Hayes graduated from the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut in 1946, although Academy records list him in the Class of 1947. After a series of Coast Guard cutter command assignments, he attended the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
His first command assignment was at the LORAN Transmitting Station in Matsumae, Hokkaidō, Japan. Upon his graduation, he was stationed in Washington, District of Columbia, where he graduated from George Washington University, earning an Master of Arts in international affairs From 1966 to 1968, Hayes assumed a command post, stationed in Vietnam, during the war.
Returning to Washington, he was promoted to captain and assigned to the United States. Coast Guard" General’ s Office of Boating Safety, followed by his service as Commandant of Cadets at the Coast Guard Academy.
From 1975 until his appointment as Coast Guard Commandant, he served as Commander of the Juneau, Alaska-based 17th Coast Guard District. Following his retirement from the Coast Guard, Hayes moved to Boothbay, Maine.
He died while vacationing in the Florida Keys after being struck by a car at the age of 76. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.