Breeches Buoy Rescue
Rescue Equipment
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Manby Mortar:

The Manby Mortar consisted of a small cannon style-firing device, which used gunpowder to propel a round mortar ball with an attached line out to a wrecked ship.  It was developed by Captain George William Manby, an English army officer.  Manby was interested in mortars from an early age.  In 1807, he was witness to a shipwreck grounded some 100 yards of shore.  The surf was so rough that it prevented the passengers from getting to shore and the 67 passengers died.  Manby dedicated himself to design a useful mortar device.  His device, known as the Manby Mortar was first used in 1808 to assist in the wreck of the Elizabeth.  The Manby Mortar was so successful during the rescue, that both the British and Americans added them as standard equipment at many stations.  The devices were used well into the middle of the nineteenth century until the Lyle Gun replaced them.
Shotline and Faking or Shotline Box:

The shotline box (below on right) was a simple box used to hold the shotline that was fired out to the wrecked ship by the Lyle Gun or other line-throwing device.  The box bottom cover had a row of 12-inch long tapered pegs or posts mounted around the cover perimeter that served to aid in arranging the shotline. The shotline was carefully but not tightly laid down in alternating layers of parallel rows such that it would not tangle when being pulled rapidly from the box by the line-throwing projectile. This arrangement is called faking.

Once the line was faked, the box was placed down over the line and posts and onto the cover and the cover latched to the box. Before the line would be fired out to the wrecked ship during a rescue, the faked shotline would be slipped off the pegs into the box and the box was tipped at an angle facing the wrecked ship.  When the projectile was fired the line would then unwind and fly out from the box without being tangled or knotted up.

Three sizes of shotline were available for use. The smallest was 4/32" and would be used when firing the greatest distance. The other sizes were 7/32" and 9/32".

Breeches Buoy:

The breeches buoy would become the most effective line method to bring survivors to shore.  This device consisted of a circular life ring or preserver, usually filled with cork.  Attached was a pair of canvas pants that were sewn inside of the life ring.  The breeches buoy was suspended from the traveler block on the hawser and the block was tied to the weather whip line. When the hawser was tied to the ship the surfmen using the lee whip line would pull out the breeches buoy along the hawser to the ship.  Once the breeches buoy reaches the ship, one passenger would slip into the breeches buoy (see photo below), and then is pulled to shore along the hawser by the surfmen using the weather whip line. This would be repeated until all the victims were removed from the wrecked ship.
Beach Cart or Beach Apparatus Cart:

The beach apparatus cart, also known as a beach cart, was used to transport all the necessary equipment from the life-saving station building to the shore near the wreck site.  These single axle carts (some had two axles) were crucial to the breeches buoy rescue.  The equipment contained on the typical beach cart included: pick, shovels, bucket, Lyle gun, projectiles, shotlines, haversack containing black powder charges and firing mechanisms, faking box, heaving stick and line, two tally boards, whip line, whip line block, hawser, traveling block, breeches buoy, fall, strap, sand anchor, crotch poles, hawser cutter, and lanterns.  With a fully loaded beach cart, life-saving crews could effectively complete a breeches buoy rescue.
Lyle Gun & Projectile:

While Manby Mortars were widely used, Hunt Guns were only used sporadically.  Captain David Lyle was assigned to help invent a new and more effective line-throwing device.  Lyle perfected the line-throwing gun after nearly two years of testing, and for his efforts, the device would be known as the Lyle gun.  The Bronze Gun C Lyle gun was made of cast bronze and weighed 185 pounds. This was a smooth 2-1/2 inch bore muzzle-loading portable cannon with a percussion firing attachment and was capable of firing a twenty-pound bullet shaped projectile that was fourteen and a half inches in length.  The shotline was tied to the eyebolt that was screwed into one end of the projectile.  Lyle guns were able to reach 600 yards, which was father than previous line-throwing guns and at or beyond the most extreme range for effective breeches buoy rescue.  The Lyle gun proved to be cheaper, easier to handle, more accurate and simpler to use.  The Lyle gun became common at most stations, and its capabilities lead to the invention of the lifecar and breeches buoy rescues.
Hunt Gun (not pictured):

