You Can Tell The Job of U.S. Coast Guard Vessels By the Color of Their Hull

The U.S. Coast Guard classifies and color-codes its cutters by function and size. The “white hull” ships, which are the largest group of cutters, are the ones most people associate with the Coast Guard because they're the ones dispatched for search and rescue. They also patrol for drug and migrant interception, protection of marine resources, and waterway and coastal security. The “black hull” ships, which are the most important group, maintain the ATON (Aids to Navigation) system — which includes buoys, beacons, and lighthouses — to provide the safe and efficient movement of vessels while preventing collisions and groundings at sea. The “red hull” ships are the icebreakers of the fleet and are painted red to make them more noticeable in ice-covered waters. The red hull ships are capable of breaking 4½ feet of ice continuously at 3 knots and can operate in temperatures as low as -50º F. Whether they’re protecting our nation’s ports, conducting search and rescue missions, or stopping illegal drug smugglers in their tracks, members of the U.S. Coast Guard do a surprising number of tasks that are crucial to keeping U.S. waterways safe.