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File:US Coast Guard cutter.jpg

U.S. Coast Guard medium endurance cutter Vigilant (WMEC-617).

File:Canada Search and Rescue.jpg

A CH-149 Cormorant training with a Canadian Coast Guard cutter.

A coast guard is a member of a national organization responsible for various services at sea. However the term implies widely different responsibilities in different countries. Among the responsibilities that may be entrusted to a coast guard service are Maritime / Sea Rescue, enforcement of maritime law, maintenance of seamarks, border control, and other services. During wartime coast guards might be responsible for harbour defense, port security, naval counterintelligence and coastal patrols.

In some countries it is part of the military. In a few countries it is a civilian or even private sector organization. Most coast guards operate ships and aircraft including helicopters and seaplanes for this purpose.

In some countries (such as Ireland) the coast guard has a limited law enforcement role and is the co-ordinating agency for maritime rescue but enforcement powers are growing dealing with maritime safety law, i.e. the Marine Safety bill and the Merchant Shipping act, and has officially become part of the uniformed services and assistance may come from other organizations in the rescue role. In these cases, lifeboats may be provided by civilian voluntary organizations, such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, whilst aircraft may be provided by the countries' armed forces Aircorps and Naval service, in addition to any coast guard owned assets. In the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard has both law enforcement and military roles.

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