Coast Guard Fraternization Policies

When Does Friendship Become a Crime in the Coast Guard?

Coast Guard Helicopter and Tall Ship
••• L. Toshio Kishiyama / Getty Images

United States Coast Guard fraternization policies are contained in chapter 8 of the Coast Guard Personnel Manual, COMDTINST 1000.6A.

General Policies

The Coast Guard attracts and retains highly qualified people with commonly shared values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty. These values anchor our cultural and Service norms and serve as a common foundation for our interpersonal relationships within the Coast Guard.

We interact, communicate and work together as teams to accomplish our missions. Indeed, mission success depends on cultivating positive, professional relationships with our personnel. An environment of mutual respect and trust inspires teamwork, assures equal treatment, and grants service members the opportunity to excel.

Professional interpersonal relationships always acknowledge military rank and reinforce respect for authority. Good leaders understand the privilege of holding rank requires exercising impartiality and objectivity. Interpersonal relationships which raise even a perception of unfairness undermine good leadership and military discipline.

The Coast Guard has relied on custom and tradition to establish boundaries of appropriate behavior in interpersonal relationships. Proper social interaction is encouraged to enhance unit morale and esprit de corps. Proper behavior between seniors and juniors, particularly between officers and enlisted personnel, enhances teamwork and strengthens respect for authority.

By long-standing custom and tradition, commissioned officers, including warrant officers, have leadership responsibilities extending across the Service. Likewise, chief petty officers (E-7 to E-9) have a distinct leadership role, particularly within their assigned command. Both provide leadership not just within the direct chain of command, but for a broader spectrum of the Service. Due to these broad leadership responsibilities, relationships involving officers or chief petty officers merit close attention.

Sustaining a Professional Environment

Coast Guard policy is to sustain a professional work environment which fosters mutual respect among all personnel, and in which decisions affecting personnel, in appearance and actuality, are based on sound leadership principles. Commanding Officers, officers-in-charge, and supervisors are expected to provide an environment which enhances positive interaction among all personnel through education, human relations training, and adherence to core values.

Coast Guard policy on interpersonal relationships has been crafted to be as gender-neutral as possible. However, this approach may obscure one important issue: the fundamental principle that interpersonal activities which are appropriate among men or among women are likewise appropriate among men and women. Positive social interaction among men has proved beneficial to the individuals and the organization in the past, and women should be afforded equal opportunity to participate in these activities.

Women must not be insulated or isolated from proper professional and social activities if the Coast Guard is to benefit from the full measure of their contributions.

As people work together, different types of relationships arise. Professional relationships sometimes develop into personal relationships. Service custom recognizes that personal relationships, regardless of gender, are acceptable provided they do not, either in actuality or in appearance:

  1. jeopardize the members' impartiality,
  2. undermine the respect for authority inherent in a member's rank or position,
  3. result in members improperly using the relationship for personal gain or favor, or
  4. violate a punitive article of the UCMJ.

The great variety of interpersonal relationships precludes listing every specific situation that members and commands may encounter. While some situations are clearly discernible and appropriate action is easily identified, others are more complex and do not lend themselves to simple solutions. Evaluating interpersonal relationships requires sound judgment by all personnel. Factors to consider in assessing the propriety of a relationship include:

  1. the organizational relationship between the individuals: whether one member can influence another's personnel or disciplinary actions, assignments, benefits or privileges
  2. the relative rank and status of the individuals: peers, officer/enlisted, CPO/junior enlisted, supervisor/ subordinate, military/civilian, instructor/student; and
  3. the character of the relationship (e.g., personal, romantic, marital).

(a) Personal relationship: Non-intimate, non-romantic association between two or more people (of the same gender or not), such as occasional attendance at recreational or entertainment events (movies, ball games, concerts, etc.) or meals. (Does not involve conduct which violates the UCMJ.)

(b) Romantic relationship: Cross-gender sexual or amorous relationship. (Does not involve conduct which violates the UCMJ.)

(c) Unacceptable relationship: Inappropriate and not allowed under Service policy. Resolution normally administrative. The relationship must be terminated or otherwise resolved once recognized.

(d) Prohibited relationship: Violates the UCMJ. Resolution may be either administrative, punitive, or both as circumstances warrant.

Romantic Relationship Policy

Relationships cross gender lines, can develop into romantic relationships, and even lead to marriage. A relationship, including marriage, does not violate Service policy unless the relationship or the members' conduct fails to meet the standards set by this section, standards of conduct set by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), or other regulations.

Romantic Relationships Between Members are Unacceptable When:

  1. members have a supervisor/subordinate relationship (including periodic supervision of duty section or watch standing personnel), or
  2. members are assigned to the same small shore unit (less than 60 members), or
  3. members are assigned to the same cutter, or
  4. the relationship is manifested in the work environment in a way which disrupts the effective conduct of daily business. The nature of operations and personnel interactions on cutters and small shore units makes romantic relationships between members assigned to such units the equivalent of relationships in the chain of command and, therefore, unacceptable. This policy applies regardless of rank, grade, or position. This policy applies to Reservists in an active status, whether or not on duty.

    Romantic relationships between chief petty officers (E-7/8/9) and junior enlisted personnel (E-4 and below) are unacceptable.

