Coast Guard Boot Camp

What to Expect at Coast Guard Boot Camp

Boot camp
Danny Lehman/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

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 (not live) together. Coast Guard boot camp is run just like any other military boot camp. Counting the half week you spend in "forming" (inprocessing), you'll spend a total of 53 days in Cape May.

Before You Leave for Coast Guard Boot Camp

  • Like the other services, there are things you can do in advance that will help you get ready. First, your recruiter should give you a list of what you can and cannot bring with you. If it ain't on the list, don't take it. 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. Anything on the Contraband list will cause you to wish you'd chosen another career.
  • Set up a bank account (with an ATM card) before you leave. All of your military pay will be made by direct deposit, and if you wait to arrive at Cape May to set up a bank account, Make sure you bring your bank account information with you. Bring $50 in cash in small bills to cover small 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 currently smoke, now would be a good time to stop. It's a lot easier to quit when you don't have the additional stresses of boot camp, then to wait until you are there.
  • Before leaving, you'll want to make sure you do not stand out in your personal appearance, lest you give the Company Commander a bad first impression. Women are required to keep their hair off the collar at all times when in uniform, so you may wish to consider cutting your hair short enough so it doesn't have to be put up.
  • Memorize your social security number as it will be your identification number and you'll use it for almost everything (Privacy Act permitting).
  • 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 General Advice: when in boot camp, it's always better not to require "special instruction" in anything.
  • Memorize Coast Guard ranks before you leave. This will be one of the first things you'll be required to study. It won't hurt at all to study and practice the fundamentals of . As a minimum, you should practice the military in front of a mirror until you can do it right without thinking about it. You'll also want to know the Coast Guard Core Values and your Basic Training chain of command.
  • Finally, your recruiter should have told you to memorize the .

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 (for women). Women are usually encouraged to continue taking birth control pills during basic training if they took them before going to basic, to ensure that their systems maintain their regular cycle.

I'm often asked what females do during their menstrual cycle at basic training. The answer is nothing different.

Pads and tampons are readily available. Bathroom breaks are given often enough that changing pads/tampons are not a problem. Many women report that they don't have a cycle during their entire time at basic training, due to the high levels of activity and stress.

Family Communication

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. Your family should know your full name, your social security number, and your company address. 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 until 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.

Your mailing address will be:

SR ________________
Recruit Company ____________ (assigned upon arrival)
Munro / Healy / James Hall (assigned upon arrival)
1 Munro Avenue
Cape May, NJ 08204-5083

Your First Day at Coast Guard Boot Camp

Get plenty of sleep in your last couple of days as a civilian. No matter what time you arrive at Cape May, your first day will not end until about 0030 (12:30 AM). 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 AM).

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

Enjoy the bus ride to Cape May. It is the last bit of freedom you will have for the next eight weeks. In the Coast Guard, the fun starts immediately when the bus arrives at the Recruit Processing Center on Cape May. As soon as the doors to the bus opens, you will be greeted by that unique military animal which wears a Smokey-the-Bear hat.In the Coast Guard, this screaming machine is known as a Company Commander.

The good news is that you will only keep this particular Company Commander for about three days -- long enough for the "forming" process. The bad news is that these three days does not count toward your total seven weeks and that the Company Commander you will meet for your actual training will be ten times worse.

As soon as you step off the bus, and the CC yells at you for a little while, you'll immediately begin the inprocessing tasks. You'll be issued a book known as the "Helmsman," and anytime you are not actively doing something, the CCs will expect your nose to be in the book. You'll spend your first hours of boot camp filling out forms and giving a urine to test for drugs and alcohol. Females 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 add stress to the training; to break down the civilian in order to build a self-disciplined member of the Coast Guard.


The next two days will be spent inprocessing. You'll fill out about a billion forms, and guys will get their heads shaved. You'll undergo medical and dental screenings, get a whole bunch of shots, receive your first uniform issue. Anytime you're not actively doing something, you'll have your head buried in your Helmsman book (if you know what's good for you). On the second day, you'll undergo a urinalysis test. According to a recent graduate, this is where the CCs began to really turn up the heat.

You cannot wear contact lenses during basic training. You also cannot wear your civilian glasses, once you have been issued your official government-issue glasses. GI glasses are not pretty to look at. In fact, most people call them "BC Glasses," or "birth control glasses," on the basis that nobody has ever been known to "get lucky" while wearing them. During your first couple of days of basic training, you'll undergo a complete eye examination. If you require glasses to have 20/20 vision, you will be issued BC Glasses (takes a few days after the examination to get them). BC Glasses have thick, hard plastic frames, with thick, hard plastic lenses (very hard to break). Once you receive them, they are the only glasses you are allowed to wear, while at basic training. Once you graduate basic training, you can wear your civilian glasses again, as long as they conform to military dress and appearance regulations.

