions go. This can make the job harder and influence how you feel about where you work.

Bureaucratic and Micromanaged Environment

Working in the Coast Guard, you’ll work in a place with a lot of rules and close supervision. It’s very structured, with a clear chain of command and strict guidelines to follow. This can feel limiting for those who like more freedom and creativity in their job.

Potential Pay Delays During Government Shutdowns

If there’s a government shutdown, you might face pay delays. This is because, unlike other military branches, the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense.

So, when the government stops and the Defense Department gets emergency funding, the Coast Guard doesn’t always get paid right away. There’s talk in Congress about fixing this, but it’s still not certain.

Proficiency in Swimming (Must)

Good swimming skills are a must in the Coast Guard since a lot of the work is on or near water. This is especially true for rescue and law enforcement tasks.

If you’re not a strong swimmer yet, it might seem scary. But the Coast Guard does train you to get better at swimming. Still, it’s important to consider this before joining.

Now, Should you Join the Coast Guard?

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Should I join the Coast Guard?” It’s a significant decision, and I want to help you weigh your options with a clear perspective.

Why You Should Consider Joining:

Joining the Coast Guard is a great way to serve your country with pride. The Coast Guard offers good benefits like full healthcare, help with housing costs, and plenty of vacation time.

You’ll also have access to diverse career paths, educational opportunities through the GI Bill, and the chance to gain invaluable life experiences. The structured environment and teamwork can also be incredibly rewarding, fostering personal growth and discipline.

Why You Might Hesitate:

Don’t think life in the Coast Guard is easy because that is not actually. The training is hard, and it takes a lot of commitment. You’ll spend a lot of time away from your family, which isn’t easy.

The Coast Guard is very structured and strict, which doesn’t work for everyone. They’re picky about who they choose, and being good at swimming is a must.

If you like a well-ordered environment, want to serve, and can handle the physical and mental challenges, the Coast Guard could be great for you. But if you’re unsure about the long commitment, the way of life, or the challenges, it’s a good idea to look at other options.

Ultimately, the decision is yours, and it should align with your personal goals, values, and circumstances.

If you have questions about life in the Coast Guard, drop them in the comments. I’ll be here to provide more insights and answer your queries.

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