    Coast Guard policy prohibits the following relationships or conduct, regardless of rank, grade, or position of the persons involved:

    1. Engaging in sexually intimate behavior aboard any Coast Guard vessel, or in any Coast Guard- controlled workplace.
    2. Romantic relationships outside of marriage between commissioned officers and enlisted personnel. For the purposes of this paragraph, Coast Guard Academy cadets and officer candidates (both OCS and ROCI) are considered officers.
    3. Personal and romantic relationships between instructors at training commands and students.

    Service members married to Service members, or otherwise closely related (e.g., parent/child, siblings), shall maintain requisite respect and decorum attending the official military relationship between them while either is on duty or in uniform in public. Members married to members or otherwise closely related shall not be assigned in the same chain of command.

    Acceptable vs. Unacceptable Relationships

    Examples of acceptable personal relationships:

    1. Two crewmembers going to an occasional movie, dinner, concert, or another social event.
    2. Members jogging or participating in wellness or recreational activities together.

    Examples of unacceptable relationships:

    1. Supervisors and subordinates in private business together.
    2. Supervisors and subordinates in a romantic relationship.

    Examples of unacceptable conduct:

    1. Supervisors and subordinates gambling together.
    2. Members lending or borrowing money for profit or benefit of any kind.
    3. Giving or receiving gifts, except gifts of nominal value on special occasions.
    4. Changing duty rosters or work schedules to the benefit of one or more members in a relationship when other members of the command are not afforded the same consideration.

    Fraternization Policies

    Fraternization describes the criminal prohibition of certain conduct between officers and enlisted personnel set out in the UCMJ. Interpersonal relationships between officer and enlisted personnel and fraternization are not synonymous. Fraternization does not apply exclusively to male-female relationships, but a much broader range of inappropriate conduct. (While not an exhaustive listing, see above) The elements of the offense of fraternization specified in the Manual for Courts-martial can be found in Part 1 of this article.

    The custom of the Service accepts personal relationships between officer and enlisted personnel, regardless of gender, if they do not violate the provisions shown above. Relationships in conflict with those provisions violate the custom of the Service.

    The custom of the Service prohibits romantic relationships outside of marriage between officers and enlisted personnel. It includes such relationships with members of other military services. Officer/enlisted romantic relationships undermine the respect for authority which is essential for the Coast Guard to accomplish its military mission.

    The custom of the Service accepts officer/enlisted marriages which occur before the officer receives a commission. Lawful marriage between an officer and enlisted service member does not create a presumption of misconduct or fraternization. However, misconduct, including fraternization, is neither excused nor mitigated by subsequent marriage.

    Responsibility for Avoiding Unacceptable Relationships

    All personnel is responsible for avoiding unacceptable or prohibited relationships. Primary responsibility rests with the senior member. Seniors throughout the chain of command shall attend to their associations and ensure they support the chain of command, good order, and discipline.

    Personnel finding themselves involved in or contemplating unacceptable relationships should report the situation and seek early resolution from their supervisor, commanding officer, officer-in-charge, command enlisted advisor, or Coast Guard chaplain. Any potential conflict with Coast Guard policy should be addressed promptly. Commands are expected to assist members in understanding Coast Guard policy requirements and resolving conflicts. Bringing an unacceptable relationship to early Command attention will increase the opportunity for early, positive resolution.

    USCG Regulations specifically charge commanding officers and officers in charge with responsibility for their command's safety, efficiency, discipline, and well-being. They should take prompt, appropriate action to resolve conduct which does not comply with the provisions of this section.

    Interpersonal relationships involving Academy and Training Center staff and students are particularly susceptible to abuse by the senior member. The Superintendent of the Academy and commanding officers of training commands may issue local directives further restricting or prohibiting such relationships as they deem appropriate. The Superintendent of the Academy may issue supplemental regulations addressing cadet relationships, including when cadets are in training situations aboard other Coast Guard units.

    Resolving Unacceptable Relationships

    Avoiding unacceptable personal relationships is in the best interest of all concerned. Training, counseling, and administrative actions help prevent unacceptable personal relationships or minimize detrimental effects when unacceptable relationships develop. Prompt resolution at the lowest level possible is desirable.

    Avoiding unacceptable and prohibited interpersonal relationships requires that personnel clearly understand Coast Guard policy and its application. The unit training program is an ideal forum to accomplish this. Training on "FRATERNIZATION AND INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS" shall be conducted at all officer and enlisted accession points and at resident training courses (leadership school, "A" and "C" schools, etc.). Training at other units is strongly encouraged.

    Early counseling often can resolve potential concerns about the characteristics of a relationship and appropriate actions to ensure the relationship develops in a manner consistent with Service custom. Counseling may be informal or more formal, including written documentation by Administrative Remarks (Form CG-3307) or an Administrative Letter of Censure. Counseling may include a direct order to terminate a relationship.

    Personnel Reassignment
    Members may request, or a command may recommend reassignment of a member involved in a questionable relationship. However, reassignment is not a preferred option. The Coast Guard is not obligated to reassign personnel due to members' desires or based solely on a relationship. When reassignment is not an option, members may be directed to end a relationship.

    When members do not respond favorably to counseling, comments, and marks in officer and enlisted evaluations may be appropriate.

    Other Administrative Action
    As warranted, commands may recommend separation, removal or withdrawal of advancement recommendations, appointment to another status, or promotions.

    Disciplinary Action
    Nonjudicial punishment or courts-martial may address fraternization or other unlawful or prohibited relationships or conduct.