Authorized by Commandant James S. Gracey in 1984, the Coast Guard Sea Service Ribbon was intended to encourage and reward service at sea, a critical part of Gracey’s vision to maintain the service in the front lines of national defense. Both active and inactive duty members of the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Reserve are eligible for the award, as are non-Coast Guard personnel. For the initial awarding of the ribbon, these personnel must complete a minimum of twelve months of cumulative sea duty, whether or permanent or temporary assignment.
Sea duty, however, does not include any foray into ocean waters on just any Coast Guard vessel. Only time spent aboard a commissioned Coast Guard cutter, on assignment to an Afloat Training Group, or aboard specific vessels under official Coast Guard orders counts toward the twelve-month minimum. Examples of the last class of vessels include those used by Tactical Law Enforcement Teams (TACLETs) or Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs), as well as vessels in the U.S. Navy that are part of the Navy Exchange Program.
Members are eligible to receive more than one Sea Service Ribbon, but acquiring subsequent awards is harder than earning the first one—three times harder, to be precise. A bronze service star is authorized for wear following each addition three-year period of qualifying sea duty, and a silver star is worn in lieu of five bronze stars; a ribbon with a single silver star indicates six total awards.