Obverse: In the center of a gold medal 1-7/16 inches in diameter, three men are depicted in a boat in a heavy sea. One of the men is rowing the boat while another is standing, preparing to throw a line. The third figure is reaching out to help a fourth figure, a mariner in distress, who is clinging to a spar. In the distance to the left is the wreck of a ship. The entire scene is contained within a raised border. In the upper third of this border, following the contour of the medal, are the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” in raised letters. In the bottom third, the words “ACT OF CONGRESS AUGUST 4, 1949.”
Reverse: In the center of the reverse is an ornate monument. An American bald eagle with displayed wings is perched atop the monument, and to its left is the figure of a woman holding an oak wreath in her left hand, and with her right hand she is preparing to inscribe the name of the recipient on the monument. To the right of the monument, a mast, a yard with a sail, an anchor, a sextant and a spray of laurel are grouped together. The monument and figures are contained within a raised border which bears the inscription in raised letters, “IN TESTAMENT OF HEROIC DEEDS IN SAVING LIFE FROM THE PERILS OF THE SEA.” At the bottom of the medal, separating the beginning and ending of the inscription, is a stylized laurel wreath.