TITLE 14 - COAST GUARD
PART I - REGULAR COAST GUARD
CHAPTER 5 - FUNCTIONS AND POWERS
Sec. 88. Saving life and property
(a) In order to render aid to distressed persons, vessels, and
aircraft on and under the high seas and on and under the waters
over which the United States has jurisdiction and in order to
render aid to persons and property imperiled by flood, the Coast
(1) perform any and all acts necessary to rescue and aid
persons and protect and save property;
(2) take charge of and protect all property saved from marine
or aircraft disasters, or floods, at which the Coast Guard is
present, until such property is claimed by persons legally
authorized to receive it or until otherwise disposed of in
accordance with law or applicable regulations, and care for
bodies of those who may have perished in such catastrophes;
(3) furnish clothing, food, lodging, medicines, and other
necessary supplies and services to persons succored by the Coast
(4) destroy or tow into port sunken or floating dangers to
(b)(1) Subject to paragraph (2), the Coast Guard may render aid
to persons and protect and save property at any time and at any
place at which Coast Guard facilities and personnel are available
and can be effectively utilized.
(2) The Commandant shall make full use of all available and
qualified resources, including the Coast Guard Auxiliary and
individuals licensed by the Secretary pursuant to section 8904(b)
of title 46, United States Code, in rendering aid under this
subsection in nonemergency cases.
(c) An individual who knowingly and willfully communicates a
false distress message to the Coast Guard or causes the Coast Guard
to attempt to save lives and property when no help is needed is -
(1) guilty of a class D felony;
(2) subject to a civil penalty of not more than $5,000; and
(3) liable for all costs the Coast Guard incurs as a result of
the individual's action.
(d) The Secretary shall establish a helicopter rescue swimming
program for the purpose of training selected Coast Guard personnel
in rescue swimming skills, which may include rescue diver training.
(Aug. 4, 1949, ch. 393, 63 Stat. 501; Pub. L. 91-278, Sec. 1(3),
June 12, 1970, 84 Stat. 304; Pub. L. 100-448, Sec. 30(a), Sept. 28,
1988, 102 Stat. 1849; Pub. L. 101-595, title IV, Sec. 401, Nov. 16,
1990, 104 Stat. 2989; Pub. L. 104-324, title II, Sec. 213(a), Oct.
19, 1996, 110 Stat. 3915.)
HISTORICAL AND REVISION NOTES
Derived from title 14, U.S.C., 1946 ed., Secs. 29, 53, 55, 60,
61, 62, 63, 104, and title 34, U.S.C., 1946 ed., Sec. 471 (R.S.
1536, R.S. 2759; June 18, 1878, ch. 265, Sec. 4, 20 Stat. 163; Apr.
19, 1906, ch. 1640, Secs. 1-3, 34 Stat. 123; May 12, 1906, ch.
2454, 34 Stat. 190; June 24, 1914, ch. 124, 38 Stat. 387; Aug. 29,
1916, ch. 417, 39 Stat. 601; Aug. 6, 1947, ch. 502, 61 Stat. 786).
This section broadens existing law in that it authorizes the
Coast Guard to engage in saving life and property in the broadest
possible terms, without limitation as to place. This section
reflects existing sentiment as to Coast Guard functions in relation
to saving life and property. There is no intention to supersede or
conflict with the present authority of the Civil Aeronautics Board
to investigate certain aircraft wrecks. 81st Congress, House Report
1996 - Subsec. (d). Pub. L. 104-324 added subsec. (d).
1990 - Subsec. (c). Pub. L. 101-595 added subsec. (c).
1988 - Subsec. (b). Pub. L. 100-448 designated existing
provisions as par. (1), substituted "Subject to paragraph (2), the
Coast Guard" for "The Coast Guard", and added par. (2).
1970 - Subsec. (a). Pub. L. 91-278 substituted "on and under the
high seas and on and under the waters" for "on the high seas and on
waters" in introductory text.
