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Sankaty Head Lighthouse

Sankaty Head lighthouse

Siasconset, Massachusetts
Built in 1850



The lighthouse is located on the eastern end of Nantucket, just north of Siasconset.

Latitude: 41° 17' 01" N
Longitude: 69° 57' 54" W


Historic Stories:

Sankaty Head lighthouse was unique for its time in that it had not only a fixed light but also flashing lights to distinguish it from the numerous other lighthouses on the East Coast. When it was built in 1850, towering almost 160 feet above sea level, it received a second-order Fresnel lens from Paris, which was the new type of lens of its day using glass and reflectors to accent the light. It was Massachusetts' first lighthouse with a Fresnel lens and the first lighthouse anywhere in the United States to have this powerful Fresnel lens installed.

This original 1850 lens was illuminated by a single-wick lamp that would consume over 400 gallons of whale oil per year.

Sankaty Head soon became known as New England's most powerful light, and could reportedly be seen as far as 40 miles away.

early Sankaty Head light

Early Sankaty Head Light
Courtesy US Coast Guard


Coskata Lifesaving Crew Rescues the H.P. Kirkman

One of the most famous rescues on Nantucket Island occurred when Keeper Walter N. Chase and his six-man Coskata lifesaving crew, known as "surfmen", stationed near Great Point lighthouse, were involved in the rescue of the crew of the H.P. Kirkman, which was in distress and sinking ten miles off shore from Nantucket Island, during a fierce winter storm in January of 1892. Through the gale force winds and turbulent seas they reached the stranded frozen crewmembers of the H.P. Kirkman, but were unable to make headway towards their goal of reaching Sankaty Head lighthouse, which was closer than Great Point light.

They had to anchor their lifeboat for many hours, as lifesavers and survivors were starting to get frostbite from the freezing winds and spray. By sunrise the following day, as the tide came up, and the winds started to calm, the exhausted lifesavers reached Siasconset Beach, near Sankaty Head lighthouse, hours later, after nearly 26 hours of having been out in the freezing seas.

The seven crewmembers of the H.P. Kirkman all survived the wreck, and Keeper Chase and his crew were awarded lifesaving medals.



original fresnel lens at whaling museum

The lens was used for 100 years until it was replaced in 1950 by modern rotating aero beacons. The original Fresnel lens can now be seen at the Nantucket Whaling Museum.

The light was automated in 1965, but Coast Guard personnel continued to occupy the station until 1992, with the personnel reportedly hearing and seeing strange paranormal events, which included pots and pans that would fly on their own. Whenever the ghost or whatever it was, was asked to stop, the activity would cease.

Sankaty Head was also threatened from constant erosion and was gradually getting closer to the edge of the bluff. In the fall of 2008 the lighthouse was moved back from its original position next to the Siasconset Golf Course that surrounds it.



Nantucket Lightship Collision with the RMS Olympic

The Nantucket Lightship LV-117 was stationed south of the Nantucket Shoals about 42 miles southeast of Sankaty Head Lighthouse in area of heavy shipping traffic. On May 15, 1934, when heavy fog had engulfed the region that night, the lightship sounded her fog horn for the incoming, ocean liner, RMS Olympic, which was about 75 times the size of the lightship.

Although following the Nantucket’s radio beacon signal, the lookout on the RMS Olympic had miscalculated the location of the Nantucket and was unable to see the lightship in the fog until she was about 500 feet from colliding with the doomed vessel. The crewmen of the Nantucket sounded the alarm for the impending collision and grabbed their life preservers as the RMS Olympic came towards them. The great ocean liner ran over the Nantucket, cutting it in half, as the lightship sank within minutes. Seven of the eleven lightship crewmen drowned in the frigid waters and four were rescued, including Captain George Braithwaite, who died a few months later from his injuries.

For more details about this story, select the link "Nantucket Lightship Collision with Olympic" Blog at the top of the page. Select the other link for more explicit details of the story of the Rescue of the H.P. Kirkman to be directed to my Lighthouse Stories section.


Places to Visit:

The lighthouse grounds are open to the public daily from sunrise to sunset during the summer months. It is also open on special days for visitors to climb up the tower.

The town of Siasconset lies in a very quiet picturesque area on Nantucket with nearby beaches and the Siasconset Golf Course, which practices “pasture golf” where visitors can play dressed as they are and enjoy the views by the lighthouse.

sankaty head lighthouse by golf course

Sankaty Head now sits adjacent to the golf course about a mile north of the village of Siasconset. The Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge lies a few miles way where a naturalist guide provides visitors a tour on a four-wheel sand buggy through the salt marsh to learn about the geology, ecology, and history of the area and to climb the Great Point lighthouse.

The Nantucket Whaling Museum coordinated by the Nantucket Historical Association, contains a major collection of all artifacts involving the whaling industry in the 19th century. The Nantucket Shipwreck and Life Saving Museum, provides lots of info and artifacts about rescues and shipwrecks that occured in Nantucket's history, along with plenty of lifesaving artifacts, tools, and memorabilia.



Contact Info:
The Sconset Trust, Inc.
One New Street
Siasconset, MA 02564
Phone: (508) 257-4100


Ferries to Nantucket Island

The ferries mentioned don’t pass by the lighthouse, but provide services to get to the island of Nantucket from either the mainland or between the islands.


Hy-Line Cruises
Hyannis-Oak Bluffs ferry; also Nantucket-Oak Bluffs ferry.
220 Ocean Street Dock
Hyannis, Massachusetts 02601
Information: (508) 778-2600
Oak Bluffs (508) 693-0112
Hyannis-Nantucket ferry (508) 778-2602


Steamship Authority
Ferries to both islands
Vehicle Reservations Call: (508) 477-8600
Office Hours or (508) 693-9130
Fast Ferry Reservations: (508) 495-FAST (3278)
Woods Hole: (508) 548-3788
Vineyard Haven: (508) 693-0367
Oak Bluffs: (508) 693-0125
Hyannis: (508) 771-4000
Nantucket: (508) 228-0262


Freedom Cruise Line
Ferry from Harwich Port Mass. to Nantucket
702 Main Street - Route 28
Harwich Port, Massachusetts 02646
(508) 432-8999



Nantucket Island Tours

Nantucket Island Tours

Provides bus tours and group charters around the island.
10 Washington St.
Nantucket, MA 02554
Phone: (508)228-0334



My book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provides special human interest stories from each of these 92 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions and tours you can explore.

Look inside!

book about lighthouses and local coastal atttractions in southern New England





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In the early 1900s, New England shipbuilders constructed the world’s largest sailing ships amid social and political reforms. These giants of sail were the ten original six-masted coal schooners and one colossal seven-masted vessel, built to carry massive quantities of coal and building supplies, and measured longer than a football field!

This book, balanced with plenty of color and vintage images, showcases the historical accounts that followed these mighty ships. In fact, many of these events occurred while sailing around the dangerous shoals of Cape Cod and the islands during stormy weather.

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