Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tally Board

When nineteenth century life savers arrived at the scene of a wreck one of their first jobs was to fire a projectile attached to a "shot line" to the stricken vessel. Once the shot line was retrieved by the sailors on board, it was hauled to the ship. On shore the keeper of the life saving station would have attached the "whip line," the "tail block," and a "tally board" to the shot line. The tally board instructed the shipwrecked crew how to secure the block and whip line to the ship. Next, the life savers rigged the sand anchor, the hawser, and the breeches buoy and proceeded with the rescue of the vessel's crew.

This link will take you to a photo of a USLSS tally board:

The tally board had instruction in French on one side, and instructions in English on the other side:

"(L'autre cote.) Make the tail of this block fast to the lower mast well up. If masts are gone then to the best place you can find. Cast off shot line, see that the rope in the block runs free & show signal to the shore.

"(Other Side) Fouettez la poulie le plus haut possible sur le bas mat, ou a l'enndroit le plus favorable si les bas mats sont perdus. Detachez le ligne, voyez que la corde coure facilment dans la poulie, et faites signal au rivage."

The following web site has excellent photos of the life saving apparatus along with explanations of how it was used:

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


  1. Anonymous9:50 AM

    It is my understanding from recent news reports the Postal Service will introduce a line of clothing. What did the life saving service wear? what did the uniforms look like? do you think these garments could serve as inspiration for a line of wash and wear articles for resort wear on the Island today? Or for mainlanders for that matter?? I trust your fashion sense.

    1. US Life Savers did not get uniforms until 1889. Here are a couple of photos from the web --
      Kitty Hawk LSS crew, ca. 1900:

      I'm not sure what station crew this is:

      I will address uniforms more thoroughly in a future blog.

  2. Anonymous4:52 PM

    Your interesting post made me curious to know the names of these brave surfmen. I found that & more when I googled LIFESAVING SERVICE ON OCRACOKE. After I finished the article, I went back and pressed IMAGE. Wow so many great vintage photos!