How to Join the Coast Guard: Steps, Requirements, FAQs, & More

Gathering on-target information about joining the Coast Guard can be daunting and confusing, as information is often scattered across various websites and forums, making it challenging to piece together a comprehensive and reliable guide. But this article is the one-stop resource for all the questions you have.

I have comprehensively analyzed the pathway to becoming a member of the Coast Guard. The analysis of the Coast Guard includes a detailed, step-by-step guide to the recruitment process, eligibility criteria, roles and responsibilities, basic training procedures, compensation structure, and associated benefits.

Additionally, I have addressed various frequently asked questions for your convenience.

Quick Contents show

What is the Coast Guard?

The U.S. Coast Guard is a multi-mission maritime service branch of the United States Armed Forces, responsible for maritime security, search and rescue (SAR), aids to navigation (ATON), and maritime law enforcement (MLE).

The Coast Guard operates under the Department of Homeland Security in peacetime and can be transferred to the Department of the Navy during wartime. This dual-role functionality makes the Coast Guard a unique entity among military forces, capable of adapting to peacetime and wartime conditions.

With a focus on domestic and international waters, the Coast Guard also has regulatory and humanitarian roles, making it unique among U.S. military branches.

What Does the Coast Guard Do? (Roles and Responsibilities)

Coast Guard responsibility includes:

  • Search and Rescue
  • Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security
  • Drug Interdiction
  • Migrant Interdiction
  • Living Marine Resources
  • Marine Environmental Protection
  • Ice Operations
  • Marine Safety
  • Aids to Navigation
  • Other Law Enforcement
  • Defense Readiness

How to Join the Coast Guard (Step-by-Step)

how to join the coast guard
How to become a Coast Guard

To join the U.S. Coast Guard, start by gathering information and choosing a career path. Consult a recruiter for guidance, then pass the ASVAB test and a background check. Complete a personal evaluation and prepare for Boot Camp to finalize your entry into service.

Ready to dive in? Let’s break down each step to become a Coast Guard!

Step 1: Being Eligible for the Coast Guard

The first step of becoming a Coast Guard is being qualified for the Coast Guard. Much like other branches of the U.S. military, the Coast Guard has specific requirements that applicants must meet.

Here, I’m going to get into the complete guide to the Coast Guard requirements:


The eligibility for joining the Coast Guard is first based on citizenship or residency status. You can be a U.S. citizen either by birth, by being born overseas to U.S. parents, or through naturalization, which involves passing tests in English and civics. Alternatively, resident aliens, commonly known as green card holders, are also eligible to join.


For those considering active duty service in the U.S. Coast Guard, the eligible age range spans from 17 to 31 years old. On the other hand, if you’re interested in serving in a reserve capacity, the age bracket is slightly broader, extending from 17 to 40 years old.

It’s important to note that for aspiring recruits who are 17 years old, parental or guardian consent is a mandatory requirement to proceed with the enlistment process.

Height and Weight:

Regarding enlisting in the Coast Guard, height and weight standards differ based on age and gender.

For men, the general requirement is a minimum height of 5 feet 5 inches and a weight range of 165 to 225 pounds. Conversely, women must be at least 4 feet 11 inches tall and weigh between 120 and 200 pounds.

The Coast Guard body fat standards:

  • The maximum allowable body fat for men and women under 30 is 22% for men and 32% for women.
  • For those less than 40 years old, the limits are 24% for men and 34% for women.
  • The maximum body fat percentage for individuals aged 40 or older is 26% for men and 36% for women.


While the Coast Guard does consider applicants with General Educational Development (GED) certificates, a high school diploma is the more favored qualification.

The preference for a high school diploma over a GED is often due to high school’s comprehensive educational experience, including extracurricular activities and social skills, which are viewed as beneficial in military service.

The ASVAB Test:

One of the critical steps in joining the Coast Guard is taking and passing the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. This test assesses your skills in various subjects and is crucial for determining your eligibility and job placement within the service.

For Coast Guard recruits, a minimum ASVAB score of 40 is required. However, if you hold a high school equivalency degree like a GED, TASC, or HiSET, the requirements are slightly different. In such cases, you’ll need a minimum Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score of 50, along with at least 15 hours of college credit, to be considered for enlistment.

