Port Security Unit

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A USCG PSU boat patrolling in Umm Qasr, Iraq

United States Coast Guard Port Security Units are deployable specialized units organized for sustained force protection operations. They can deploy within 96 hours and establish operations within 24 hours of arrival. PSUs conduct OCONUS port security in support of requesting regional Combatant commander. They provide Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection missions which include harbor and port defense, Humanitarian aid, coastal surveillance, and special missions. PSUs usually operate in U.S. territorial waters under the direction of the Coast Guard's command, but can quickly be called upon the Department of Defense request.

A Coast Guardsman with Port Security Unit 305 stands the watch in a battle position.

PSUs often operate and integrate with other NECC elements, such as Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadrons (MSRONs) within a Maritime Expeditionary Security Group. This makes PSU's unique as they are the only Coast Guard unit supports and can be quickly requested and by the Department of Defense control. Providing port/waterside protection to key assets (e.g. pier areas, high-value vessels, harbor entrances) at the termination/origination point of the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs).

PSU's originally were part of the Coast Guard's Deployable Operations Group (DOG) until the DOG was decommissioned; PSUs are now a part of the reorganized Deployable Specialized Forces.


US Coast Guard Transportable Port Security Unit 311

The Port Security program of the Coast Guard began with the passage of the Espionage Act of 1917 and due to the Black Tom explosion. Coast Guard's Captain of the Port (COTPs) were given responsibility for the security of port areas under this act. During World War I, port security operations were conducted by active duty personnel.

After the war, interest in port security waned until pictures of burning ships visible from US shores as the country entered World War II rekindled media and public attention. The Temporary Reserve was created and made up of armed volunteers under command of the COTP. Over 125,000 citizens would eventually serve as Temporary Reserves.

During the early 1980s, The DoD planners formally identified the need for port security forces in OCONUS seaports. Dialogue began between the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard, and the concept of the deployable Port Security Unit (PSU) was born. In January 1985 the Commandant approved three national PSUs to respond to the requirements of DoD operations plans. The three units were located in Coast Guard Ninth District at Buffalo, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In addition to their most recent support of homeland security operations around the country, PSUs were first deployed to the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm in 1990. They also served in Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy in 1994 and more recently responded to Port-au-Prince, Haiti immediately after the devastating 2010 earthquake. In December 2000, PSU 309 from Port Clinton, Ohio was deployed to the Middle East to provide vital force protection for the Navy assets following the attack on the USS Cole.


Port Security Enlisted Qualification Badge

There are two insignias for PSU members, the pewter color insignia is for enlisted members and gold color insignia is for officers. It is only earned by a small number of Coast Guardsmen (approx. 1%), and is primarily a Coast Guard Reserve decoration.

The design for the pin was developed in 1991 by Reserve Coast Guardsman, Storekeeper First Class Terry D. Jelcick while sitting on his bunk at Batar Camp, Dammam, Saudi Arabia in the evenings after work. Jelcick is now retired and is a former member of PSU 312 based in San Francisco, California.

The parts of the insignia are

  • CG shield represents the Coast Guard authority.
  • Trident represents maritime defense, expeditionary, and victory.
  • Crossed swords represents PSUs operate in joint military environments.
  • Two seahorses back-to-back represents mobility.
  • Waves represents our seagoing heritage.


PSU's are the Coast Guard's expeditionary forces and are a quick response force capable of rapid worldwide deployment. They provide security for forward deployed base camps and ports around the world where needed. Some of the units capabilities include but are not limited to, Physical Security, Anti-Piracy, Maritime Interdiction, CBRN defense, Military Combat Operations, Humanitarian Response. Point defense of strategic shipping, designated critical infrastructure, and high value assets.

PSU's are the only Coast Guard element that provide ground combat security capability to the Coast Guard.


Each PSU has 6 fast and maneuverable 32' Transportable Port Security Boats (TPSBs). The PSU has a large suite of weapons available compared to most Coast Guard units. Each unit is outfitted with spare material, pick-up trucks, boat trailers, transportable kitchens, tents, and DoD-compatible radios. They maintain an inventory of equipment and spare parts to sustain operations for up to 90 days. Ongoing logistics support provides routine replenishment. All personnel have required individual gear for field operations.


Each PSU is staffed by 140 reservists and 6 active duty personnel (one officer and 5 first-class petty officers). The officer may or may not be a reservist. Personnel prepare for contingency operations during weekend drills and normally participate in either an exercise or specialized training during two weeks of annual active duty.

