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Kittery Residents Rescue Wood Island Life Saving Station

A by-the-numbers look at what’s gone into saving the decommissioned lifesaving station.

Wood Island Life Saving Station
Photograph by Dave Seavey
By Jean Kerr
From our May 2022 issue

In 1908, the U.S. Lifesaving Service — a Coast Guard precursor — built an outpost on a sliver of rock where the Piscataqua River empties into the Gulf of Maine. For 40 years, “surfmen,” as they were known, shoved off in wooden rowboats to aid floundering vessels, no matter how heavy the seas. After the station was decommissioned, the federal government transferred the property to the town of Kittery. The building deteriorated, to the point that local officials decided to tear it down. In 2011, though, the nonprofit Wood Island Life Saving Station Association formed, eventually convincing the town to let it restore the structure and install a museum commemorating the surfmen. As the massive undertaking nears completion, a by-the-numbers look at what’s gone into saving the lifesaving station.


Length, in feet, of an original rescue boat acquired by the Wood Island nonprofit. It’s believed to be one of just five such boats still in existence and the only seaworthy one.


Wood Island is the only lifesaving station with a fully restored rescue-boat launch. It’s also the only one with a fully restored marine railway.


Million dollars raised as of this past winter for the restoration work.


Tons of concrete delivered by boat to rebuild the seawalls and foundation. The National Guard and Coast Guard contributed thousands of hours of labor.


Seafarers aided by the Wood Island surfmen between 1918 and 1939, according to records unearthed by the nonprofit group. A stoic surfmen’s refrain: “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.”