In COMDTINST M16798.3E, Auxiliary Operations Policy Manual, you’ll find that while the mandated crew size for a vessel in the Coast Guard Auxiliary depends on its length, one thing is constant: all crews have a Coxswain. Just as in the Coast Guard, Coxswain are the single most important component of any Coast Guard crew, maintaining exclusive and complete responsibility for the safety of the crew members and the safe operation of the facility, i.e., boat. All Auxiliarists must conduct themselves in accordance with (and within the boundaries of) the Coxswain’s orders, and the only time Coxswains delegate authority to any other crewmembers is if they are physically unable to continue a mission.

Along with Crew Member and Personal Watercraft Operator, Coxswain is one of just three crewmember qualifications in the Auxiliary. COMDTINST M16794.53A, Auxiliary Boat Crew Qualification Guide, Volume II: Coxswain, lays out the process by which Auxiliarists can earn this prized qualification. Working with an assigned mentor, the Coxswain trainee first reads informational and reference material related to a qualification task (or a series of related qualification tasks). The trainee then reviews the material with the mentor, who provides a hands-on demonstration of how the task is to be approached and performed. With this knowledge in hand, the trainee practices the task under the guidance of the mentor; when the trainee displays the ability to complete the task according to standards without outside assistance, the mentor signs off on it and moves to a new one.

There are nearly sixty-five tasks associated with the Coxswain qualification divided into two categories, Inport and Underway. Some are highly specific, such as “State The Procedures To Follow If Engine Will Not Start,” while others are more complex and require considerable amounts of practice, like “Pilot A Boat Using Dead Reckoning Techniques” or “Take A Boat In Alongside Tow.”

Successfully completing all these tasks is a significant accomplishment in and of itself, but it is all for naught if the trainee falters when his learning and skills are tested by a Qualification Examiner, or QE. First, the QE conducts a dockside oral examination to ensure the trainee has retained the substantial information he has acquired over the preceding months, then heads out with the trainee for an underway check ride. Successfully passing these two hurdles means that Trainees are qualified as Coxswains, and will receive official certification from the Director of the Auxiliary, a Coast Guard officer who has the rank of Commander.

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