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U.S. Lifesaving Service (Page 6)

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Once the line was secure, a life car could be pulled back and forth between the wreck and the safety of the shore. The life car looked like a tiny, primitive submarine. The life car could be hauled over, through, or even under the seas. After the hatch in the top of the car was sealed, there was enough air within the device to accommodate eleven people for three minutes. It is hard to envision eleven people crowding into the car's small compartment but, as one surfman put it, people "in that extremity are not apt to stand on the order of their going."

KeeperTypically, a life car carried four to six people. Life cars were heavy and difficult to handle. Also, as those in distress evolved from crowded immigrant packets with many on board to small commercial schooners with less than a dozen on board, the life car was widely replaced by the breeches buoy. A breeches buoy resembles a life preserver ring with canvas pants attached. It could be pulled out to the ship by pulleys, enabling the endangered sailor to step into the life ring and pants and then be pulled to safety much more easily than the heavier life car.

A beach apparatus cart carried all the equipment needed to rig the breeches buoy and could be pulled by the crew or horses to the wreck site. The boats, beach apparatus, and life cars were only as good as the surfmen who served in the U.S. Life-Saving Service. The man in charge of the station, officially known as the keeper, was called captain by his crew and was an expert in the handling of small boats and men.

Superintendents of the Life-Saving Districts were responsible for the selection of the keepers, who, in turn, were responsible for selecting the crews. Both keepers and crews were examined by a board of inspectors made up of an officer of the Revenue Marine Service, a surgeon of the Marine Hospital Service (later called the U.S. Public Health Service), and an expert surfman to determine their health, character, and skill. Keepers were required to be able bodied, of good character and habits, able to read and write and be under forty-five years of age and a master at handling boats, especially in rough weather.

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Last Modified 1/12/2016