TRANSFER OF FUNCTIONS
For transfer of authorities, functions, personnel, and assets of
the Coast Guard, including the authorities and functions of the
Secretary of Transportation relating thereto, to the Department of
Homeland Security, and for treatment of related references, see
sections 468(b), 551(d), 552(d), and 557 of Title 6, Domestic
Security, and the Department of Homeland Security Reorganization
Plan of November 25, 2002, as modified, set out as a note under
section 542 of Title 6.
MODERNIZATION OF NATIONAL DISTRESS AND RESPONSE SYSTEM
Pub. L. 107-295, title III, Sec. 346, Nov. 25, 2002, 116 Stat.
2107, provided that:
"(a) Report. - The Secretary of the department in which the Coast
Guard is operating shall prepare a status report on the
modernization of the National Distress and Response System and
transmit the report, not later than 60 days after the date of
enactment of this Act [Nov. 25, 2002] and annually thereafter until
completion of the project, to the Committee on Commerce, Science,
and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on
Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives.
"(b) Contents. - The report required by subsection (a) shall -
"(1) set forth the scope of the modernization, the schedule for
completion of the System, and information on progress in meeting
the schedule and on any anticipated delays;
"(2) specify the funding expended to-date on the System, the
funding required to complete the System, and the purposes for
which the funds were or will be expended;
"(3) describe and map the existing public and private
communications coverage throughout the waters of the coastal and
internal regions of the continental United States, Alaska,
Hawaii, Guam, and the Caribbean, and identify locations that
possess direction-finding, asset-tracking communications, and
digital selective calling service;
"(4) identify areas of high risk to boaters and Coast Guard
personnel due to communications gaps;
"(5) specify steps taken by the Secretary to fill existing gaps
in coverage, including obtaining direction-finding equipment,
digital recording systems, asset-tracking communications, use of
commercial VHF services, and digital selective calling services
that meet or exceed Global Maritime Distress and Safety System
requirements adopted under the International Convention for the
Safety of Life at Sea [see 33 U.S.C. 1602 and notes thereunder];
"(6) identify the number of VHF-FM radios equipped with digital
selective calling sold to United States boaters;
"(7) list all reported marine accidents, casualties, and
fatalities occurring in areas with existing communications gaps
or failures, including incidents associated with gaps in VHF-FM
coverage or digital selected calling capabilities and failures
associated with inadequate communications equipment aboard the
involved vessels during calendar years 1997 and thereafter;
"(8) identify existing systems available to close all
identified marine safety gaps before January 1, 2003, including
expeditious receipt and response by appropriate Coast Guard
operations centers to VHF-FM digital selective calling distress
"(9) identify actions taken to-date to implement the
recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board in
its Report No. MAR-99-01."
HELICOPTER RESCUE SWIMMING PROGRAM
Pub. L. 98-557, Sec. 9, Oct. 30, 1984, 98 Stat. 2862, required
Secretary of department in which Coast Guard was operating to use
such sums as necessary, from amounts appropriated for operation and
maintenance of Coast Guard, to establish helicopter rescue swimming
program for purpose of training selected Coast Guard personnel in
rescue swimming skills, prior to repeal by Pub. L. 104-324, title
II, Sec. 213(b), Oct. 19, 1996, 110 Stat. 3915.
COAST GUARD POLICIES AND PROCEDURES FOR TOWING AND SALVAGE OF
DISABLED VESSELS FOR MINIMIZATION OF COAST GUARD COMPETITION OR
INTERFERENCE WITH COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISE
Pub. L. 97-322, title I, Sec. 113, Oct. 15, 1982, 96 Stat. 1585,
as amended by Pub. L. 100-448, Sec. 30(b), Sept. 28, 1988, 102
Stat. 1850, provided that: "The Commandant of the Coast Guard shall
review Coast Guard policies and procedures for towing and salvage
of disabled vessels in order to further minimize the possibility of
Coast Guard competition or interference (other than by the Coast
Guard Auxiliary) with private towing activities or other commercial
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