Lifesaving Medal
Gold and Silver Lifesaving Medals
Awarded forRescuing, or endeavoring to rescue, any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils of the water.
Country United States
Presented byUnited States Coast Guard
Established20 June 1874
Total600+ Gold Lifesaving Medals
1,900+ Silver Lifesaving Medals

Gold Lifesaving Medal ribbon and Silver Lifesaving Medal ribbon
Famed life-saver Joshua James wearing the Gold Lifesaving Medal among other awards

The Gold Lifesaving Medal and Silver Lifesaving Medal are U.S. decorations issued by the United States Coast Guard. The awards were established by Act of Congress, 20 June 1874; later authorized by 14 U.S.C. § 500.[1] These decorations are two of the oldest medals in the United States and were originally established at the Department of Treasury as Lifesaving Medals First and Second Class. The Department of the Treasury initially gave the award, but today the United States Coast Guard awards it through the Department of Homeland Security.[2] They are not classified as military decorations, and may be awarded to any person.[3]


A British Sea Gallantry Medal for saving life was authorized in 1854. Twenty years later in the United States the Gold and Silver Lifesaving Medals were first authorized in an Act (18 Stat 125, 43rd Congress) that furthered the United States Life-Saving Service. The Secretary of the Treasury was directed, among other provisions of the act, to create "medals of honor", to be distinguished as life-saving medals of the first and second class, and bestow them upon any persons who endanger their own lives in saving, or endeavoring to save lives from perils of the sea, within the United States, or upon any American vessel.

The Lifesaving Medals have had multiple designs in their history.

The laws governing the awarding of medal were amended over the years, and is currently awarded by the US Coast Guard. The Commandant of the Coast Guard makes the final determination in authorizing the award, but the Lifesaving Medals are not military awards, per se, and instead are "Federal Agency personal decorations" of the Department of Homeland Security and as such may be awarded to not only military members, but also civilians.[5]

"The Gold Lifesaving Medal or the Silver Lifesaving Medal may be awarded to any person who rescues or endeavors to rescue any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils of the water. The rescue or attempted rescue must either take place in waters within the U.S. or subject to the jurisdiction thereof, or one or the other of the parties must be a citizen of the U.S. or from a vessel or aircraft owned or operated by citizens of the U.S."[3]

The Lifesaving Medal is issued in two grades, being gold and silver. "The Gold Lifesaving Medal may be awarded to an individual who performed a rescue or attempted rescue at the risk of his or her own life, and demonstrates extreme and heroic daring. The Silver Lifesaving Medal may be awarded to an individual who performed a rescue or attempted rescue where the circumstances do not sufficiently distinguish the individual to deserve the medal of gold, but demonstrate such extraordinary effort as to merit recognition. If neither the Gold nor Silver Lifesaving Medal is appropriate, then a Certificate of Valor or an appropriate Coast Guard Public Service Award may be considered."[3]

Until the mid-20th century, the Lifesaving Medal was often bestowed upon members of the military; however in recent times the decoration has become somewhat rare. This is due primarily to the creation of a variety of additional military decorations that supplant the Lifesaving Medal. The United States Navy often issues the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, instead of the Lifesaving Medal, for sea rescues involving risk of life. "Military personnel serving on active duty would normally not be recommended for Gold and Silver Lifesaving Medals; however, military personnel may be recommended for a Lifesaving Medal if the act of heroism was performed while the individual was in a leave or liberty status. In all other circumstances, a military award should be considered."[3] While the Lifesaving Medals may be proffered to, and accepted by, DoD personnel, the Medals are no longer authorized for wear on U.S. military uniforms of the DoD Services (Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Space Force). Such awards may become part of service records, and used for other purposes, however.[5]

The US Coast Guard, while an armed force and military service at all times, normally is part of the Department of Homeland Security.[6] As such, awards of the DHS may be bestowed directly upon civilians, including US Coast Guard civilian employees and contractors, while recommendations for award of the Lifesaving Medals to US military members will be coordinated with the servicemembers' parent Service; this provides not only notification to the relevant military commanders that their servicemember(s) were involved in a lifesaving event, but allows the opportunity for that commander to award a Service decoration such as the Soldier's Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Medal, Airman's Medal, or Coast Guard Medal, instead of the DHS-awarded Lifesaving Medals. Within the Coast Guard, as a non-DoD agency, the gold medal's precedence for wear is immediately following the Coast Guard Medal, while the silver medal's precedence for wear is immediately following the Air Medal.[3] However, the appropriate precedence for display -- but not wear -- of the Lifesaving Medals in other Services is among the category of "Federal Agency personal decorations," directly below the Prisoner of War Medal.