Edward Hunt conducted experiments into a better line throwing device.  By 1879, he had developed the Hunt line gun.  Similar to the Manby Mortar, the Hunt Gun used gunpowder and a small cannon to fire a projectile with an attached rope line out to a wrecked ship.  This device was accepted by the Massachusetts Humane Society and was to be used to replace the Manby Mortar.  Hunt was given a gold metal by the society for his efforts in 1891, however, the Hunt Gun was used at only a few life-saving stations.
Wreck Pole:

The wreck pole, also known as the drill pole, was usually located on the grounds of the life-saving station.  Its purpose was to emulate the mast and deck of a wrecked ship so that the surfmen could practice and prepare for ship to shore rescues.  The manual for the life-saving stations instructed the crew to perform the entire set up of the breeches buoy every Thursday at 2 pm.  They also were required to occasionally conduct the drill at night. Twice a year, the crew was instructed to practice the drill using the lifecar in place of the breeches buoy. A well-trained crew of surfmen could accomplish the drill on a 75-yard drill range, starting with the loaded cart and pulling the breeches buoy to the wreck pole and back in 2 & 1/2 minutes.
Tally Board:

The tally board was a small plank of wood, often shaped like that of a paddle.  On the tally board, directions (English on one side, French on the other) were printed so that the stranded passengers on the ship would know how to tie off the whip line tail block.  The second tally board described how to secure the hawser.
Sand Anchor:

The sand anchor consisted of two wooden planks laid one over the top of the other to form an X.  The boards were then loosely attached to each other using an eyebolt with an attached pendant, allowing it to be attached to the fall.  The anchor would be buried with a pick and a shovel, taking great care not to cover the pendant.  The purpose of the sand anchor was to secure the shore side of the fall to the beach, the fall serving to pull tight the hawser.
Heaving Stick and Line (not pictured):

Heaving sticks were small, short sticks with an attached oval weight at one end, and an attached line at the other end.  Heaving sticks were most commonly used when the distance needed to throw a line was short, usually effective up to about fifty yards.  They were carried on the beach cart and could be used in several ways, such as throwing a line between shore to ship at close range, throwing a line from one ship to another, or tossing the line out to a survivor in the water. 

Heaving sticks were thrown by being held by the attached line just below where the line was attached to the stick and being spun vertically in circles to the side of the surfmen.  When enough momentum was achieved, the surfmen would throw the stick in an upward manner and the momentum would carry the stick and the line in the direction thrown.  The only drawback of the heaving stick was the fact that it was only good at close range, and surfmen often had to get into the surf to get close enough for the device to reach its intended target.
Whip and/or Whip Lines, Whip Line Tail Block:

A whip line is a single rope running through only one pulley. The beach apparatus whip line was generally a very sturdy rope, 1-1/2 inches in circumference, and was contained on two whip line spools mounted on the front of the beach cart.  In order to prepare the whip line for storage on the beach cart and prepared for use for rescue, the whip line would be stretched out in a straight line.  The whip line would then be threaded through the whip line block (below on right) until it was in the center of the whip line.  The left end of the whip line would then be wound around the left side whip line spool (below on left) and the right end of the whip line would be wound around the right side whip line spool.  

Preparation of the whip line in this manner was important so that an equal amount of whip line would be on each spool. During the rescue, the whip line extended from the shore through the whip line tail block tied to the ship and back to shore. The whip line was used to pull the hawser out to the ship and when the hawser was secured to the ship the whip line was used to haul the breeches buoy to and from the ship to remove the passengers.

Hawser & Traveler Block:

The hawser is the lifeline consisting of a very strong rope made of manila and is usually 3 inches in circumference.  This rope line, when established between the ship and the shore, is the avenue in which the traveler block (a round wooden device with a free-running metal wheel inside and from which the breeches buoy is suspended) rides back and forth transporting the breeches buoy and its passengers.

