Honorable. Heroism. Integrity.


To examine the buildings of the service is to gain an insight as to what life was like for the lifesavers.

The buildings were designed specifically for the business of saving lives and also to present a professional public image of the Life-Saving Service. Most stations were designed similar to a fire station with the crews dormitories on the upper floor and the equipment on the main floor for a quick response to a disaster. Stations were classified into three main categories: Complete Life Saving Stations, Life Boat Stations, and Houses of Refuge. Stations types were built and manned dependent upon their location. Stations were manned by full-time crews for part of the year while others were manned year round in locations where wrecks were most likely to occur.

Complete Life-Saving Stations

These stations were mostly located along the Atlantic coast line, although some were on the Great Lakes, Gulf and Pacific Coasts. They were constructed to have a ground floor consisting of a boathouse and small kitchen or mess room. Crews dormitories and a Keepers room were located upstairs. A lookout cupola or walkway was usually located on top of the station to watch for shipwrecks, although some stations had remote lookouts. Most stations were in isolated areas on the beach and surfmen had to launch their surfboat form the beach into the surf. Stations on the East Coast for example were usually manned from November to April for the active season and by 1900, the crews were there year-round.

Lifeboat Stations

These stations were mostly located along the Great Lakes and Pacific Coast. Nearly all lifeboat stations were located at or near port cities where deep water, piers and other waterfront structures allowed the launching of heavy lifeboats directly into the water by a marine railway system consisting of a ramp leading into the water. The boatroom, a small kitchen and living room were on the main floor. Crews dormitories and a Keeper's room were located upstairs. A lookout tower or walkway was usually located on top of the station to watch for shipwrecks, although some stations had remote lookouts near the beach or on piers. Stations on the Great Lakes were usually manned from April to December while Pacific Coast stations were manned from November to April or year round depending on the danger of the particular location.

Coos Bay, boathouse ramp, 1923.TIF
Coos Bay file
Coos Bay, boathouse ramp, 1923.TIF USCG HQ Coos Bay file

Houses of Refuge


Houses of refuge were located along the east coast of Florida. A Keeper, without any crew, and a small boat were assigned to each House of Refuge. The Life-Saving Service did not actively man these stations with crews to perform rescues as it was felt that along this stretch of coastline shipwrecked sailors would not die of exposure to the cold in the winter as in the north and that the wrecks generally occurred upon the beach where it was easy for sailors to reach shore safely. Therefore, only Houses of Refuge would be needed to provide temporary shelter, food and directions to the nearest settlement.

Floating Life Saving Stations

Louisville, KY was the location of the only inland floating Life-Saving Station meant to be stationed at the falls of the Ohio River and provide rescue services there for all the vessel traffic through the river system. The foundation consists of a barge and the superstructure of the station has two decks and a lookout tower. The superstructure is framed in steel and planked in wood. Steel pipe stanchions support a walkway around the second deck and the eaves of the roof. The roof is built with a pronounced crown athwartships. A boathouse located on one end housed the surfboats needed for the station.

The other floating Life-Saving Station was the City Point Station located in Boston Harbor, MA.