Historic shipwreck rescue drill reenactment set June 27

June 20, 2019

The staff of Delaware Seashore State Park will be re-enacting a 19th century shipwreck rescue drill at the Indian River Life-Saving Station Museum at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, June 27.

The program will be offered again at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, July 18, Aug. 1 and Aug. 15.

Delaware Seashore State Park is just one of two locations in the entire country that re-enact 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 who would patrol the 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 dedicated volunteers to perform one of the life-saving service’s rescue techniques known as the breeches buoy system or beach apparatus drill.

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 re-enactment 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 is sent up to the wreck pole and several staff are “saved” and brought safely down to the ground.

“The breeches buoy re-enactment is our time to shine as an historic site and as a state park,” said Laura Scharle, site manager of the life-saving station. “If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind event, something off the beaten path, this is it.”

The cost for this program, including the museum tour, is $6.50 for adults, $4 for ages 6-12, $5 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, go to or call 302-227-6991.

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