With older beach carts the hawser was carefully laid down in the bottom of the cart.  The newer carts had a large rope reel mounted below the two whip reels on the front of the cart for storage of the hawser.
Crotch Poles:

The crotch poles were typically two wooden poles, eight feet in length, attached to each other at one end (similar to a pair of scissors).  Carried underneath the beach cart in a closed manner (see photo below), when opened for use, the crotch poles would appear to be a large “A” with the hawser line place over the top of their connection point.  The crotch poles kept the hawser high above the shore and surf, thus in turn keeping the breeches buoy and its passenger above the water.
Hawser Cutter:

The hawser cutter is a device used to cut the hawser line near the mast of the wrecked ship after all the passengers have been safely transported to shore by the breeches buoy.  The device is designed in such a way that it can be placed on the hawser, pulled freely out to the wreck of the ship, then when pulled back toward shore by the weather whip line, the cutting blades inside the cutter engages, freeing the end of the hawser from the ship without much loss of line.
The Life-Saving Service employed two methods of rescue of shipwreck victims. The most used method was by boat.  If the ship was stranded in the surf zone close to shore and where it was often too dangerous to use a boat for rescue the lifeline method using a breeches buoy would be used.

In a breeches buoy rescue, the keeper, along with the six or seven surfmen assigned to the particular life-saving station, would each have a specific set of tasks that he was responsible for.  These tasks, completed in a specific order by each surfmen, allowed the crew to set up for the rescue in a timely manner.

The typical breeches buoy rescue would begin like other rescues with the sighting of the wreck off shore.  Once the existence of the wreck became known, the crew of the life-saving station would assemble in their assigned positions around the beach cart or beach apparatus cart.  The crew, under the direction of the keeper of the station, would then haul the beach cart out to the shore near the wreck site.  The keeper was tasked with selecting the most appropriate location for the beach cart.  Once the beach cart was in place, each surfmen would begin unloading the equipment from the cart and begin to set up for the rescue. With the cart unloaded, the set up of the breeches buoy apparatus begins.

The first step for conducting the rescue was to extend a small diameter line between the shore and the wrecked ship by firing the line to the ship using a line-throwing gun.  The keeper would prepare the Lyle gun for firing the shotline by placing in the black powder cartridge used to propel the projectile.  One fathom of the shotline would be made wet by use of the bucket of water retrieved from the sea to prevent the line from burning during the firing of the Lyle gun.  The shotline is then tied into the eyebolt of the projectile with three half hitches.  The projectile is then inserted into the Lyle gun making sure that there is no slack in the shotline between the end of the projectile and the remaining faked line in the shotline box.  The Lyle gun is then aimed and fired, sending the projectile and connected shotline flying over the wrecked ship.

Aiming the gun was a challenge when there was significant cross wind that would cause lateral drift of the shotline. Even if the projectile passed over the ship the line would fall downwind and often out of reach of victims on a wrecked ship. To land the shotline on the ship it was necessary to fire the projectile slightly upwind and not aim too high. More than one attempt might be made before succeeding in landing the line on the ship. Extra blackpowder charges, projectiles and shotlines were carried on the beach cart for this purpose.

The second step was to install a rope line, the whip line, running from shore through a pulley block at the ship and back to shore.  When the shotline falls across the wrecked ship and is accessed by the wreck victims, the surfmen immediately cut the shot line and tie it to the whip line tail block with the tally board attached.  It is then up to the crew on the wrecked ship to pull the shotline out to the wreck, thus pulling out the whip tail block and whip line out to ship, and uncoiling the whip line from the two reel spools located on top of the beach cart.  When the whip line block and tally board reach the ship, the crew of the wreck reads the instructions on the tally board.

Make the tail of this block fast to the lower mast well up.  If masts are gone then to the best place you can find.  Cast off shot line.  See that the rope in the block runs free & show signal to shore.

