State park to hold 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 on Thursday, June 27, at 5:30 p.m. Delaware Seashore State Park is just one of two locations in the entire country that reenact the 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 loss of life 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 volunteers to perform one of the Life-Saving Service’s rescue techniques, known as the “breeches buoy system” or “beach apparatus drill.” The 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 that 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.

“The breeches buoy reenactment is our time to shine as a 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 reenactment will take place at the Indian River Life-Saving Station Museum at 5:30 p.m. on June 27, and again on July 18, Aug. 1 and Aug. 15. The cost for the program (including museum tour) is $6.50 for adults, $4 for youth (ages 6-12), $5 for seniors (62 or older) and free for children (5 or younger). 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, visit or call (302) 227-6991.