Some Tips and Tricks for Surviving Coast Guard Boot Camp

Image a shows a large group of coast guard trainees in uniform. Text reads: "Coast guard boot camp: what to know before you attend: expect to spend a total of 53 days in cape may, NJ. One of the first things you'll experience is a complete search of your personal possessions. Try to learn to swim before you leave for boot camp. Memoize coast guards ranks. Bring a copy of your marriage certificate. Bring $50 in cash in small bills to cover purchases during boot camp."

Image by Marina Li © The Balance 2019

Just like the Air Force and the Navy, the Coast Guard only has one location for enlisted boot camp: Cape May, New Jersey. Male and female recruits train together. Coast Guard boot camp is run just like any other military boot camp. Expect to spend a total of 53 days in Cape May.

Before You Leave for Coast Guard Boot Camp

One of the first things you'll experience at Cape May is a complete search of your personal possessions. Anything not approved will be confiscated and stored until after graduation. 

Set up a bank account (with an ATM card) before you leave. All of your military pay will be made by direct deposit. Bring $50 in cash in small bills to cover purchases during boot camp.

If you are married, bring a copy of your marriage certificate. This will be required to start up your housing allowance and to complete paperwork for your spouse's military ID card.

As with the other services, no smoking is allowed during boot camp.

If you don't know how to swim, try to learn before you leave for boot camp. Soon after you arrive, you'll be screened for swimming skills, and those that can't swim will have to undergo special instruction.

Memorize Coast Guard ranks before you leave. This will be one of the first things you'll be required to study. You'll also want to know the Coast Guard Core Values and your Basic Training chain of command.

Medication in Boot Camp

Over-the-counter medication is not allowed in basic training. If you bring any with you, it will be taken away. All prescription medication will be re-evaluated by a military doctor upon arrival.

If the doctor determines that the prescription is necessary, the civilian medication will be taken away, and the recruit will be re-issued the medication by the military pharmacy. This includes birth control pills.

Family Communication During Coast Guard Boot Camp

Before you leave home, tell your family that if an emergency arises (a real emergency, such as a death or serious illness in the immediate family) they should contact you through the Red Cross. Within three days of arriving, you'll be sending a preprinted postcard home that has your company address on it.

It's a good idea to call your family from the USO after you arrive. You are allowed to bring your cell phone, but you may not receive or make personal phone calls for granted liberty on Sunday of the final two weeks of training. Any future phone calls you make while in boot camp will be at the discretion of your Company Commander.

First Day at Coast Guard Boot Camp

No matter what time you arrive at Cape May, your first day will not end until about 0030 (12:30 a.m.). Once you hit the racks on that first night, you won't have much time for sleep. A Company Commander will be screaming and yelling at you at 0530 (5:30 a.m.).

You will begin your adventures with the Coast Guard upon arriving at Philadelphia International Airport. Once you arrive, you are required to retrieve your bags, then report immediately to the USO.

When the bus arrives at the Recruit Processing Center on Cape May, you will be greeted by your Company Commander (CC). It may not be the friendliest of greetings, but you'll know you've arrived.

Next, you'll begin the in-processing tasks. You'll be issued a book known as the "Helmsman," and anytime you are not actively doing something, the CCs will expect you to be reading this book. You'll spend your first hours of boot camp filling out forms and giving a urine to test for drugs and alcohol. Women will also be given a pregnancy test.

Virtually every task you're ordered to do is timed; five seconds to write a name on a tag, ten seconds to find the paperwork, etc. And a Company Commander provides cadence, like a countdown. If you make a mistake, you will be yelled at. It's that simple: mistake equals yelling. It's all part of the process to build a disciplined member of the Coast Guard.

In-Processing at Coast Guard Boot Camp

 The next two days will be spent filling out forms and getting military haircuts. You'll undergo medical and dental screenings, get a whole bunch of shots, and receive your first uniform issue. Anytime you're not actively doing something, you'll have your head buried in your Helmsman book. On the second day, you'll undergo a urinalysis test. 

You cannot wear contact lenses during basic training. You can only wear your civilian glasses until you receive a pair of military-issue glasses, which are what you'll wear for the majority of boot camp. Once you graduate from basic training, you can wear your civilian glasses again, as long as they conform to military dress and appearance regulations.

On the fourth day, your entire company will be escorted to meet your Company Commander and his/her assistants. This day starts your official boot camp training.

