Sunday, March 10, 2013


Several days ago a reader asked about United States Life Saving uniforms. Surfmen did not get uniforms until 1889. This is what Ralph Shanks & Wick York report in their excellent book The U.S. Life-Saving Service, Heroes, Rescues and Architecture of the Early Coast Guard:

"...[In the early days,] the good-hearted surfmen sometimes tried to create their own uniforms. Lacking an official uniform these surfmen decided to clothe themselves in a uniform of their own design. Unfortunately, fashion design was not their strong point and some bizarre uniforms resulted. To overcome such problems, the USLSS had a standardized uniform designed for its surfmen and keepers and required that they be worn....however 'no appropriation [was] available to defray the cost (of the uniform) and therefore the men [were] obliged to purchase their own outfits.'....

"Actually there were two sets of uniforms. For the keeper there was a formal dark blue uniform of woolen cloth or flannel with a double-breasted coat and two vertical rows of gilt buttons. There was a vest and pea-jacket type overcoat for heavy weather. The hat was also dark blue with a black leather bill. Some hats had the logo with a life-ring crossed by an oar and a boathook, while on other hats 'USLSS' appeared. The surfmen wore a similar coat, but it was single-breasted with plain buttons. On the surfmen's right sleeve just below the shoulder was the Service emblem and on the left sleeve just below the shoulder was the surfman's rank number. A turtleneck pullover sweater with the station name was sometimes worn by keeper and surfmen alike. The surfman's cap was the same as the keeper's except that the wording 'U.S. Life-Saving Service' appeared alone. Surfmen also had a work uniform consisting of a sailor-style jumper and overalls, sometimes called 'summer whites.' The work uniform appears most frequently in old photos of drills and was worn regularly. The work uniform included a white hat with a short, usually upturned brim encircling the hat (the hat was a standard Spanish-American War era U.S. Navy sailor's hat). In foul weather, both keepers and surfmen wore a 'storm suit.' The storm suit was of brown rubber cloth or duck cotton, with the station name on the breast. The southwester hat was black, typically with the station name and 'LSS' on it. Long black, southwester type foul weather coats were worn as part of the storm suit. Hip boots and life jackets were worn when appropriate."

Kitty Hawk USLSS Crew, 1900

Unidentified Keeper & Crew (in Summer Whites)

Standard Storm Suit

Follow this link for more photos and information from the United States Coast Guard:

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the unique "Ocracoke Greeting." You can read it here:  

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