Monday, December 12, 2011

A little bit of Surf Boat history...

This article is taken directly from the United States Coast Guard's website, found here.

The exact early history of the use of lifeboats on Cape Cod is very unclear. Luckily there are many interested people who are documenting the lifeboat history. The following information has been generously shared by these historians

When the Humane Society was founded in 1785 they erected Houses of Refuge along the Massachusetts coastline to provide shelter for shipwrecked victims. Cohasset, Massachusetts saw the first "lifeboat station" built in 1791 and manned with a 30' Nantucket whaleboat built by Mr. William Raymond. Similar to the existing whaleboats of the era, the Raymond lifeboat was lined with cork to provide extra flotation. Manned with 12 men, the Raymond lifeboat could handle twenty men and performed well in rough seas.

It appears that the Humane societies also employed the Francis lifeboats, but it is unclear if any were used on Cape Cod.
Some of the early surf boats were believed to be the Higgins and Gifford boats built in Gloucester, Mass. The USLSS General Superintendent Sumner I. Kimball read the following from the "Organization and methods of the United States Life Saving Service" on November 22, 1889:

"The type of boat in most general use in our service, although properly entitled to be called a life-boat, is distinctively known as the surf-boat, and this term will be applied to it in the remarks which follow. . . . Three varieties, respectively designated the Beebe, the Higgins & Gifford, and the Beebe-McLellan surf-boat, from the names of the persons who devised the modifications which characterize them, are the only ones furnished to the stations in recent years. They are all constructed of white cedar, with white-oak frames, and their dimensions are from 25 to 27 feet in length, 6 to 7 feet beam, 2 feet 3 inches to 2 feet 6 inches depth amidships, and 1 foot 7 inches to 2 feet 1 inch sheer of gunwale. Their bottoms are flat, with little or no keel, and have a camber of an inch and a half or two inches in 8 feet each side of the midship section. They draw 6 or 7 inches of water, light, and weigh from 700 to 1000 pounds. They are propelled with 6 oars without sails, and are expected to carry, besides their crews, from 10 to 12 persons, although as many as 15 have been landed at a time in a bad sea. Their cost ranges from $210 to $275. There is no great difference between the Beebe and the Higgins & Gifford boat, except that the former has more sheer and is clinker-built, while the latter is of carvel construction. The Beebe-McLellan boat is the Beebe boat with the self-bailing quality incorporated. This feature has been added within the past two years, and but few of them have yet been put in service. . . . Even at those stations where the most approved self-righting and self-bailing boats are furnished, the surf-boats are generally preferred by the life-saving crews for short distances and when the number of imperilled people is not large. ... As respects safety they will compare favorably with any other boats. In 18 years they have been launched 6730 times on actual service, and landed 6735 people from wrecked vessels. They have been capsized but 14 times. Six of these instances were attended with loss of life, of whom 27 belonged to the service and 14 were shipwrecked people. ..." excerpt from Proceedings of the US Naval Institute

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