Cover: Balancing Quality of Life with Mission Requirements

Balancing Quality of Life with Mission Requirements

An Analysis of Personnel Tempo on U.S. Coast Guard Major Cutters

Published Jul 29, 2019

by Jennie W. Wenger, Maria C. Lytell, Kimberly Curry Hall, Michael L. Hansen


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Research Question

  1. How does time spent away from port on major cutters affect servicemember re-enlistment behavior?

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has a broad set of missions in the maritime domain, including 11 statutory missions across the categories of maritime safety, maritime security, and maritime stewardship. Among its assets for accomplishing these missions are major cutters — large, oceangoing vessels capable of spending substantial amounts of time away from their home ports. The USCG faces a challenge in determining the optimal length of days away from home port for personnel on major cutters. Confronting this challenge requires an understanding of how personnel tempo (PERSTEMPO) relates to USCG servicemember behavior. However, the empirical relationship between days spent away from home port and servicemember behavior is unknown. To help address this knowledge gap, the authors analyze how servicemembers respond to various levels of PERSTEMPO, as well as the effects of working conditions and incentives on these responses.

Key Findings

Days away from home port are one key measure of work conditions, but high OPTEMPO and other aspects of service also matter in maintaining morale

  • Current days-away-from-home-port practices appear to support re-enlistment.
  • For enlisted personnel, serving on a major cutter is associated with several positive outcomes.
  • However, servicemembers have limited tolerance for higher-than-usual operational tempo.
  • Working conditions matter; key conditions include unpredictable schedules, long work hours, and extra duties (while at sea or in port).
  • Capacity to contact friends and family while at sea was identified by personnel as a driver of morale.
  • Continued monitoring is warranted for personnel who spend extended periods of time away from home.


  • Consider improvements to capacity for personnel to communicate with friends and family while at sea.
  • Explore improving command communication and the predictability of work schedules and incentivizing commanders to embrace the crew endurance program.
  • If feasible, consider streamlining the qualification process and ensuring that personnel have the necessary qualifications before serving on a major cutter, perhaps through a basic training program.
  • Increasing bonuses, pay, educational opportunities, and geographic stability could compensate servicemembers for any loss of quality of life associated with service on a major cutter, but they should be piloted on a small scale.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Requirements and Analysis and conducted within the Strategy, Policy, and Operations Program of the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC) federally funded research and development center (FFRDC).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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