Lifesaving Stations Built to Assist in Rescues
As shipping, tourism, fishing and whaling traffic dramatically increased after the Civil War, their came the need for lifesaving stations to be built along the shores within a few miles of lighthouses. They could provide a broader area range in rescuing stranded survivors from the many shipwrecks that occurred throughout New England. This idea of having shore-based stations began with trained volunteer services set up by the Massachusetts Humane Society and spread to each state’s Humane Society. The early stations were originally sheds built for equipment. Congress established the US Life Saving Service in 1871, consisting of a keeper, or captain, and a trained crew of 6-8 men, with the necessary buildings to house these crews and their equipment. These lifesaving stations, also referred to as surf stations were built five to ten miles apart from a nearby lighthouse.
These lifesaving station keepers were fishermen, or were previously involved in some other maritime occupation and had a vast knowledge of the local area and terrain. They used local mariners and fishermen as mostly volunteers, who were experienced boaters, to assist in most instances from autumn until late spring when the New England weather was the most dangerous.
Where the lighthouse keepers and their assistants were only allowed to attempt rescues near the proximity of the lighthouse, lifesaving stations covered a much more vast area and could assist a larger number of distressed survivors on a wreck a distance from the shore. They were more mobile and their personnel were specifically trained in their ability to rescue survivors.