The Birth of the Coast Guard Racing Stripe.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

It was October 19, 1956. The USCG Cutter Pontchartrain received a call from a distressed passenger aircraft en route from Hawaii to California. The Pan American Clipper had lost an engine and was about to lose another one. The aircraft could not make land. The Pontchartrain was on ocean station1 and had the time to respond with a two-mile long frosting of foam on the water. The plane made a water ditch and within minutes two of Pontchartrain’s small boats were at the rescue site. All of the passengers were rescued. It is believed that once safely on board, one of the survivors exclaimed “thank goodness for the Navy.” This situation as well as many others proved that the general public did to not recognize the Coast Guard.
Imagery was very important in 1961 to newly elected President John F. Kennedy. He began to remake the image of the president beginning with redecorating the White House interior and Lafayette Square. Kennedy called on a famous industrial designer, Raymond Loewy to redesign Air Force One. This successful redesign led to discussions to improve the visual image of the federal government.

In May 1963, Kennedy recommended the Coast Guard be the first to get an imagery over hall called the Integrated Visual Identification Program. The design firm of Raymond Loewy/William Snaith, Inc. was contracted to develop an identification device. The result was the color bar concept known as the diagonal racing stripe logo.
This new design was tested on cutters and facilities at the Coast Guards’ Seventh District in Florida. Cutters, buoy tender, vehicles and buildings at Base Miami all tested the new racing stripe logo. Helicopters and fix-winged aircrafts were also included in the test at North Carolina’s Air Station Elizabeth City. With the successful test and a few modifications to the logo and type-font, On 6 April 1967, Commandant Edwin Roland issued Instruction 5030.5 which ordered servicewide implementation of the Visual Identification System. The racing stripe logo became official and was added to all Coast Guard vehicles, buildings, stationary, signage, stations, cutters, boats and aircraft.
Eventually all assets in the Coast Guard adopted the new symbol. By 1975 the Coast Guards’ training ship, Eagle remained the last service asset without the racing stripe logo. The nation was preparing for a bicentennial celebration and the Eagle was to serve as the host ship of OpSail76. The Coast Guard leadership saw an opportunity to present the racing stripe logo which would distinguish the Eagle from all the other tall ships.

The racing stripe concept continues to be adopted in various colors by nations throughout the world. Today the racing stripe logo appears on all Coast Guard assets. You can see the stripe in different color configurations on white, black, silver, gray or red hulls of boats, ships, and aircraft. The stripe is also on buildings, signage, and printed materials. The racing stripe logo is quickly identified as belonging to the United States Coast Guard.
1Ocean Station refers to cutters stationed at sea.

Photos and Article by Robert Carlson-AUXPA1

References and further readings:

Beard, Tom. The Coast Guard-Foundation for Coast Guard History. Foundation for Coast Guard History Universe, 2010

Ostrom, Thomas P. USCG 1790 to the Present. Red Anvil Press, 2006.
Thiesen, William H. PhD. “The History of the “Racing Stripe” Emblem and Brand Part 1: The United States Coast Guard” Sea History p. 139, Summer 2012



  1. Tim Meroney, VSE, USCGAUX 64 says:

    The finest identifying logo anywhere! Semper Paratus!

  2. Rod says:

    As I recall, the USCG caught an awful lot of flak over putting the “racing stripe” on the EAGLE! Traditionalists were outraged! However, it has remained, and to me it sure makes the EAGLE stand out in her role as “America’s Tall Ship”! After all, Eagle is a USCG ship, and should be easily identified as such, making her easier to ID when In company with her sisterships (EAGLE is one of 3 nearly identical ships seized from the German Government after WW II.

  3. C Hague says:

    Great story. Raymond Loewy invented Industrial Design. He came up with designs for everything from toasters, to locomotives (PRR GG-1) to the Spacelab in his career. It is great that the Coast Guard “:racing stripe” came from him. CG units in other countries use a similar design.
    I jokingly tell people at our Public Affairs displays that “the Navy has more ships, bigger ships, more powerful ships — but Coast Guard ships are prettier.”

  4. Bob Brennan says:

    The Pan American Clipper is long gone but the Coast Guard will last forever.

  5. Brett Bigelow says:

    And a trivial note: the stripe is set at an angle of 64-degrees, a subtle acknowledgment to 1964 (the year the stripe was designed)

  6. Gerald Meunier says:

    Very interesting story.I bet we don’t get confused with being US Navy anymore.

  7. Charlie Jensen says:

    So it took seven years to figure out that a racing stripe would be beneficial ?

  8. Howard Brooks says:

    Great information. I was stationed on Pontchartrain in 1962. Great ship. Did 2 OS November’s.

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