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Disclaimer - this information is being constantly updated and represents only a framework to work with.  Any amplifying information/photos of Cape Cod area lifeboats is appreciated!

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

The earliest Cape Cod lifeboats were employed by the Massachusetts Humane Society prior to the USLSS stations being built.

These non-motorized boats were considered Pulling Surf Boats.  Click on the following thumbnails for photograph's and line drawings of these various surfboats used by the MHS, USLSS, and USCG. All info courtesy Tim Dring -Thanks Tim!

Mass Humane Society Cape Cod Pulling Surf Boat

photo Line drawing of Cape Cod Pulling Surf Boat

photo Cape Cod Pulling Surf Boat on trailer

The United State Life Saving Service employed the following non-motorized pulling surf boats on Cape Cod

USLSS 26' Monomoy Pulling Surf Boat

There were two versions of the Monomoy surfboat; a 26' model and a 23' model;

26ft. Model: non-Self Righting/non-Self Bailing; 26’0”-26’8” LOA x 6’8”-6’9.5” maximum beam x 2’7” depth amidships; sheer of gunwale 1’6”-1’7”, sheer of bottom 4”; most with 4 thwarts, double-banked; sprit sailing rig of jib and mainsail with centerboard (some had lug rig); weight ~2100lbs.; 14-person capacity;

23ft. Model: non-Self Righting/non-Self Bailing; 23’0” LOA x 5’10” x 2’3.25”. 

Construction: clinker built of cedar planking over oak frames with galvanized fasteners; pine thwarts, spruce spars; most with end air cases.


26ft. Monomoy pulling/sailing surfboat from Station Salisbury Beach, NH (in some previous works, this boat was misidentified as a Beebe or Beebe-McClellan

photo Monomoy Pulling Surf Boat on it's Beach Trailer

photo Monomoy Pulling Surf Boat (?) - DN-0003969, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society. US Library of Congress

photo Schematic of the Monomoy Pulling Surf Boat

USLSS 26' Beebe-McLellan Pulling Surf Boat

photo Photograph of the Beebe-McLellan Surf Boat

photo Schematic of the Beebe-McLellan Surf Boat

The early Coast Guard Stations employed the CG version of the pulling surf boat seen below:

CG Pulling Surf Boat Type H

photo Type H Pulling Surfboat Schematic

CG Pulling Surf Boat Type S 25'6"

photo CG Pulling Surf Boat Type S 25'6"

photo Schematic of the CG Pulling Surf Boat Type S 25'6"

CG Race Point Surf Boat 24'6"


General: Non-Self Righting/non-Self Bailing; 24’6” LOA x 6’2” maximum beam x 2’4.5” depth amidships; sheer of gunwale 1’4”, sheer of bottom 5”; 5 thwarts/5 oars, single-banked (18ft. sweep oar); some with sprit sailing rig of jib and mainsail with centerboard; weight 1000-1200lbs.; capacity 6-10 persons plus 6 crew

Construction: clinker built of ½” cypress or cedar planks over oak frames (30 frames in a 24’7” long boat), copper or galvanized iron fastened; spruce spars, and pine thwarts; end air cases

photo Launching the Race Point Surfboat at the Nauset Station - note the tractor

photo Race Point Surf Boat Underway (Rockaway Point boat)

photo Race Point Surf Boat from Station Rockaway, NY.

photo Schematic of the Race Point Surf Boat

photo Second Schematic of the Race Point Surf Point

Comparative Differences Between the Monomoy and Race Point Pulling/Sailing Surfboats

Comparison of 23ft. Monomoy Surfboat design with Race Point Surfboat design:

* Race Pt. design usually featured 5 thwarts, while the Monomoy design usually featured 4 thwarts.

* Race Pt. stern air case was decked at the gunwale level, while on the Monomoy, the stern air case was recessed; both types had bow and stern air cases.

* Race Pt. design had more rocker to the keel than the Monomoy design.

* Race Pt. tended not to have a centerboard installed.

* Race Pt. design had somewhat less gunwale sheer, and a more gradual curve at bow and stern than the Monomoy.

* Both the Race Pt. and Monomoy boat designs had 9 strakes, and 4 floorboards each side of centerline, but the Race Pt. had one additional floorboard down the centerline for a total of 9 floorboards; both had raised floors forward and aft. 

* Race Point: 24’7” LOAx6’0”x2’4.5” depth amidships; height of bow from baseline 4’3”, height of stern from baseline 3’3”; 30 frames; sheer of gunwale 1’2-5”, sheer of bottom 4-6” 

* Monomoy: 23’0” LOAx5’10”x2’3.25” depth amidships; 23 frames; sheer of gunwale 1’5-8”, sheer of bottom 4”

Thomas Edison took some early movies of the USLSS conducting Life Boat drills.  These video's are from the Library of Congress Website.

Movie stills from video

Thomas Edison 1898 video footage - "Launch of Lifeboat"

RealMedia format ... for 28.8 or higher modem
MPEG format ... 3 megabytes
Quick Time format ... 1 megabytes

Movie stills from video

Thomas Edison 1898 video footage - "Capsize of Lifeboat"

RealMedia format ... for 28.8 or higher modem
MPEG format ... 4 megabytes
Quick Time format ... 1 megabytes

Movie stills from video

Thomas Edison 1898 video footage - "Return of Lifeboat"

RealMedia format ... for 28.8 or higher modem
MPEG format ... 3 megabytes
Quick Time format ... 1 megabytes



The history of the Cape Cod Life Boats is continued on the Motor Lifeboat History Page.  Click here to go there!

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Last Modified 12/21/2016