The MEPS Test:

Another crucial step in the enlistment process is passing the medical exam conducted at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).

The MEPS medical exam is designed to assess your overall health and identify any disqualifying medical conditions that could impact your ability to serve.

The exam includes a thorough medical history review, vision and hearing tests, blood and urine tests, and a physical examination by a licensed physician.

Physical Fitness Requirements:

You might have heard of military Physical Fitness Test ( PFT) standards; yes, the Coast Guard also has this test too. Every member must pass the PFT to become a guardsmen.

The Coast Guard PFT standards for male and female:

Push-ups (1 Minute)2915
Sit-ups (1 Minute)3832
Run (1.5 mile)12:5115.26
Sit and Reach16.50 “19.29″
Swim TestTread water 5 minutesTread water 5 minutes
Jump off (5-foot platform into pool)Swim 100 metersSwim 100 meters

As you can see, the Coast Guard physical fitness test is not as hard as the Navy SEALs fitness test, but it’s not so easy either.

So, early preparing your body and mind is the key to passing the Coast Guard PFT standards.

Besides the basic requirements mentioned above, more tests and checks must go through. So, stay tuned and keep reading for all the details you’ll need.

Step 2: Talk to a Coast Guard Recruiter

Talking to a Coast Guard recruiter is a step that enormously helps you get enlisted. Recruiters are your go-to people if you consider joining the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard recruiter will sit down with you to discuss what you want to achieve and why you’re interested in their branch of the service. They’ll also run background checks to ensure you’re a good fit.

In addition to that, they’ll break down all the perks and benefits you’ll get if you decide to sign up. It’s like a one-on-one info session tailored just for you.

You can contact a recruiter by visiting your nearest Coast Guard recruiting office. Visit this official Coast Guard recruiter office online portal to find the nearest recruiter office.

To get in touch with a Coast Guard recruiter, simply visit your closest recruiting office. You can easily find the nearest location by checking out the official Coast Guard recruiter office online portal here.

Questions to Ask a Coast Guard Recruiter:

  • How long is the service term?
  • Where do recruits usually start?
  • What sets the Coast Guard apart from other military branches?
  • What’s the pay and benefits?
  • Can I attend college while serving?
  • What career paths are there in the Coast Guard?
  • What are the requirements for the career I want?
  • What’s basic training like?
  • How can I prepare for basic training?
  • How long is basic training?
  • Do I get paid while in training?
  • Can a friend and I go to basic training together?
  • What are the appearance and haircut rules?

I encourage you to make a list of your questions with these questions, too, before visiting the Coast Guard recruiter office.

Remember, don’t hesitate to ask anything you want about the United States Coast Guard because the recruiter is there to answer all your questions.

Tips for Visiting a Coast Guard Recruiter:

  • Go with your family members or friends, especially if you are meeting with a military recruiter for the first time. Their presence can bolster your confidence during the interaction with the recruiter.
  • Bring a pen and a piece of paper to take copious notes because you will learn various things that you didn’t know before.
  • When visiting a Coast Guard recruiter, consider wearing a blouse, polo, or button-down shirt paired with a long skirt or long pants to make a good impression.
  • Don’t worry; talking to a recruiter doesn’t lock you into anything, so you should not have any fear. You might have to sign some papers, like before taking the ASVAB, but that’s just part of the process. You’re free to change your mind anytime before the final contract is signed.
  • Please don’t lie to the Coast Guard recruiter because they will find out for sure.
  • Keeping good eye contact always leaves a good impression on the recruiter.
  • There is no point in behaving rough to a recruiter. Be respectful and polite.

Step 3: Choose Your Career in the Coast Guard

The Coast Guard jobs are classified into three main categories. Under each category, you will find a number of career paths. Let’s break it down:

Coast Guard Enlisted (Guardsman)

As a Coast Guard enlisted Guardsman, you can serve in law enforcement, communications, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), aviation, and business.

Coast Guard Officer

In the role of a Coast Guard officer, you’ll have the chance to explore diverse career avenues, ranging from aviation and maritime operations to emergency response, safety measures, engineering, and cybersecurity.

