How to Become an Aviation Survival Technician

How to Become an Aviation Survival Technician

Love the outdoors, feel like a part of you is missing when you're not near the water, and bored to tears at the thought of a desk job? A career as an aviation survival technician in the US Coast Guard could be just what you're looking for.



What Do Aviation Survival Technicians Do?

Aviation survival technicians (ASTs) are the US Coast Guard's rescue swimmers. They're the people you see on TV jumping out of helicopters into towering waves to rescue someone whose boat capsized. But they do a lot more than that. Other duties include:

  • Provide ground handling and service for Coast Guard aircraft
  • Inspect aircraft
  • Inspect, service, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair:
    • Cargo aerial delivery systems
    • Drag parachute systems
    • Aircraft oxygen systems
    • Helicopter floatation systems
    • Dewatering pumps
    • Survival gear
  • Train other members of the Coast Guard on survival tactics


Where Do ASTs Work?

ASTs work at Coast Guard Stations throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. There is also a team of ice breakers based in Mobile, AL.


What Kind of Salary Do ASTs Command?

The Coast Guard is a branch of the US military. Salaries vary widely depending on rank and years of service. There are also many allowances (housing, hazardous duty, diving, etc.) that can significantly increase an AST's rate of pay.


Low end of range

High end of range

Coast Guard base salary





What Skills Do ATSs Need?

  • Aptitude for math and mechanics
  • Superb physical fitness with no chronic health problems
  • Ability to qualify for a 'secret' security clearance
  • Top mental acuity with the ability to memorize large amounts of information
  • Able to react calmly in high-stress, life-and-death situations


What Training and Qualifications Do They Need?

Aviation survival technician training is designed to make sure candidates can survive for 30 minutes in heavy seas. It's physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding and has a washout rate of about 50 percent. The steps include:

o   Completion of the Airman Program (a four-month course at an operational air station) with the Commanding Officer's recommendation to proceed to AST training (“A” school)

o   Completion of a physical training program culminating in a fitness test

o   Completion of the four-month-long AST course at the Aviation Technical Training Center in Elizabeth City, NC

o   Three weeks of EMT training at another Coast Guard training facility in Petaluma, CA

o   Successful completion of an apprentice program 



Aviation Survival Technicians work hard. They also save lives: both the lives of the people they rescue and the lives of their colleagues through training and inspections. If you'd like to work in a career that is mentally demanding, keeps you physically fit, and does important work, you may be ideally suited for life as an Aviation Survival Technician. To find out more, visit your local Coast Guard recruiter or check out the Coast Guard's website.


photo credit: flickr via Petty Officer Levi Read, 2008