COASTGUARD, a naval force maintained in Great Britain and Ireland to suppress smuggling, aid shipwrecked vessels and serve as a reserve to the navy. The coastguard was originally designed to prevent smuggling. Before 1816 this duty was entrusted to the revenue cutters, and to a body of "riding officers," mounted men who were frequently supported by detachments of dragoons. The crews of the cutters and the riding officers were under the authority of the custom house in London, and were appointed by the treasury. On the conclusion of the war with Napoleon in 1815 it was resolved to take stricter precautions against smuggling. A "coast blockade" was established in Kent and Sussex. The "Ramillies" (74) was stationed in the Downs and the "Hyperion" (42) at Newhaven. A number of half-pay naval lieutenants were appointed to these vessels, but were stationed with detachments of men and boats at the Martello towers erected along the coast as a defence against French invasion. They were known as the "preventive water guard" or the "preventive service." The crews of the boats were partly drawn from the revenue cutters, and partly hired from among men of all trades. The "coast blockade" was extended to all parts of the coast. The revenue cutters and the riding officers continued to be employed, and the whole force was under the direction of the custom house. The whole was divided into districts under the command of naval officers. In 1822 the elements of which the preventive water guard was composed were consolidated, and in 1829 it was ordered that only sailors or fishermen should be engaged as boatmen. In 1830 the whole service consisted of 50 revenue cutters, fine vessels of 150 and 200 tons, of the "preventive boats," and the riding officers. In 1831, during the administration of Sir James Graham, the service was transferred to the admiralty, though the custom house flag was used till 1857. After 1840 the men were drilled "in the common formations," mainly with a view to being employed for the maintenance of order and in support of the police, in case of Chartist or other agitations. But in 1845 the first steps were taken to utilize the coastguard as a reserve to the navy. The boatmen were required to sign an engagement to serve in the navy if called upon. In May 1857 the service was transferred entirely to the admiralty, and the coastguard became a part of the navy, using the navy flag. The districts were placed under captains of the navy, known as district captains, in command of ships stationed at points round the coast. Since that year the coastguard has been recruited from the navy, and has been required to do regular periods of drill at sea, on terms laid down by the admiralty from time to time. It has, in fact, been a form of naval reserve.
The rise and early history of the coastguard are told in Smuggling Days and Smuggling Ways, by the Hon. Henry N. Shore, R.N., (London, 1892). Its later history must be traced in the Queen's (and King's) Regulations and Admiralty Instructions of successive years.