Shipwrecks and life saving have been part of Ocracoke's history since the sixteenth century. The United States Life Saving Service was established in 1871. The first station to be built on Ocracoke was near Hatteras Inlet (it was sometimes known as the Cedar Hammock Station). It was put in operation in 1883.
Rescues were effected by means of the surf boat (a heavy wooden boat that was rowed out to a wreck; normally used when a wreck was more than 700 yards off shore), the breeches buoy (the most common method, in which a line was fired to the vessel, and by means of ropes, pulleys and other equipment, a pair of canvas pants attached to a life ring was sent out to the ship; passengers and crew were hauled ashore one at a time), and the life car.
The life car occasionally replaced the breeches buoy.
|USLSS Life Car|
However, the life car had limited use. It was made of metal, and much heavier and more cumbersome than the breeches buoy.
Although several people could be brought ashore at one time, they were required to lie down in this coffin-like container. Several shipwreck victims refused to get in the life car because of fear of enclosed spaces.
For many years, back in the late 1960s and 1970s, a life car was sitting on a platform at the side of a building on the corner of Creek Road and Silver Lake Drive. It was used as a water cistern. The life car was eventually donated to the Ocracoke Preservation Society and sent away for restoration. Unfortunately, the metal was so badly compromised that it was never restored.
If you remember (or have a photograph of) the life car cistern, please leave a comment.
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a history of Village Craftsmen (1970 - the Present). You can read the Newsletter here: