The Revenue Cutter Service classified all of its vessels US Revenue Cutters (USRC)
They were divided into classes with the largest cutters referred to as Cutters of the First Class
There were Cutters of the Second Class and Cutters of the Third Class
The smallest vessels were Launches
The Lighhthouse Service classified all of its vessels US Light House Tenders (USLHT)
From 1915 to 1920 the Coast Guard used the following classifications:
The largest cutters were Cruising Cutters
Medium sized cutters were Harbor Cutters
The smallest cutters were Launches
In 1920, the Cruising Cutter Class was divided
The largest sea-going cutters remained classified as Cruising Cutters
Smaller cutters that patrolled the coast were reclassified Inland Patrol Cutters
Harbor Cutters remained classified as Harbor Cutters
Ships acquired from the Navy had “Coast Guard” added to their classification (Coast Guard Destroyer)
In 1925 the classification scheme changed again
Sea-going cutters were reclassified as Cruising Cutters First Class
Inland Patrol Cutters were reclassified as Cruising Cutters Second Class
A new classification, Patrol Boat, was introduced for the new cutters designed to enforce Prohibition
In 1942, the Coast Guard adopted the Navy classification system with W added.
Major cutters were Patrol Gunboats (WPG).
Medium cutters were Coastal Patrol Craft (WPC/WSC).
Small cutters were Patrol Boats (WPB).
All buoy tenders were WAGL.
All ice breakers were WAGB.
All ships acquired from the Navy had W inserted before their Navy classification. (WAT, WAVP, etc).
All vessels over 65′ were considered “Cutters”.
Vessels under 65 feet were classified as utility boats (UTB).
Self rightable vessels were classified as Motor Lifeboats (MLB).
In 1967 the Coast Guard established its own independent classification system.
Large cutters are High Endurance Cutters (WHEC).
Medium cutters are Medium Endurance Cutters (WMEC).
Small cutters are Patrol Boats (WPB).
Ocean going buoy tenders are WLB.
Coastal buoy tenders are WLM.
River buoy tenders are WLR.
Inland buoy tenders are WLI.
Inland consruction tenders are WLIC.
Ice breakers are WAGB.
All vessels over 65′ are considered “Cutters”.
Vessels under 65 feet are utility boats (UTB).
Self rightable vessels are Motor Lifeboats (MLB).
Aside from this formal classification system, most cutters have been traditionally refered to by their length.
The 378′ WHECs are called 378s.
There are also 40s, 41s, 44s, 65s, 82s, 95s, 110s, 140s, 165s, 180s, 210s, etc.
One-of-a-kind cutters are referred to by name.
CGC Storis is Storis.
Finally, the cutters are often collectively referred to by hull color.
HECs and MECs are referred to as White Hulls or The Big White Ones
All tenders and tugs are referred to as Black Hulls or The Working Fleet
Polar icebreakers are referred to as Red Hulls.
In 2008 the 418′ Maritime Security Cutter Large (WMSL) joined the Fleet.
They are the Legends Class – named for legendary figures in CG history.
They are not refered to by length.
They are called National Security Cutters or “Wimsels”.
In 2011 the 154′ Fast Response Cutters began joining the Fleet
These are officially called the Sentinel Class
They are classified as Patrol Cutters (WPC)
They are named for historic or heroic enlisted Coast Guard personnel
This has earned them the unofficial name of the Enlisted Class
The Maritime Security Cutter Medium (WMSM) will shortly be in service.