Additionally, you’ll be presented with avenues for further training and educational growth.

Coast Guard Reserve

Coast Guard reservists serve on a part-time basis. As a Coast Guard reservist, you will serve only 2 days a month and report to your nearest base two weeks a year.

Both the enlisted and officer members can join the Coast Guard reserve. In addition to pay, the reservists receive a retirement plan, healthcare plan, veteran’s status, and many more benefits and compensations.

Tips: I’d suggest checking out the Coast Guard careers webpage. It’s an excellent resource for helping you pick the career path that’s right for you.

Step 4: Pass the ASVAB, Background Check, and Personal Evaluation Test

Passing the ASVAB, background check, and personal evaluation test is not only required to enlist in the Coast Guard; these tests are mandatory for everyone who joins the U.S. military.


The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is a multiple-aptitude test. The test is developed and maintained by the United States Department of Defense.

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB test, checks out your skills in a bunch of areas like science, math, and even things like car repair and electronics.

The ASVAB test helps determine not only your eligibility to join the Military but also which service branch and job roles would be the best fit for you.

Like other academic tests, the ASVAB test required preparation. Preparation should start at least two months before the test. You can take practice tests to gauge your current level and identify areas for improvement.

The ASVAB test score requirement varies on the branches. To join the Coast Guard, you must have an AFQT Score of 36 or 32 with a waiver.

Just a heads-up: the ASVAB isn’t an I.Q. test or something that measures how smart you are. Instead, it’s all about seeing how well you can learn and use knowledge in different subjects. So don’t stress about it too much!

Background Check

Like other military branches of the United States, the Coast Guard also has a highly selective process that leaves no stone unturned. That said, you should be prepared for a thorough vetting process beyond just your skills and qualifications.

Firstly, you’ll undergo a police background check. And any felony convictions are a deal-breaker. So, a clean criminal record is non-negotiable if you’re aiming to serve in the Coast Guard.

Additionally, your financial history is also up for review. The Coast Guard will run a credit check to ensure you’re financially responsible.

Lastly, you will also need to pass a security clearance check. This check ensures you can be trusted with sensitive information crucial to the nation’s safety.

The Coast Guard’s background check covers your criminal history, financial stability, and ability to handle sensitive information.

Personal Evaluation Test

The personal evaluation test is an all-inclusive review of who you are, professionally and personally. It’s designed to ensure that those who join the Coast Guard are well-rounded individuals committed to upholding the service’s high standards.

This test is going to be one-to-one, meaning your recruiter will guide you through the whole time.

During the test, answer all questions truthfully and provide any supporting documentation or requested information.

The recruiter will assess your attitude, professionalism, and honesty, but they’ll also look at your language proficiency, physical abilities, and overall work ethic.

Remember: honesty is not just a virtue; it’s a requirement.

Step 5: Gear Up for Coast Guard Boot Camp

Coast Guard boot camp lasts about eight weeks. During this time, you’ll face mental and physical tests to see if you’re a good fit for the Coast Guard.

Let’s see how these 8 weeks will go for you:

The Journey Begins: Week One

Coast Guard boot camp kicks off with an intense first week. At Cape May, recruits undergo medical and dental check-ups and face their initial fitness test. Failure here means you’re out.

This week also introduces recruits to their Company Commanders, the key figures who’ll turn you from civilians into trained Coast Guardsmen.

Finding Your Footing: Week Two

Week two is about adjusting to your new life. Early morning workouts and swim assessments are the norm. Try to be more mentally tough this week, as your body will react differently because of rigorous physical training.

Recruits also meet their Company Mentor, an active-duty Coast Guardsman who offers career insights and will check in periodically throughout training.

Teamwork and Basics: Week Three

By week three, recruits should be getting the hang of following orders. The focus shifts to teamwork and drill practice. Recruits also start learning essential skills like knot-tying and deck seamanship.

Reality Check: Week Four

Week four is a wake-up call. Recruits face a physical fitness test and a mid-term exam. This week also offers a glimpse into future careers in the Coast Guard, including pay details and assignment planning.

