The USCGC BRISTOL BAY was designed by U.S. Coast Guard engineers and was built by the Tacoma Boatbuilding Co. in 1978. Named after the body of water formed by the Alaskan peninsula, which emptied into the Bering Sea, the CGC BRISTOL BAY was commissioned in Detroit in 1979.

In August 1991, CGC BRISTOL BAY became the first Bay Class tug to receive a barge specially designed to perform aids to navigation work. The 120 foot long barge works with the ship to service more than 160 aids to navigation each year.