Know Your Military

Coast Guard Maintains Maritime Navigation Network

March 29, 2019 | BY Claudette Roulo

In addition to coastal defense and maritime law enforcement, one of the Coast Guard’s many responsibilities is to maintain the nationwide network of maritime navigational aids.

A Coast Guardsman in a blue jumpsuit works on a rack of large batteries.
Battery Service
Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Geoffrey Cote, from Aids to Navigation Team San Francisco, services the batteries on Alcatraz Light in San Francisco Bay, Feb. 27, 2019.
Photo By: Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Marcelino Ortiz
VIRIN: 190227-G-ZZ999-221E
Overview of Coast Guard deck as a yellow buoy is lowered into the water.
Bay Preparation
The crew from the Coast Guard cutter George Cobb, a 175-foot buoy tender homeported in Long Beach, Calif., sets a buoy in San Francisco Bay in preparation for Fleet Week, Oct. 5, 2011. Navy Blue Angels pilots used the buoys as coordinates for the Fleet Week air show.
Photo By: Coast Guard Petty Officer Pamela J. Boehland
VIRIN: 111005-G-BI776-254

These aids to navigation, or ATONs, include about 50,000 lighthouses, beacons and buoys marking more than 25,000 miles of navigable channels and 95,000 miles of shoreline in the United States and its territories, according to Coast Guard figures. Some of these aids are brand-new (more are added all the time), while others — like the Alcatraz Light in San Francisco Bay — are more than 100 years old.

One thing they all have in common, though, is that they need to be maintained. In addition to routine maintenance, the Coast Guard’s ATON teams are part of the initial response in the wake of natural disasters like hurricanes and floods. Their work protects maritime first responders, civilian boaters and the Marine Transportation System — which supported about $4.6 trillion in economic activity in 2017.

Eight Coast Guardsmen pose with an orange buoy.
Ready Crew
Members from the Aids to Navigation Team Astoria take time for a group photo in the buoy yard at the Coast Guard facility at Tongue Point in Astoria, Oregon, Mar. 23, 2017. The ANT’s area of responsibility includes Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay in Washington, Tillamook Bay and Nehalem Bay on the Oregon coast and up the Columbia River to Portland.
Photo By: Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Zac Crawford
VIRIN: 170323-G-AV652-072
Coast Guardsmen lower a green buoy onto the deck of their boat.
Erie Team
Coast Guardsmen from Aids to Navigation Team Detroit prepare to place Middle Harbor Shoal Lighted Buoy 1 into Lake Erie, April 19, 2012. The team removes roughly 150 buoys from Lake Erie each fall to minimize damage caused by freezing. Coast Guardsmen replace most of the buoys with more durable winter markers, and switch them back in the spring during Operation Spring Restore.
Photo By: Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Lauren Jorgensen
VIRIN: 120419-G-JG957-044

Click here to learn about Alcatraz Light and the work of the Coast Guard’s San Francisco aids to navigation team.

Video by Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory Mendenhall