Finally, on the 4th day, your entire company (about 50 to 60 men and women, although some "companies" have been known to be as large as 150 men and women) will be escorted to a room and you will meet your Company Commander and his/her assistants. This day starts your official boot camp training.

Boot Camp Week 1

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 (including leadership positions) later in the week. Every day starts at 0530 (except Sundays when you get to sleep 15 minutes later!), and lights out are at 2200 (10:00 PM).

You'll call your living area a squad ba. Just like any military boot camp, your squad bay will be ship-shape at all times.

Standing watches means that you get to spend significant amounts of time (which could otherwise be used for sleeping) guarding the squad bay to make sure someone doesn't steal it. You get to entertain yourself by listening to people snore or talk in their sleep.

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 and the different ways that the Coast Guard can punish you.

In the Coast Guard, if you fall behind on training, you can be reverted. This means setting you back to another company several days (or weeks) behind the company you are currently in. 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. Except the Coast Guard calls them performance indicators or performance trackers. Too many of them babies can get you reverted.

Boot Camp Week 2 and 3

The serious classroom work begins during week 2. During this week, 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 & last name). Additionally, you'll undergo a survival float test, to test your ability to stay afloat in the water. Of course, all of this is in addition to drill, physical conditioning, cleaning the squad bay, inspections, and just plain getting yelled at.

During the third week, you'll get training in the Freedom of Information Act, , Deck Hand Protective Equipment, Sexual Harassment, the Montgomery G I Bill, Coast Guard History, Coast Guard Missions and Traditions, Deck Seamanship, , Advancements (Promotions), Lines, Knots& Marlinspike, and 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 classroom training in the , and you'll get a chance to fire the 9mm during week four of your training. The Coast Guard takes 9mm training very seriously. Listen to everything you are taught. The slightest mistake in handling/shooting the 9mm can result in your being reverted in training. 

During the fourth week, the training will consist of 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.

Boot Camp Week 4: PT Test

Also during the 4th 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 then cannot complete the requirements by the 7th week of training, you'll be reverted.

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

Push-ups (60 sec)2915
Sit-ups (60 sec)3832
Run (1.5 mile )12:5115:26

Swimming Test: Jump off the six-foot platform into the pool, swim 100 meter, tread water for five minutes. Swimming on your back is not permitted.

About mid-week, during the fourth week, your company will finally get its company colors. Up until that point, your company wasn't worthy of carrying colors, so it marches around with a bare guideon. To celebrate, the Company Commanders take the entire company down the beach! Unfortunately, it's not for a BBQ and volleyball. While there, your company will do some serious Incentive Training (PT exercises designed by sadists), for about two to three hours.

At the end of the fourth week, you will fill out an Assignment Data Card (ADC), affectionately known as a "Dream Sheet." This is how you tell the Coast Guard what assignment you would like. You request your assignment first by geographic location, then type of unit (i.e. Cutter, Small Boat Station, Patrol Boat, etc.) The Coast Guard has a priority to fill certain billets as follows: Operational Afloat, Operational Ashore, Operations Support, and finally General Support. Therefore, 85% of all recruits usually find their first duty station is Operational Afloat (usually a Cutter).

Boot Camp Week 5 and 6

In the fifth week, the training will consist of Deck Maintenance & Painting, Survival Equipment, Boat Crew and Buoyancy, Coast Guard Terms Ethical Conduct, Personal Floatation Devices, Personal Finance Class, Flags & Pennants, Emergency Drills, Emergency Equipment, and Fire Terminology. At the end of the fifth week, you'll also 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.

Boot Camp Week 7 - Final Exam

By week seven, it's almost over, and you'll note that the Company Commanders seem almost (almost -- but not quite) friendly toward you. You're no longer a raw recruit, and -- by this time -- should be showing some evidence of self-discipline. During this week, you'll get training on Heaving Lines, Line Handling, and 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.

Assuming you pass your final exam and PT Test and haven't racked up too many performance indicators, at the end of week seven you'll get an 8-hour pass to go off base.

Final Week - Graduation

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 Introduction, First Aid Initial Care, and Preparation for Assignment. Finally, on Friday morning at 1100 (11:00 AM), you'll march in that 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 (standings determined by written tests, instructor evaluations, PT scores, and performance in practical exercises). Additionally, individual awards are also given for the highest academic, seamanship, leadership, best shipmate, manual of arms proficiency, pistol expert fire, and physical fitness achievements.

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