The Final Stretch: Week Five

Week five is all about drill rehearsals and getting ready for graduation. Recruits receive their dress uniforms and even get to assist with the graduation events for the class ahead of them.

Skills and Planning: Week Six

Firearms training takes center stage in week six. Recruits learn gun safety and shooting basics. The week wraps up with recruits finalizing their post-graduation travel plans.

Almost There: Week Seven

Week seven is the final prep before entering the fleet. Recruits take their last exam and a confidence course. They also receive their fleet assignments and start turning in their gear.

Graduation: Week Eight

The grand finale, week eight, is all about graduation. Recruits have proven their mettle and are ready to become United States Coast Guardsmen officially.

Now, as you just know what the 8 weeks of Coast Guard basics training looks like, I want you to know some tips from an active-duty Coast Guard member down below.

Tips to prepare for the Coast Guard Basic Training

  • When you land in Cape May, be sure you’ve got a checking or savings account set up and an ATM card in your wallet. That’s where they’ll be depositing your paychecks.
  • You can’t just bring anything you want to Coast Guard Boot Camp. There’s a list of approved items, and that’s all you’re allowed to have. Ask your Coast Guard recruiter for the specific item that you want to keep with you in the Boot Camp so you know exactly what to pack.
  • Don’t try to sneak in any prohibited items. If you’re caught, you could be kicked out of boot camp. It’s better to play it safe and stick to the approved list.
  • I strongly recommend quitting tobacco and drugs and suggesting a balanced nutrition plan to prepare for Coast Guard basic training. These minor healthy changes will help you to pass the boot camp’s 8 weeks of physical training.
  • Take the time to prepare yourself. Memorize the Eleven General Orders, get comfortable with nautical and military terminology, and learn the Military Phonetic Alphabet. Understanding the Position of Attention, the proper way to salute, and how to address military personnel will also give you a leg-up.

Coast Guard Pay In 2023

Understanding the financial implications of serving in the U.S. Coast Guard is essential, whether you are contemplating enlistment or are already an active member.

So, let’s see the current Coast Guard pay in rank order:

Coast Guard Enlisted And Petty Officers Pay Grade

coast guard enlisted and petty officers pay grade

Coast Guard Warrant Officers Pay Grade

coast guard warrant officers pay grade

Coast Guard Officers Pay Grade

coast guard officers pay grade

Benefits of Joining the Coast Guard

The Coast Guard offers a comprehensive package of pay and benefits designed to meet the needs of members and their families. From basic pay to housing allowances, from healthcare to educational opportunities, the Coast Guard provides a robust framework of financial and personal benefits.

The key benefits of joining the Coast Guard:

Basic Pay

First off, you’ll get paid twice a month—on the 1st and the 15th. Plus, you’ll have access to base amenities like the commissary and exchange. And if you decide to make a career out of the service, you’ll also get the healthcare and retirement benefits I discussed later here.

Disability Pay

If you get seriously ill or injured while on duty, you’ll receive disability payments. The amount depends on the severity of your disability and your years of service.

Housing Allowance

Depending on your pay grade, dependency status, and where you’re stationed, you could get a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). The BAH helps you pay the rent or mortgage.

Retirement Plan Options

You’ll have access to a variety of retirement plans, including the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which is similar to a 401(k).

Discounted Life Insurance

The Coast Guard offers discounted life insurance options. You can get coverage for yourself and your family members at lower rates.

Mental Health Support

The Coast Guard provides various mental health support services, including counseling and stress management programs.

Whether you’re dealing with the challenges of military life or personal issues, you’ll have access to professionals who can help you navigate through it all.

Food Money

You’ll receive a tax-free food allowance called Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS). It’s designed to cover your meal costs, so you don’t have to worry about going hungry. 

Annual Leave or Break

You’ll earn 30 days of annual leave each year. Plus, you can request emergency leave if there’s a family emergency.

Home Loans

You can get a home loan from the Department of Veterans Affairs at lower interest rates and down payments.

Death Compensation

If something tragic happens while you’re on duty, your family will receive a death gratuity, unpaid pay, allowances, and funeral expenses.


Various programs are available to further your education, including tuition assistance and scholarships for your dependents.

