How the Coast Guard supports maritime commerce and the ship-building industry

By Lt. Amanda Faulkner and PA1 Seth Johnson

The Coast Guard is known for saving lives at sea, but did you know the service plays a huge role in the economy, too?  

LTJG Thomas boards the ship

As a regulatory entity, the Coast Guard conducts marine inspections on vessels entering United States ports to make sure the vessels do not pose a safety, security, or environmental threat to the country.  With 90% of U.S. imports and exports entering or exiting the country by ship, these inspections ensure there is fuel at the gas station, food in the store and presents at birthday parties.

But even before a ship ever gets in the water, the Coast Guard is behind the scenes working to make it ready for sea. Coast Guard marine inspectors work  in tandem with ship builders in the United States to ensure the vessels are both safe for the workers and for operation in the maritime environment. In fact, they are executing this mission in Philadelphia, where workers are constructing the largest container ships ever built in the United States right now for Honolulu-based Matson Navigation Company.

As a ship is built, like the 850-foot Daniel K. Inouye in Philadelphia Shipyards, the Coast Guard and the industry members work together. They review architectural plans for the ship, monitor the laying of its keel, and observe the installation of lifesaving and engineering systems.  These efforts ensure a safe working environment for mariners and validate the integrity of the vessel.

LTJG Thomas reviews electrical systems

“For the Coast Guard, ship construction like this in the United States gives us the opportunity to work with the maritime industry members,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Doherty, Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay Chief of Inspections. “The added benefit of the Coast Guard beyond building relations with American shipbuilders is that it gives us an opportunity to train our inspectors during the process of ship construction, which will benefit them throughout their prevention career.”

Workers make their way along scaffolding during a lunchbreak

Doherty, who oversees the team of Coast Guard marine inspectors who evaluate safety and security of ships throughout southern New Jersey, Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania, says that involving the Coast Guard ensures the safety of life at sea for workers but also that of the ports and waterways of the United States by keeping them clean from pollution and unobstructed. Doherty says the having the Daniel K. Inouye built nearby has a local benefit as well.

“Building this ship in Philadelphia is a huge deal for the surrounding region,” said Doherty. “When ships are built here it gives life to the shipyard, local area and maritime community.”

Lt. j.g. Ryan Thomas, a marine inspector at Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay, who has been working on the project since February, says that being involved in inspections and review process during the building phase of a ship is not only interesting but educational. Thomas says learning about the different systems of a ship during its construction have contributed to his growth as a marine inspector and he feels a sense of pride in helping to make a ship safer, but also as a native resident of Hawaii, he knows how important it is for commerce to move safely through American ports.

The Daniel K. Inouye, an 850-foot container ship

Thomas says that much of what Coast Guard inspectors interact with during ship construction are the lifesaving and emergency systems aboard a ship. Things like rescue equipment, propulsion engines, steering systems, navigation equipment, electrical and fuel systems are some of the aspects inspectors focus on to ensure the ship meets the Coast Guard standard before making its way to full operations.

On a day-to-day basis, Coast Guard inspectors work with the ship builder, the shipping company and in the case of the Daniel K. Inouye, the international registrar and classification society. Through their oversight and teamwork, all parties come together to develop a ship that meets standards for operation not only in the U.S., but also around the world, which leads to a safer situation for everyone, Ryan says.

One reason the relationship between industry and regulators during ship construction is important is that it creates the most efficient and effective process to get the vessel ready for maritime trade. International commerce is extremely reliant on the Maritime Transportation System already, and estimations place that by 2025, the demand for waterborne commerce worldwide is expected to more than double.

LTJG Thomas walks below the Kaimana Hila

The Coast Guard is preparing for the increasing demand now.  The service has published the U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Commerce Strategic Outlook that outlines its strategy to support and grow maritime commerce in the U.S.

The strategic outlook established priorities through three lines of effort:

  1. Facilitate lawful trade and travel on secure waterways.
  2. Modernize aids to navigation and mariner information systems.
  3. Transform workforce capacity and partnerships.

For more information on or to read the Maritime Commerce Strategic Outlook, visit:

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