Established on June 20, 1874, the Gold Lifesaving Medal honors individuals, military or civilian, who rescue a person from water-related hazards such as drowning or shipwreck. To qualify, the rescue must occur in waters under U.S. jurisdiction, or one of the rescuers must either be a United States citizen or be operating from a vessel operated by a United States citizen.
The Lifesaving Medal is issued at the Gold level for individuals who risk their own lives in the course of rescue; otherwise, it is issued at the Silver level. The medal was initially issued as a non-portable trophy until 1882, when it was altered for ribbon suspension; it took on its current form in 1949.
The medal, which is struck from actual gold, features the image of a boat asail with three men assisting a man immersed. An inscription encircling the scene reads “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - ACT OF CONGRESS AUGUST 4, 1949.” The reverse features an eagle atop a monument to the right of a woman who is poised to make an inscription on the monument. An inscription reads “IN TESTAMENT OF HEROIC DEEDS IN SAVING LIFE FROM THE PERILS OF THE SEA,” and a wreath of laurels appears at the bottom. The ribbon is gold with red edging bordered to the interior by a thin white line.
Subsequent awards may be indicated by stars.