Historic Shipwreck Rescue Drill Reenactment

The staff of Delaware Seashore State Park will be reenacting a 19th century shipwreck rescue drill at the Indian River Life-Saving Station Museum.  Delaware Seashore State Park is just one of three locations in the country that reenact this fascinating drill of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, which was the precursor to the modern day U.S. Coast Guard.

            The U.S. Life-Saving Service was established in 1871 in response to the tremendous loss of life that was occurring due to shipwrecks up and down the Atlantic coast and on the great lakes.  The service consisted of an entire network of Life-Saving Stations that housed “surfmen” that would patrol our beaches every night and respond to ships in distress.  Delaware had six stations – Lewes, Cape Henlopen, Rehoboth Beach, Indian River Inlet, Bethany Beach, and Fenwick Island.  The Indian River Life-Saving Station is the only station still standing in its original location and it is now managed by Delaware Seashore State Park.

            State park staff will be teaming up with active-duty Coast Guardsmen to perform one of the Life-Saving Service’s rescue techniques known as the “breeches buoy system” or “beach apparatus system.”  This ingenious 19th century rescue drill allowed the surfmen to save shipwreck victims without the need to launch the surfboat and enter the water themselves.  The reenactment will begin with the firing of a Lyle gun, a small cannon, which fires a line out to the mock ship mast known as the “wreck pole”, nearly 20 feet in the air!  From there, a series of lines are sent up to the wreck pole and several staff will be “saved” and brought safely down to the ground.

            Coast Guardsmen from the nearby Indian River Coast Guard Station will be joining park staff to perform the rescue drill.  “We are just thrilled that the Coast Guard is able and willing to help us with the reenactment” says Laura Scharle, Site Manager of the Indian River Life-Saving Station.  “It really all comes together when our park visitors get to see people in 19th century Life-Saving uniform, performing this rescue drill right alongside our local Coast Guardsmen, in modern-day uniform.”

            Those that are stationed at the Indian River Coast Guard Station are just as excited to participate.  “We really like that it shows the public a bit about the Coast Guard here, and a lot about our little-known heritage” says Boatswains Mate, Jeremy Hatley.

            The cost for this program (including museum tour) is $6.50 for adults, $4.00 for youth (ages 6-12), $5.00 for seniors (age 62 and older), and free for children (ages 5 and under). Pre-registration is not necessary.  The museum is located 1.5 miles north of the Indian River Inlet, and 3.5 miles south of Dewey Beach.  For more information, please visit destateparks.com or call (302) 227-6991.

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Delaware Seashore State Park