Clothing Maintenance Allowance

As an enlisted member, you’ll get a monthly allowance to keep your uniform in tip-top shape.

Morale, Well-Being, and Recreation (MWR)

You’ll also have access to Morale, Well-Being, and Recreation (MWR) services, which offer discounted tickets to local attractions and even guest housing for rent.

Popular Jobs in the Coast Guard

Each job position comes with its own set of challenges, rewards, and growth opportunities. Here are some of the best jobs in the Coast Guard that you can consider:

Avionics Electrical Technician (AET)

AETs are the tech wizards of the aviation community. They maintain and repair aircraft systems like power, communications, and navigation.

Direct Commission Aviator (Helicopter Pilot)

A helicopter pilot has two primary responsibilities: search and rescue missions and drug interdiction efforts. The pilot must pass tough physical exams and undergo much training to handle these tasks.

Boatswain’s Mate (BM)

BMs are the masters of the sea. They handle tasks related to deck maintenance, operation, and navigation.

Information Systems Technician

Information Systems Technicians are responsible for maintaining, repairing, and installing all computer and telephone equipment. The position requires a high aptitude for electrical and mechanical problems.

Aviation Survival Technician (AST)

Also known as “rescue swimmers,” ASTs are trained to save lives. They maintain and repair survival equipment and rescue devices.

Gunner’s Mate (GM)

GMs are experts in weaponry, from small arms to shipboard cannons.

A Day in the Life of a Coast Guard

As we know, a day in the life of a Coast Guard, not only Coast Guard for all service members, a day of life is totally different than civilians.

Here is an overview of a day in the life of a Coast Guard that gives you a sense before joining:

Morning Routine

Your day as a Coast Guard Cadet begins promptly at 6:00 a.m. with Reveille. After waking up, you’ll join your fellow cadets for morning formation. Once everyone is assembled and accounted for, you’ll head to the dining hall for a hearty breakfast, preparing you for the busy day ahead.

Training Time

At 7:00 a.m., you’ll dive into military training. During this time, you’ll sharpen your leadership skills and learn the ins and outs of life in the service.

Academic Hours

Classes begin at 8:00 a.m. and are conducted by experienced faculty members. You’ll be immersed in a rigorous academic environment that prepares you for the challenges of Coast Guard service.

Afternoon Activities

After a lunch break, afternoon classes resume. By 4:00 p.m., it’s time to switch gears and focus on athletics, an essential part of your physical and mental well-being.

Evening Routine

Dinner is served at 6:00 p.m., providing a chance for you to unwind and socialize. Afterward, you’ll have an evening study period to either catch up on coursework or prepare for upcoming exams.

Lights Out

The day concludes at 10:00 p.m. with Taps, a bugle call that signifies the end of the day and serves as a tribute to those who have sacrificed for the country.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Coast Guard

How old can you be to join the Coast Guard?

The age limit for joining the Coast Guard is between 17 and 31. If you’re 17, you’ll need parental consent to enlist.

How long does it take to join the Coast Guard?

The process of joining the Coast Guard typically spans 6 to 12 months, covering all steps from your first chat with a recruiter to the moment you’re officially enlisted.

Can I choose my job in the Coast Guard?

Yes, you can choose your job in the Coast Guard, but it’s contingent on your ASVAB score. A higher score on this test opens up a wider range of job opportunities for you.

Make sure to prepare well for the ASVAB to increase your chances of getting the job you desire.

How hard is it to join the Coast Guard?

Joining the Coast Guard is considered the most challenging among the military branches due to its high academic requirements, including a high school diploma.

Additionally, the Coast Guard has limited spots available, making the competition even tougher.

How much does it cost to join the Coast Guard?

Attending the Coast Guard Academy is free of charge; there’s no cost for tuition, room, or board.

The government fully covers this elite education, currently valued at over $280,000. So, when you graduate, you’ll have the advantage of starting your career with zero student loans and no debt.

How old is too old to join the Coast Guard?

If you’re over 31, you’ve crossed the age limit for enlisting in the Coast Guard, rendering you ineligible to join under standard enlistment criteria.

Can I join the Coast Guard after high school?

Yes, you can join the Coast Guard right after high school. While GEDs are occasionally accepted, having a high school diploma will give you a better chance of being enlisted.

