U.S. Coast Guard Ranks and Insignia

Updated: February 13, 2023
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    The U.S. Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security in peacetime and the Navy during wartime. It maintains three missions: maritime security, safety, and stewardship. 

    There are a variety of career opportunities for seamen to explore in the nine Coast Guard districts in the United States.

    USCG ranks are comprised of four pay grade categories: enlisted (E-1 through E-3), petty officers (E-4 through E-9), warrant officers (CWO-2 through CWO-4) and officers (O-1 through O-10). The letter and number represent the ratings and pay grade of the Seaman. Rank is different from the pay grade. It represents job duties and leadership responsibilities, as indicated by the corresponding insignia.

    Enlisted Ranks and Insignias

    Seaman Recruit (SR/E-1)

    Seaman recruit is the rank given to newly enlisted members of the Coast Guard and has no insignia associated with it. This is a training role in which the new recruits will get to know the Coast Guard’s culture and the skills they will need. They will also need to graduate from their basic training course.








    Seaman Apprentice (SA/E-2)

    A seaman recruit is promoted to seaman apprentice, formerly called seaman second class, after graduating from the basic training course. SAs are assigned to one of three Coast Guard groups and will wear insignia of two diagonal stripes in the corresponding color: white for deck and administration, red for engineering and hull and green for aviation. Seaman apprentices will report to either class “A” school or on-the-job training in a “striker” program.








    Seaman / Fireman / Airman (SN/FN/AN / E-3)

    The title of seaman depends on what group they are assigned to: seaman (deck and administration), fireman (engineering and hull) and airman (aviation). They work to achieve a rating in a specialty occupation through on-the-job (striker) training or at a class “A” school. Other specific responsibilities will vary depending on their assigned groups.










    Petty Officers Ranks and Insignias

    Petty Officer Third Class (PO3/E-4)

    As the lowest-ranking non-commissioned officers in the Coast Guard, petty officers third class are still developing their technical and specialty skills, while also developing leadership skills. They are now referred to by their occupational rating, such as yeoman third class (YO3) for administrative petty officers. At this level, they are legally authorized as law enforcement and federal customs officers. Petty officers third class can only serve for eight years before they must advance to second class or be subject to involuntary separation from active duty. This is known as “high year of tenure.” However, the “high year of tenure” has been suspended until 2025.








    Petty Officer Second Class (PO2/E-5)

    A petty officer second class has leadership and technical responsibilities and is authorized to work as a law enforcement or federal customs officer. They must complete advancement requirements within 14 years, or they face involuntary separation from active duty.








    Petty Officer First Class (PO1/E-6)

    The petty officer first class has similar responsibilities of that of the petty officer second class.  They continue to develop proficiency in their chosen technical specialty, occupational skills as well as quality leadership abilities. They have opportunities to attend a “C” school for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.








    Chief Petty Officer (CPO/E-7)

    Leadership abilities and technical proficiency feature prominently in the role of chief petty officer, often called “chief.” They are responsible for maintaining discipline, administrative duties and training and mentoring service members and junior officers and are expected to be knowledgeable in all service-related areas. This is a key advancement in an enlisted Coast Guard career. They have considerable authority and will likely be in charge of cutters (decked vessels) or boats.








    Senior Chief Petty Officer (SCPO/E-8)

    The senior chief petty officer’s role is similar to that of the chief petty officer but with increased authority and a greater emphasis on mentoring junior officers. They are also called senior chiefs. They are expected to be experts in their fields and also have extensive knowledge in all aspects of the Coast Guard.








    Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO/E-9)

    Master chief petty officers, also called master chiefs are technical experts in their fields and have highly developed leadership skills. Many master chiefs enroll in the Command Master Chief Petty Officer Program to further hone their skills to help them advance at this highly competitive level.








    Fleet/Command Master Chief Petty Officer (CMC/E-9)

    The command master chief petty officers serve as the liaison between enlisted service members and officers in command. Command chief petty officers often act as problem-solvers with technical, personnel and morale issues.








    Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (MCPOCG/E-9)

    As the most senior chief petty officer and the personal advisor to the commandant, the master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard works from headquarters and travels to each unit to address personnel concerns. The master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard assists in establishing policies and represents the Coast Guard at military functions.







    Warrant Officers Ranks and Insignias

    Chief Warrant Officer Two (CWO2/W-2)

    Chief warrant officer two is a board-appointed position. To be considered, service members must have served as noncommissioned officers for eight years. A chief warrant officer two pursues a specialty designation, such as weapons, naval engineering and personnel management.








    Chief Warrant Officer 3/4 (CWO3/CWO4/W-3/W-4)

    Chief warrant officers can advance through the ranks to chief warrant officer three and four through experience and years of service. Those who are accepted to the Chief Warrant Officer to Lieutenant Program can be promoted to lieutenant.







    Officers Ranks and Insignias

    Ensign (ENS/O-1)

    Ensigns are the most junior rank of commissioned officers. They commit to three years of active duty, usually as a deck watch officer or engineer. They receive on-the-job training while leading a group of enlisted personnel and noncommissioned officers.







    Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG/O-2)

    Lieutenant junior grade, or “JayGees,” serve as billeted division officers but may also fill a variety of roles depending on the mission. Completing formal education in their specialties can help them further advance their careers.







    Lieutenant (LT/O-3)

    Lieutenants continue to develop their skills in their areas of expertise as well as mentoring enlisted personnel and petty officers.








    Lieutenant Commander (LCDR/O-4)

    The lieutenant commander is considered a mid-ranking officer. The role entails both maritime law and law enforcement. They are experts in their fields and usually command smaller vessels. They may be promoted after furthering their education and through their technical and operational skills.








    Commander (CDR/O-5)

    Commander is the lowest-ranking senior officer. They typically command small ships or cutters on tactical missions, such as homeland security and law enforcement. Commanders report to the sector commander.








    Captain (CAPT/O-6)

    Captains command senior posts, such as large vessels or aircraft. This rank carries a high degree of responsibility and authority, and promotion to this level requires exceptional leadership skills.








    Rear Admiral Lower Half (RDML/O-7)

    A rear admiral lower half is a one-star flag officer who serves a five-year term and may be reappointed or retire after this time. They will command multiple sectors or a small fleet.








    Rear Admiral Upper Half (RADM/O-8)

    The rear admiral upper half is a two-star flag officer with greater authority and responsibility than the rear admiral lower half. They command a large fleet or several sectors. Promotion to this level is highly competitive.







    Vice Admiral (VADM/O-9)

    Vice admirals are three-star flag officers who serve for three or four years, depending on their appointments. They are assigned to senior posts such as vice-commandant of the Coast Guard.






    Admiral (ADM/O-10)

    The admiral is a four-star flag officer and has achieved the highest rank in the Coast Guard. They are assigned the most senior positions of commandant and vice-commandant. They report directly to the president of the United States and are responsible for the entire Coast Guard operation.






    Fleet Admiral (FADM)

    The Fleet Admiral is a rank only used during wartime.

    Written by Tamila McDonald

    Tamila McDonald is a U.S. Army veteran with 20 years of service, including five years as a military financial advisor. After retiring from the Army, she spent eight years as an AFCPE-certified personal financial advisor for wounded warriors and their families. Now she writes about personal finance and benefits programs for Veteran.com.