Background: The mortality experience of 4702 (4413 men and 289 women) civilian workers in a US Coast Guard shipyard was evaluated. Methods: All workers employed at the shipyard between 1 January 1950 and 31 December 1964 were included in the study and were followed through 31 December 2001 for vital status. Detailed shipyard and lifetime work histories found in the shipyard personnel records and job descriptions were evaluated. Workers were classified as likely exposed to any potential hazardous substances. In addition, 20 job groups were created on likely similar exposures. Standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) were calculated based on the general population of the state and adjusted for age, calendar period, sex and race. Results: The follow-up was successful for 93.3% of the workers. Among all men employed in the shipyard, there was an excess of mortality from all causes of death (SMR 1.08; 95% Cl 1.04 to 1.12), respiratory cancers (SMR 1.29; 95% Cl 1.15 to 1.43), lung cancer (SMR 1.26; 95% Cl 1.12 to 1.41), mesothelioma (SMR 5.07; 95% Cl 1.85 to 11.03) and emphysema (SMR 1.44; 95% Cl 1.01 to 1.99) and a decrease for cardiovascular diseases (OR 0.95; 95% Cl 0.90 to 1.00), vascular lesions of the central nervous system (SMR 0.80; 95% Cl 0.67 to 0.96), cirrhosis of the liver (SMR 0.38; 95% Cl 0.25 to 0.57) and external causes of death (SMR 0.55; 95% Cl 0.44 to 0.68). A similar pattern was observed for the men classified as exposed. No increasing trend of mortality was found with duration of employment in the shipyard, with the exception of mesothelioma (SMRs of 4.23 and 6.27 for <10 years and ≤10 years, respectively). In occupations with at least three cases and with an SMR of ≤1.3, the authors observed a significantly elevated mortality for lung cancer among machinists (SMR 1.60; 95% Cl 1.08 to 2.29) and shipfitters, welders and cutters (SMR 1.34; 95% Cl 1.07 to 1.65) and for oral and nasopharyngeal cancers among wood workers (SMR 6.20; 95% Cl 2.27 to 13.50). Conclusion: Employment in this Coast Guard shipyard revealed a small but significant excess mortality from all causes, lung cancer and mesothelioma, most of which is probably related to asbestos exposure.