How to join the Coast Guard as a pilot?

You have a couple of options to join the Coast Guard as a pilot. If you already have prior military flight experience, you can directly join through the Direct Commission Aviation program and start flying immediately.

On the other hand, if you’re new to military aviation, you can enter through Officer Candidate School. From there, you can either earn a spot in flight school as your first assignment or apply for it later in your career.

Is the Coast Guard part of the Military?

Yes, the Coast Guard is part of the United States Armed Forces, commonly known as the Military. Even though the Coast Guard is not a part of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

Where is the Coast Guard Academy?

The Coast Guard Academy is located in New London, Connecticut. Specifically, the address is 31 Mohegan Ave Pkwy, New London, CT 06320, USA. The academy was founded in 1876.

Is the Coast Guard part of the Navy?

No, the Coast Guard is not a part of the Navy. However, in times of war, the Coast Guard falls under the jurisdiction of the Navy. And during peacetime, it operates under the Department of Homeland Security.

Does the Coast Guard go to war?

Yes, the Coast Guard does go to war. As one of the six armed services in the U.S., the Coast Guard has been deployed in every major U.S. conflict since 1790, including the Quasi-War with France and the Global War on Terrorism.

Where is the Coast Guard boot camp?

The Coast Guard’s boot camp is held at the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, New Jersey. That location is the only place where enlisted basic training takes place for the Coast Guard.

How many people are in the Coast Guard?

As of 2023, The Coast Guard boasts a total workforce of over 57,000, which includes active duty, Reserve, and civilian personnel.

Additionally, they are supported by a strong network of 21,000 Auxiliary volunteers who serve in various capacities worldwide.

Is the Coast Guard Academy worth it?

Absolutely, the Coast Guard Academy is considered one of the most rewarding service academies in the United States. It offers a rigorous blend of academic, athletic, and military training that prepares you for a fulfilling career in service.

Does the Coast Guard have special forces?

Yes, the Coast Guard does have special forces known as Deployable Specialized Forces (DSF). These units are the nation’s experts in maritime counterterrorism, counterdrug, and counter-piracy operations.

What are Coast Guard members called?

Members of the Coast Guard are commonly referred to as Coast Guardsmen.

What is the Coast Guard’s motto?

The motto of the Coast Guard is “Semper Paratus,” which translates to “Always Ready.”

Does the Coast Guard get V.A. benefits?

Yes, full-time veterans of the U.S. Coast Guard are eligible for Veterans Administration (V.A.) benefits. As a result, various services and support from the V.A. become accessible to you after your service.

Do Coast Guard members carry guns?

Yes, Coast Guard members are trained in the use of firearms and do carry guns. Their arsenal includes small arms like shotguns, machine guns, handguns, and rifles, which are used as needed during their duties.

What is the highest rank in the Coast Guard?

The highest rank one can achieve in the Coast Guard is Admiral, denoted as ADM and classified as O-10.

What is the purpose of the Coast Guard?

In short, the primary purpose of the Coast Guard is to ensure safety at sea, provide maritime security and law enforcement, collaborate on search and rescue operations, and protect the marine environment.

Does the Coast Guard have a football team?

Yes, the Coast Guard has a football team called the Coast Guard Bears. They represent the United States Coast Guard Academy and compete in college football at the NCAA Division III level.

Does the Coast Guard have infantry?

Yes, the Coast Guard does maintain Special Operations units, although they are not structured as traditional infantry units.

Final Thoughts

Becoming a Coast Guard requires a variety of qualifications, and it’s not so easy to be a part of the Coast Guard. But, the branch will reward you with respect and compensation.

The major steps to joining the Coast Guard are education qualification, surviving boot camp, and getting a good score on the ASVAB test.

I strongly recommend you connect with the Coast Guard recruiter in your area if you have a goal to enlist in the branch. Because the recruiter can assist you to understand every step you will go through to become a Coast Guardsman.

Your every sacrifice will be worthwhile at the Coast Guard when you are passionate about serving your country.

With my resources and experience, I covered the topic of joining the Coast Guard. However, if you have further questions, please feel free to comment below.

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