COAST GUARD SURFMAN BADGE

Stationed at just over ten percent of the United States Coast Guard’s 188 boat stations, Surfmen represent some of the service’s most highly trained and dedicated professionals. Surfman is the pinnacle of the five certifications available to boat-crew members, and Coast Guardsmen serving as Surfmen have already been certified as Coxswains—the most critical member of any boat crew. Indeed, they are the only Coxswains who’ve been qualified to operate rescue boats in the unforgivably treacherous, almost unnavigable areas where ocean surf is starting to break on shore.

The Surfman qualification traces its roots back to the U.S. Life-Saving Service, originally founded by the Massachusetts Humane Society in 1848 as a way to reduce the number of lives lost as a result of near-to-shore shipwrecks. Over twenty years of both successes and failures passed before a Treasury Department bureaucrat named Sumner Kimball was appointed chief of the Revenue Marine Division and spurred the establishment of a network of life-saving stations funded by the Federal government.

This network was organized as a distinct agency within the Treasury Department with the official title of U.S. Life-Saving Service in 1878, and in 1915, the “Act to Create the Coast Guard” merged it with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the basis of today’s Coast Guard.

Although Surfmen are required at just 20 of Coast Guard boat stations, the extremely challenging training and dangerous working conditions makes keeping the billets manned an uphill battle. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that only Boatswain’s Mates are eligible for entry into the Prospective Surfman Program (PSP) the Coast Guard uses to identify and choose those Boatswain’s Mates (BMs) who have a good chance of completing the rigorous training regimen.

The PSP has three training levels: Entry, Intermediate, and Advanced. Striking BMs or BM3s (Boatswain’s Mates Third Class) are only eligible to start their pursuit of the Surfman qualification at the Entry Level; Third and Second Class BMs who have been certified as Motor Lifeboat (MLB) Coxswains enter at the Intermediate Level, while BM2s and BM1s can start at the Advanced Level if they have achieved the MLB Heavy Weather Coxswain certification. To give you an idea of how extensive and grueling the Surfman training program is, BMs starting at the Intermediate training level must have at least four years of enlistment training left, and those beginning at the Advanced level need two years left on their contract.

Surfman qualification can be completed only at a Surf Station or at the National Motor Lifeboat School. Surf Stations are located where surf higher than eight feet takes place on at least ten percent of the days each year; of the 20 Surf Stations, 15 are found on the West coast.
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