Joining the Coast Guard Reserve

Coast Guard Reserve patrols waters in Delaware
Coast Guard Reserve members assigned to Station Indian River, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, patrol the waters of Lewes, Delaware, in a 24-foot Special Purpose Craft-Shallow Water, April 20, 2018. (Petty Officer 1st Class Seth Johnson/U.S. Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard Reserve has operated since 1939 when it served as an organization of boat owners to promote boating safety. During World War II, the present Coast Guard Reserve was established as a military service, and by the end of the war, there were 144,000 Coast Guard Reservists.

The Reserve has served in every major conflict and intervention since. It serves a vital role in assisting the active Coast Guard in a variety of demanding missions, such as sea-lane drug interdiction, search and rescue, and law enforcement.

What Does It Take to Join the Coast Guard Reserve?

Here are a few general guidelines if you are interested in joining the Coast Guard Reserve. First-time enlistees must:

  • Be between 17 and 40 to enter without specialized professional skills. Prior-service personnel should contact their local recruiter for specific programs.
  • Have a high school diploma, although in some instances, GED certificates can be accepted.
  • Pass a physical.
  • Be physically fit.
  • Be able to swim (or be willing to learn).
  • Take and pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, which will determine career paths available for consideration. For tips on doing well on the ASVAB, see the Ace the ASVAB section.
  • For more on general Reserve benefits and pay, see the Reserve Help Pages.

Joining the Coast Guard Reserve

The Coast Guard offers a variety of ways to join, no matter what stage of life you are in.

Student Reserve Program --If you're still in school (high school seniors, college or vocational) and are between the ages of 17 and 28, the Student Reserve Program lets you join the Coast Guard Reserve without interrupting your schooling. You'll train for two summers and serve one weekend a month during the school year. (You'll be paid for your weekend duty.) After training, you'll put your newly acquired skills to use one weekend a month.

Petty Officer Selectee Program -- If you have no prior service and you're age 17 through 27, you may qualify for our Petty Officer Selectee Program. You'll take about 30 weeks of basic and advanced training -- including specific training in your chosen skill. And your schooling is guaranteed before you return to civilian life.

Direct Petty Officer Program -- If you're older (26-35) with a skill and have no prior military experience, you may be eligible to take advantage of our Direct Petty Officer Program. This lets you enter the Coast Guard Reserve directly as a petty officer, with immediate responsibility and the pay that goes along with it.

Prior Service Program -- If you have prior military service and meet our age requirements, you may qualify for our Prior Service Program. Depending on your specialty held while in the service, you may enlist at the same rate previously held on active duty. Many veterans choose this Prior Service Program to finish out their 20 years of service for added retirement benefits.

What is the Coast Guard Reserve experience?

The Coast Guard Reserve offers four drill status options. These options let you decide on the amount of time spent in the active Reserves and in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR).

Drills -- A drill consists of two days of training per month. Your pay will be adjusted automatically for cost-of-living increases. You'll get pay increases for every two years of accumulated service and may earn special-duty pay. To calculate your drill pay, visit the Drill Pay Charts.

Annual training -- Annual training in the Coast Guard Reserve is held for two weeks per year. Depending on the unit and your specialty, you could be stationed at a shore location, with an aviation squadron or aboard ship.

Travel -- As a member of the Coast Guard Reserve, you will have the opportunity to travel on and off duty. You also qualify for military space-available travel within and between the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico. For more on military travel options and benefits, see the Travel Center.

Life insurance, medical care -- The Coast Guard Reserve provides comprehensive medical care while on duty. You also qualify for low-cost life insurance. For more on these and other benefits visit the Benefits section.

VA Home Loan Program -- Members of the Coast Guard Reserve with at least six years of service are eligible to apply for the Department of Veterans Affairs Home Loan Guaranty program. For more on this program, go to the Home Ownership section.

Base privileges -- As a member, you can access all recreational facilities on military bases, such as gyms, tennis courts and libraries. You and your family can enjoy unlimited access shopping at any Military Exchange nationwide. Coast Guard Reserve members and their families are entitled to use base commissaries.

GI Bill for Selected Reserve -- Depending on your eligibility, the GI Bill allows you to attend school full time while serving in the Reserve and get full tuition and stipends. That's in addition to your Reserve paycheck and any other Reserve educational benefits you may be eligible to receive. For more on the GI Bill for Reservists, go to the GI Bill resource section.

Tuition assistance -- The Reserve offers you tuition assistance. You can be reimbursed up to 100% tuition assistance up to $250 per semester hour, or $166 per quarter hour, not to exceed $4,500 annually per service member. For more on this program, see the Tuition Assistance Overview.

College credits by exam -- Members of the Reserve can take advantage of free College Level Examination Program tests (CLEP). For every test you pass on a particular subject, you earn up to six transferable college credits.

Voluntary education -- Most Coast Guard commands have education service officers who help Coast Guardsmen identify their goals and determine how best to reach them. The Coast Guard Institute manages the voluntary education programs that include education counseling, CLEP testing, tuition assistance, free college transcripts and academic degree planning. Learn more about Coast Guard Voluntary Education Programs.

Interested in Joining the Military?

We can put you in touch with recruiters from the different military branches. Learn about the benefits of serving your country, paying for school, military career paths and more: sign up now and hear from a recruiter near you.

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