Posted by: wadahp | May 19, 2011


Lightships – Portable Beacons

View of: A 1942 view of Light Vessel (LV) #88, which operated at the Umatilla Reef station between 1939 and 1960. Source: Coast Guard.

Although lighthouse keepers experienced severe isolation, crewmen aboard the Lighthouse Service’s lightships had an even more isolated and dangerous occupation.  Lightships, small ships with lights fixed atop their masts, served as portable, and therefore highly versatile, navigational aids.  They served and guarded areas where the terrain made it impossible to construct a lighthouse. Lightship crews had to remain on station even in the most severe storms. Two lightship stations guarded the Washington Coast beginning as early as 1898 with the establishment of the Umatilla Reef station near Cape Alava south of the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  The Swiftsure Bank station, seaward of the entrance to the Strait and about 13 miles from the Cape Flattery Lighthouse, opened in 1909.  A single lightship marked each station and went by the name of the station, with only the vessel’s number distinguishing it from a previously used vessel.

Lifesaving Stations

View of: A ca. 1879 photo of the Neah Bay Lifesaving Station crew, one of the earliest occurrences of Native American involvement in the U.S. Coast Guard. Source: Coast Guard.

In 1874, Congress established lifeboat stations on the Pacific Coast, including stations at Cape Disappointment and Shoalwater Bay.  A new station constructed on Neah Bay in 1906, following the tragic Valencia wreck, replaced the decommissioned Waddah Island Lifesaving Station. Built in 1878, service at the Waddah Island station halted in 1890. Located on the Makah Reservation, the Waddah Island (and later Neah Bay) Lifesaving Station featured, for a time, a crew comprised of Native Americans.  This crew marked the first Native American service in the U.S. Coast Guard.  The Shoalwater Bay station consistently used Native Americans from the local Quinault tribe to man their crews when they needed extra help, most notably in the 1882 rescue of the British iron bark Lammerlaw. Other stations constructed along the Pacific Coast included the Petersons Point Lifesaving Station (later renamed Grays Harbor Lifesaving Station) and the Quillayute River Lifesaving Station.

View of: Contemporary view of the former Westport Coast Guard Station, now functioning as the Westport Maritime Museum. Source: 2011, Artifacts Consulting, Inc.



  1. The above image is of the Admiralty Head Lighthouse at Fort Casey State Park on Whidbey Island.

    • Thanks, Lex – that was my mistake, not Artifacts! Hopefully I’ve got the right image in there now. Much appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: