Sleeping Bear Point Life-Saving Station
Two basic designs were used for the rescue boats. One was a relatively light (1000 pounds) 23 foot monomoy boat that could be launched from the boathouse by rail or hauled on horsedrawn cart down the beach if a wreck were a long way from the station. It had a shallow draft, centerboard, and sail. The other design was a 26 foot Beebe-McLellan surfboat launched from the rails that extend from the boathouse to the water. Air tanks under the deck, in the bow, and along the sides made it buoyant. It also had a centerboard and mast, and was self-bailing.
Another rescue device that could be pulled back and forth from shore was a boat-like surf car. It was a metal capsule that could hold several passengers, who could crawl through a hatch which would then be bolted shut, and then the capsule would be pulled ashore.
Although beach rescues were effective only about 350 yards from shore, they were frequently used because most wrecks occur near the shore.
The first keeper of the Sleeping Bear Point station was Captain William Walker of Grand Haven. He brought along a 6-man crew as well as his mother, step-father, and two sisters. They lived in homes near the station.
The location of the Sleeping Bear Point Life-Saving Station was problematic. It was more exposed to wind and waves than any other station on the Great Lakes. This made it difficult to launch the boats. Periodically, the wind and shoreline currents extend the point out over what becomes a steeply sloping, unstable platform of sand. In December 1914, about 20 acres of land at Sleeping Bear Point slumped into Lake Michigan. The same thing happened again in 1971. The slump changed the shoreline and made boat launching even more difficult. But the biggest problem was the drifting sand, which threatened to bury it and the associated buildings.
In 1931, the station and other buildings were moved east to their present location. Horses were used to pull them over a system of rollers, track, and cables. After its move, the station became essentially an "eyes and ears" operation, providing shore patrols and relaying communications while leaving rescues to a motorized boat stationed at South Manitou. The station was closed in May, 1944.
Come to the Maritime Museum and see how the captain and crew lived. Learn about the rescue techniques and see the rescue boats and equipment they used.
The content of this web page is excerpted from Sleeping Bear - Yesterday & Today, by George Weeks, which has much more detail and includes many photographs. The book is available at the park bookstores and the Village Bookstore in Glen Arbor, Michigan.
Last updated: November 10, 2017