Coast Guard Fraternization Policies: What You Need to Know

When Does Friendship Become a Crime in the Coast Guard?

With a Coast Guard ship docked just offs
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Forming personal bonds is inevitable when you're part of the United States Coast Guard, but in certain situations, it can turn into a major problem that could result in disciplinary action.

That's why it's important to understand the rules and regulations when it comes to Coast Guard fraternization. Coast Guard fraternization policies are contained in chapter eight of the Coast Guard Personnel Manual, COMDTINST 1000.6A.

General Policies

The Coast Guard wants to attract and retain highly qualified people with commonly shared values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty. Members of the Coast Guard must work together to accomplish missions, which means there must be an environment of mutual respect and trust.

In order to foster such an environment, the Coast Guard expects proper behavior between seniors and juniors, especially between officers and enlisted personnel.

Commissioned officers, including warrant officers, have leadership responsibilities that extend across the service. Chief petty officers (E-7 to E-9) also provide leadership—not just within the direct chain of command, but also across a broader spectrum of the service. As a result, relationships involving officers or chief petty officers merit close attention.

Sustaining a Professional Environment

Coast Guard policy is to sustain a professional work environment. Commanding officers, officers-in-charge, and supervisors are expected to provide such an environment, but relationships can cause some complications.

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

  • Jeopardize the members' impartiality
  • Undermine the respect for authority inherent in a member's rank or position
  • Result in members improperly using the relationship for personal gain or favor
  • Violate a punitive article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)

The great variety of interpersonal relationships means it’s impossible to list every situation that members and commands may encounter. While some situations are clearly discernible and appropriate action is easy to recognize, others are more complex and do not lend themselves to simple solutions. Factors to consider in assessing the propriety of a relationship include:

  • The organizational relationship between the individuals and whether one member can influence another's personnel or disciplinary actions, assignments, benefits, or privileges
  • The relative rank and status of the individuals (peers, officer/enlisted, chief petty officer/junior enlisted, supervisor/subordinate, military/civilian, instructor/student)
  • The character of the relationship (personal, romantic, marital)

There are four basic categories of relationships in the Coast Guard:

  • A personal relationship is a non-intimate, non-romantic association between two or more people (of the same gender or not). It involves activities such as meals or occasional attendance at recreational or entertainment events (movies, ball games, and concerts, for example).
  • A romantic relationship is a sexual or amorous relationship but does not involve conduct which violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
  • An unacceptable relationship is an inappropriate relationship not allowed under service policy. Resolution in these cases is done through administrative channels, and the relationship must be terminated or resolved in some fashion in accordance with policy.
  • A prohibited relationship violates the UCMJ. Resolution may be either administrative, punitive, or both, as circumstances warrant.

Romantic Relationship Policy

Personal relationships can develop into romantic relationships and may 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 UCMJ, or other regulations.

Romantic relationships between members are unacceptable when:

  • Members have a supervisor/subordinate relationship (including periodic supervision of duty section or watch standing personnel)
  • Members are assigned to the same small shore unit (less than 60 members)
  • Members are assigned to the same cutter
  • The relationship disrupts the effective conduct of daily business

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

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

  • Engaging in sexually intimate behavior aboard any Coast Guard vessel or in any Coast Guard-controlled workplace
  • Romantic relationships outside of marriage between commissioned officers and enlisted personnel (Coast Guard Academy cadets and officer candidates are considered officers)
  • Personal and romantic relationships between instructors at training commands and students

Service members married to each other (or otherwise closely related) shall maintain requisite respect and decorum appropriate for the official military relationship between them while either is on duty or in uniform in public. They shall not be assigned in the same chain of command.

Acceptable vs. Unacceptable Relationships

There is a fine line between acceptable and unacceptable relationships, and Coast Guardsmen should study those differences carefully to avoid falling afoul of policy or the law.

Examples of acceptable personal relationships include:

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

Examples of unacceptable relationships include:

  • Supervisors and subordinates in private business together
  • Supervisors and subordinates in a romantic relationship

It’s not just the relationships themselves that Coast Guardsmen must be wary of—individual instances of inappropriate conduct can cause problems. Examples of unacceptable conduct include:

  • Supervisors and subordinates gambling together
  • Members lending or borrowing money for profit or benefit of any kind
  • Giving or receiving gifts, except gifts of nominal value on special occasions
  • 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

Relationships in the Coast Guard can rise to the level of criminal behavior in some cases. Fraternization describes the criminal prohibition of certain conduct between officers and enlisted personnel set out in the UCMJ.

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

The service prohibits romantic relationships outside of marriage between officers and enlisted personnel. On the other hand, the service accepts officer/enlisted marriages which occur before the officer receives a commission. Lawful marriage between an officer and an 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 members of the Coast Guard are responsible for avoiding unacceptable or prohibited relationships. Primary responsibility rests with the senior member.

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.

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 may issue supplemental regulations addressing cadet relationships, including when cadets are in training situations aboard other Coast Guard units.

Resolving Unacceptable Relationships

Training, counseling, and administrative actions help prevent unacceptable personal relationships or minimize detrimental effects when unacceptable relationships develop.

Training. 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. All officer and enlisted accession points—and resident training courses—should include fraternization training.

Counseling. Early counseling 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 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 the 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 have to end a relationship.

Evaluations. When members do not respond favorably to counseling, comments, and marks, commands may order an evaluation to determine the next steps.

Other Administrative Action. In addition to recommending separation or removal, commands may also withdraw advancement recommendations, an appointment to another status, or promotions.

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