The Lifesaving Medal is unusual among U.S. medals because it is actually struck from the eponymous precious metal, silver or gold.[7]

Multiple awards of the Lifesaving Medal are denoted by award stars on the decoration's ribbon and a gold clasp, inscribed with the recipient's name, is worn on the actual medal.

Since 1874, more than 600 Gold Lifesaving Medals and more than 1,900 Silver Lifesaving Medals have been awarded.[7]

Notable recipients

Life Saving Medal 1st Class (2” 1877 design)

Gold Medal

Silver Medal

Other awardees

See also


  1. ^ "14 U.S.C. § 500". Retrieved 13 September 2012.
  2. ^ "Timeline 1800–1899 (see June 20, 1874)". Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e Medals and Awards Manual (PDF). U.S. Department of Homeland Security, United States Coast Guard COMDTINST M1650.25E. 15 August 2016. Chapter 4
  4. ^ "U.S. Mint.Treasury Department FIRST CLASS GOLD Life Saving Medal.Julian-LS-5".
  5. ^ a b "DOD INSTRUCTION 1348.33, DOD MILITARY DECORATIONS AND AWARDS PROGRAM" (PDF). DoD Issuances (Change 5 ed.). Washington, D.C. 21 December 2016. p. 46. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  6. ^ "14 U.S. Code § 101 - Establishment of Coast Guard". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 18 January 2023.
  7. ^ a b "Traditions: 200 Years of History" (PDF). 1990. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  8. ^ "Family of hero Marine awarded Gold Lifesaving Medal | Coast Guard News".
  9. ^ "Lethal Rescue Mission". Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  10. ^ Coastal Guide. "E.S. Newman Rescue". Retrieved 19 August 2013.
  11. ^ "Freeth, George". Encyclopedia of Surfing. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  12. ^ Cisco, Dan (1999). Hawaiʻi sports : history, facts, and statistics. Honolulu: University of Hawaiì Press. p. 277. ISBN 9780585329666. OCLC 45843018.
  13. ^ "Captain Joshua James, USLSS". Retrieved 11 April 2011.
  14. ^ "Augustus Butler Rowland Receives Medal From President Coolidge". 11 April 2022. Retrieved 11 April 2022.
  15. ^ Christley, Jim. "Submarine Hero: TM2 Henry Breault". Undersea Warfare Spring 1999 Vol. 1, No. 3. Chief of Naval Operations Submarine Warfare Division. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
  16. ^ Emily Yoffe (4 August 2002). "Afterward – Page 9 – New York Times". The New York Times Magazine. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 5 May 2011. In a dusty glass-fronted case on the piano bench, Skutnik keeps the palm-size Carnegie Medal for heroism and the Coast Guard's Gold Lifesaving Medal
  17. ^ "Hero receives reward for saving two lives". San Francisco Call and Post. 1 March 1903. p. 33.
  18. ^ "Rescue At Coronado Brings Marine Medal - Coronado Eagle and Journal, Volume XIX, Number 41, 14 October 1931". Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  19. ^ "Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz". Archived from the original on 29 July 2011. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
  20. ^ "Silver Lifesaving Medal ADM Nimitz". public1.nhhcaws.local.
  21. ^ Spragins, Robert B.; Spragins, Charles E.; Spragins, Stewart V. (1965). "Memorial, Robert L. Spragins". West Point, NY: West Point Association of Graduates.
  22. ^ Annual Report of the U.S. Life-Saving Service for the Fiscal Year ending 30 June 1888. pg. 44.
  23. ^ Annual Report of the U.S. Life-Saving Service for the Fiscal Year ending 30 June 1888. pg. 43.
  24. ^ "an unsung hero". Coast Guard Compass. United States Coast Guard. February 4, 2011.