Coast Guard cutters get “dressed up” for 4th of July


Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay

Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay

There are 10 cutters homeported in the Great Lakes. These cutters conduct maintain aids to navigation, enforce laws, help clean the environment, keep our homeland secure and rescue boaters in distress.

Most of the year the ships are out on the lakes working hard but on special occasions, like this weekend, they get dressed up.

Throughout history, from the Revenue Cutter Service to the U.S. Coast Guard, July 4 has been celebrated and honored through the proud maritime tradition of – “dressing ship.”

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

Coast Guard Historian Scott Price writes in a blog that following regulations of 1843: “Upon the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, the colors shall be hoisted at sunrise, and all the vessels of the Revenue Marine shall, when in port, be dressed, and so continue until the colors are hauled down at sunset, if the state of the weather and other circumstances will allow it. At sunrise, at meridian, and at sunset, a salute of twenty-one guns shall be fired at meridian from every vessel of the Revenue Marine in commission.”

Over the years, the regulations were refined but their spirit of commemorating and celebrating the day when the United States declared its independence from Great Britain remained. While some occasions simply call for dressing the ship with a national ensign at each masthead, occasions like Independence Day call for a ship to be fully dressed.

According to the regulations published in 1916 for the newly created U.S. Coast Guard, full dress included: “A line of signal flags, rainbow fashion, extending from the water line to the jib-boom end (or from the jackstaff at the height of the ridge rope, if without a jib boom), thence to the highest masthead on the fore, thence to the highest masthead on the main, thence to the highest masthead on the mizzen, thence to the peak, to the boom end or flagstaff at the height of the ridge rope aft, and to the water line aft. In vessels of other rigs the disposition of the decorations shall conform as nearly as possible to the foregoing.”

Coast Guard Cutter Katmai Bay

Coast Guard Cutter Katmai Bay

So, if you come across an old photograph of a cutter or see one docked with all of its flags flying from each masthead withsignal flags fluttering in the breeze from stem-to-stern, its patriotic spirit as well as the memory of those cutter crews who, through the past 223 years, have spent their Independence Days far from home.

If you come across a ship in full dress while you are out enjoying this holiday, snap a photo and email it to us at We’ll put together an album and share it on our Facebook page next week.

Coast Guard cutters in the Great Lakes:

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn is a 100-foot Inland Buoy Tender and the only one of its kind on the Great Lakes.

Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn

Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn

The Alder and Hollyhock are 225-foot multi-mission buoy tenders.

The Bristol Bay and the Mobile Bay are two 140-foot icebreaking tugs with an attachable aids to navigation barge.

The cutters Biscayne Bay, Katmai Bay, Morro Bay and Neah Bay are 140-foot icebreaking tugs, while the Mackinaw is a 240-foot icebreaking tug.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. Peggy Buzz Talbot says:

    Great article.

  2. Phil Blank says:

    Very nice, but they seldom enter the Lorain harbor, not even to break ice.
    If they do come in, they are already docked at the station.
    I’ve seen the EPA’s Lake Guardian pass close by and NOAA’s vessel Muskie come close, but they sail right in by only a few miles from shore.

    You Google those ship names and the photos look more like party boats that research vessels.