Port Security Units, consist of 8 units:

Transportable Bort Security Boats attached to Port Security Unit 308, at Camp Lejeune in 2012

PSUs may operate independently or support, train or integrate with other units, such as:

Boat Division[edit]

PSU 309 protecting the port at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Port Security Unit 305, extract Marine Security Forces Company during a joint training exercise.

PSUs are equipped with six Kvichak (Vigor) 32' Transportable Port Security Boats (TPSBs) (four operational, one in maintenance, one pre-staged theater spare); which are the fourth generation of the Transportable Security Boats (TPSB) used by the Coast Guard for the port security mission. These boats are armed with three mounted machine guns, in addition to the crew's personal weapons.

The mission of the TPSBs is to provide waterside protection to key high value assets (HVA) such as U.S. warships and military supply vessels in foreign ports and may include the port, harbor or pier itself. Through the use of vigilant escort and patrol techniques, the HVA is protected from asymmetrical threats such as assaults by small boats or swimmers.

Each TPSB is crewed by 3-4 enlisted personnel, usually consist of Boatswain's Mates, Gunner's Mate, Machinery Technicians, and Maritime Law Enforcement Specialists

Members of PSUs use a variety of light and crew-served weapons.

The Weapons Division ensures that the unit is properly armed, equipped and trained for exercises, operations or incidents that the PSU may respond to. The Weapons Division consists of a Weapons Officer (WEPO), a Gunner's Mate First Class (GM1), and two or three Third Class Gunner's Mates (GM3s).

The division maintains a variety of weaponry, including the .50 caliber M2 Machine Gun, 7.62mm M240B Machine Gun, M4 Carbine, M16A2 Rifle, 12 Gauge Remington 870 shotgun (lethal and non-lethal), 40mm M203 grenade launcher, and the .40 S&W SIG Sauer P229R DAK USCG service pistol.

Security Division[edit]

Members of Coast Guard PSU 307 from Clearwater, Florida. (Photographed in Ash Shuaiba, Kuwait, on March 26, 2004)
Coast Guardsmen training at Fort Dix with the U.S. Army.

The Security Division is the ground element of the PSU's. Often tasked to not only provide protection to vessels in security zones and pier areas but also to provide security for internal unit functions such as the command center, communications center, berthing areas, entry control points (ECP), vehicle control points (VCP) and traffic control/vehicle movement.

The Security Division's mission is to provide security and are responsible to protect, defend, and potentially fight to enable U.S. Coast Guard, Joint, and Coalition mission success. They as well are assisting the Joint Rear Area Commander's security forces in protecting joint command areas.

The PSU Security Division consists of 40 Maritime Enforcement Specialists (ME's) led by the unit security officer. It is subdivided into squads with 3 four-person fireteams each. Each squad and fireteam has a designated squad or fireteam leader.

Besides general expertise in the missions listed above, security personnel are also trained in defensive position construction, individual movement and patrolling, and assorted weaponry training including with the M4 Carbine, .40 S&W SIG Sauer P229R DAK Service Pistol, 40mm M203 grenade launcher, 12 Gauge Remington 870 shotgun, 7.62mm M240B Machine Gun and .50 caliber M2 Machine Gun.


Port Security Unit 313 Everett, Washington
Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Unit 206 works with, Seabees, and PSU 307 to provide harbor security.

PSUs are capable of worldwide deployment in national defense regional contingency environments. PSUs conduct layered defensive operations to protect high-value assets within the protected waters of a port or harbor. Operating environments include operations from shore sites, barges or other moored platforms (including oil platforms).

PSUs will normally operate independently, but may operate with U.S. Navy Naval Expeditionary Combat Command. PSUs are capable of conducting continuous boat operations with three or four boats underway simultaneously. An additional boat will be crewed and mechanically ready at all times as a ready response boat. The remainder of the boats may be undergoing maintenance or repair or used for spares. Boat hulls can be expected on station (not including transit and maintenance time) 18 hours per day when more than one boat is undergoing maintenance. During high threat conditions, PSUs are capable of conducting continuous operations with four operational boats for a maximum period of 24 hours.

Maximum expected boat crew underway period is 8 to 10 hours (with breaks when able) in any 24-hour period. Sufficient personnel have been assigned to provide a three or four section watch rotation for each of the teams (boat crews for three boats, unit security teams, C3 staff) that are required to be crewed continuously. This operating tempo can be maintained for 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The operation area may extend to the sea buoy if environmental conditions permit. PSU boats are fully mission capable when operating in less than 2-foot (0.61 m) seas and 30-knot (56 km/h) winds. If necessary, PSU boats may operate in up to 4-foot (1.2 m) seas for less than 1 hour with a severely degraded mission capability.

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