The crew of the ship, following the instructions on the tally board, ties the tail of the whip line block high up on the mast of the ship or other high location remaining on the wreck, and then sends signal to the surfmen on shore that this action has been completed.  At this point, the whip line now extends from the shore to the ship, through the whip line block that has been tied to the mast, and then extended back to the shore.  Depending on the direction of the wind, the up wind side of the whip line was known as the “weather whip" and the down wind side of the whip line was known as the "lee whip".

The third step was to connect the lifeline, a large rope (hawser) running from the ship to the shore. Once the surfmen received signal from the wrecked ship that the whip line block was attached properly, the surfmen would then thread the end of the hawser through the breeches buoy traveler block and then tie the end of the hawser and the second tally board to the lee side of the whip line.  The surfmen then pull the weather side whip line towards shore, thus pulling out the lee side whip line with the hawser and tally board attached out to the wreck.  When the hawser and second tally board reach the wreck, it is again up to the crew on the ship to follow the directions on the tally board.

Fall & Strap (not pictured):

The fall was a block and tackle pulley device used to keep tension on the hawser when connected to the pendant from the sand anchor.  The fall had an inner block painted white to indicate that it faced the shore and an outer block painted blue to indicate that it faced seaward.  The fall had a 4:1 ratio that allowed five surfmen to have the pulling power of twenty.

The strap was rope line tied to itself to form a loop.  It would then be attahced to the outer block hooks of the fall and then to the hawser by a knot known as the "catspaw."
Photo from A Manual for Lifeboat Stations USCG, 1949
Whip line Block
Whip line
Ships Mast
Make this hawser fast about two feet above the tail block.  See all clear, and that the rope in the block runs free, and show signal to the shore.

The crew, following the directions on the tally board, ties the hawser to the mast or other high location on the wreck above where the whip line block has been tied, checks to see that the whip lines run free and not rubbing on parts of the ship, and then send a signal to the surfmen on shore that this action has been completed (Figure 1).

The fourth step is removal of passengers and crew from the ship.  Once the surfmen received signal from the wrecked ship that the hawser was attached properly, the surfmen would then hang the breeches buoy on the hook of the traveler block, and tie the weather side of the whip line to the block. A short rope bridle attached to the breeches buoy is then tied to the weather whip inshore of the buoy. By this point in the set up of the breeches buoy, the sand anchor has been buried to a depth of approximately two and a half feet just behind the crotch poles, and is tied to the shore side of the fall (painted white).  Then, tension is then placed on the hawser by attaching it to the seaward side (painted blue) of the fall.  The hawser is then raised high above the ground using the crotch and supported by being placed over the top of the crotch poles.  With the hawser now raised high above the shore (supported by the crotch poles) and stretched out to the wreck above the surf (tied to the mast of the wreck), the surfmen then used the lee whip line to pull the breeches buoy out to the ship (Figure 2).

Once the breeches buoy reaches the wreck, a person on the wreck then climbs into the breeches buoy.  The surfmen then use the weather whip line to pull the buoy and person to shore.   The breeches buoy is then pulled back out to the wreck to transport the next person to shore. This process is repeated over and over until each person has been rescued from the ship. 

When all have been rescued, the surfmen then place the hawser cutter on the hawser and pull the cutter to the ship using the lee whip line.  When the hawser cutter reaches the end of the hawser, the surfmen then pull the weather whip line, cutting the hawser.  The surfmen then pull in the hawser and whip line leaving only the tail block at the wreck and begin gathering up all of the equipment and place it back on the beach cart and return to the station building with the rescued crew and beach cart.

Breeches Buoy Drill Demonstrated by the Coast Guard at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station
Figure 1
Figure 2
Photo from A Manual for Lifeboat Stations USCG, 1949
Shotline Canisters (not pictured):

This was an innovation to replace the faking box and eliminate the time consuming task of faking shotline.  The canister was a galvanized bucket-like container with a lid having an opening in the center.  The shotline was wound using a mechanical rewinding device (carried on the beach cart) and the wound coil of shotline was then placed over a metal cone in the center of the canister. The end of the line from inside the coil was attached to the projectile for firing.