Coast Guard Boot Camp Week One

The first week will be the toughest. Just like the other military boot camps, you'll probably find that nobody does anything right during this first week of training. During this time, the CC is going to be evaluating everyone to hand out additional duties. Every day starts at 0530 (except Sundays when you get to sleep 15 minutes later), and lights out is at 2200 (10:00 p.m.).

During the first week, you'll be introduced to drill and begin (almost) daily physical exercises. Additionally, you'll undergo a class on the Uniform Code of Military Justice, where you will learn about punishable offenses.

In the Coast Guard, if you fall behind on training, you can be reverted. This means sending you back to another company several days (or weeks) behind your current unit This is the primary threat that CCs use to keep troops motivated. Like the other services, you can earn demerits when you do something wrong (the Coast Guard calls them performance indicators or performance trackers).

Coast Guard Boot Camp Weeks Two and Three

The serious classroom work begins during week two. You'll receive classes on military civil rights, stress management, the Coast Guard boot camp chain of command, rates and ranks, and addressing military personnel (Officers are called "Sir," or "Ma'am," enlisted are addressed by their rank and last name). You'll also take a survival float test.

During the third week, you'll get training in the Freedom of Information Act, deckhand protective equipment, sexual harassment, the Montgomery GI Bill, Coast Guard history, Coast Guard missions and traditions, deck seamanship, advancements, lines, knots and marlinspike, an introduction to the 9mm handgun.

Unlike the other military services, you won't get to fire the M-16 rifle in Coast Guard basic training, but you will get a chance to fire the 9mm during week four of your training. 

Coast Guard Boot Camp Week Four

During the fourth week, the training courses will include leave and liberty, rating and nonrating duties, classified material, uniform devices, vessels and aircraft, performance evaluations, and the assignment process. You'll also visit the 9mm handgun range and fire the M-9 handgun.

At the end of the fourth week, you'll take mid-term exams, covering everything you've learned to this point. If you fail the exam, you're allowed one re-test. If you fail the retest, expect to be "rephased" to learn it all over again.

Also during the fourth week, you'll take your PT test. If you fail this test, you'll be required to get up each day one hour before everyone else and attend the special training. If you cannot complete the requirements by the seventh week of training, you'll be reverted.

In order to graduate Coast Guard Boot Camp, you will have to meet the following physical standards:

Event Male Female
Push-ups (60 sec) 29 15
Sit-ups (60 sec) 38 32
Run (1.5 miles) 12:51 15:26
Sit and Reach 16.50" 19.29"
Complete a swim circuit
Tread water for 5 minutes

Jump off a 6-foot platform and swim 100 meters

About halfway through the fourth week, your company will finally get its company colors. To celebrate, the Company Commanders take the entire company down the beach for a few hours of incentive training exercises.

At the end of the fourth week, you will fill out an Assignment Data Card (ADC). This is how you tell the Coast Guard which assignment you want. You request your assignment first by geographic location, then type of unit (i.e. cutter, small boat station, patrol boat, etc.) 

Coast Guard Boot Camp Weeks Five and Six

In the fifth week, you'll learn about deck maintenance and painting, survival equipment, boat crew and buoyancy, Coast Guard terms, ethical conduct, personal floatation devices, emergency drills, emergency equipment, flags, and pennants, and you'll take a personal finance class.

At the end of the fifth week, you'll find out what your next duty station is going to be.

The week after that you'll get training in fire prevention, fire extinguishing methods, firefighting equipment, engineering, watchstanding, hose handling techniques, and career counseling.

Coast Guard Boot Camp Week Seven

During this week, you'll get training on heaving lines, line handling, and review the Coast Guard alcohol and drug policy.

The seventh week is the big one. This is the week of your final exam and final PT test for those who are in remedial PT training. You must pass both in order to graduate. If you fail either one, you get one retest. If you fail the retest, expect to be reverted to an earlier company to try again later.

If you pass your final exam and PT Test and haven't racked up performance indicators, at the end of week seven you'll get an eight-hour pass to go off base.

Graduation From Coast Guard Boot Camp

The final week is a breeze. You'll receive your assignment, and do the paperwork to prepare for graduation and departure. You'll receive some classes on first aid and prepare for your assignment.

Finally, on Friday morning, you'll march in the graduation parade.

During the graduation ceremony, awards will be presented. The Coast Guard awards the honor graduate ribbon to the top three percent of each graduating company. Individual awards are also given for the highest achievements in academics, seamanship, leadership, manual of arms proficiency, pistol expert fire, physical fitness and for the best shipmate.

The Coast Guard is different from the other military services, in that all of the out-processing (assignment) is done before graduation, so recruits are free to depart Cape May immediately after the graduation ceremony.