U.S. Military History: U.S. Coast Guard Flag, Song & Motto

Ross Dunfee

The Coast Guard has a rich history of consolidation with other federal services. The Coast Guard was created in 1915 when the Revenue Cutter Service (from 1790) was merged with the Life Saving Service (from 1848). In 1939, the Lighthouse Service (from 1789) was added, and the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation (from 1862) in 1942. Each of the combined services had their own flags, seals, emblems, and other service features, but what you get today is information about the current Coast Guard.

Flag—Today’s Coast Guard flag is like the flag approved by President John Adams on Aug. 1, 1799, for the Revenue Cutter Service. The purpose of the flag, displayed while at sea, was to relieve ship owners’ concerns that a ship claiming to be a revenue cutter and ordering a merchant vessel to heave to might be a pirate. Revenue cutters were authorized to use deadly force against vessels failing to heed its instructions, so identification of the flag was essential.

The 16 vertical red and white stripes on the Coast Guard ensign represent the number of states in the Union at the time the flag was adopted. Over two centuries the flag saw some minor changes such as the artistic treatment of the coat-of-arms that, since 1951, conforms to the seal of the United States. Additionally, a badge on the fly was added in 1910 to differentiate the revenue cutters from customs houses and other ports of entry.

Song—Captain Francis Van Boskerck wrote the lyrics to “Semper Paratus” in the cabin of the cutter Yamacraw in Savannah, Ga., in 1922. Five years later, on a beat-up old piano owned by a fur trapper’s wife in Unalaska, Alaska, and with the help of two Public Health Service dentists, the tune was hammered out and melded to the lyrics.


From Aztec Shore to Arctic Zone

To Europe and Far East.

The Flag is carried by our ships,

In times of war and peace.

And never have we struck it yet

Despite foemen’s might,

Who cheered our crews and cheered again,

For showing how to fight.


We’re always ready for the call,

We place our trust in Thee.

Through surf and storm and howling gale,

High shall our purpose be.

“Semper Paratus” is our guide,

Our fame, our glory, too.

To fight to save or fight and die,

Aye! Coast Guard we are for you!

There are two more verses to the song, so find a member of the Coast Guard to sing them to you.

Motto—The source for the Latin phrase “Semper Paratus” of the Coast Guard motto is uncertain but the meaning “Always Ready” is well-understood by members of the service who are always ready to save lives, protect from smuggling and trafficking, secure boating safety, and enforce laws on land, sea, and air. In their spare time they also prepare for military conflict.

Support Our Troops—Arizona is proud to place U.S. flags along the principal roadways in Robson Ranch on designated days to honor those in the U.S. Coast Guard and all branches of the military who have sacrificed for our freedom. Visit www.sotaz.org to learn more about Support Our Troops—Arizona.