“You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.” Imagine living up to the unofficial motto of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. These brave men performed heroic rescues with limited equipment in nor’easters and hurricanes. The USLSS employed three main tools. The Coston flare launched a bright red light into the sky to alert distressed ships that they had been spotted or to warn ships of imminent danger. A Lyle gun would launch a heavy line over the rigging of ships stranded near shore. The ship’s crew would secure the line and the USLSS surfmen would set up a pulley system to convey the ship’s crew to shore one at a time in a breeches buoy or in small groups in a life-car. Surfboats were used to reach ships stranded out of the range of the Lyle gun. Crews would pull the boat along the beach on a cart, sometimes for miles, and row through the breaking surf to reach the stranded ship. A common treatment for rescued crewmen included dry clothes and brandy at the station house. In 1915, the USLSS merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to become the US Coast Guard. Today, most vessels navigate with the aid of radars, GPS, depth finders and other electronics.
United States Life Saving Service on Assateague Island
Last updated: March 24, 2017