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CG 36500 Lifeboat

Photo credit Richard Besciak

While the 77-year-old wooden vessel is fully restored and operational, it cannot stay in the water forever. Maintenance, fuel and insurance costs are rising, mechanical replacement parts are scarce, and it is becoming more difficult to find skilled volunteers to pilot the boat. We have to plan for its future out of the water and indoors.

Help the CHO preserve the CG36500 Lifeboat

Time To Move The CG36500 To A Special Place of Its Own

In its prime, the CG36500 motor lifeboat was a state-of-the-art rescue vessel designed to operate in high-surf conditions, like over the Chatham sand bars. A total of 138 “TRS class” 36-foot wooden boats were built by the mid-1940s at the Curtis Bay, Maryland, Coast Guard base, but just a small number remain today. Even fewer are fully operational and none is as famous as the 36500 for saving 32 men from the broken tanker Pendleton in 1952 during a raging winter storm. 

The 36500’s active-duty service has come and gone now, but it and its incredible story live on. For more than 40 years, the Orleans Historical Society/CHO has had the honor of restoring, operating and preserving this treasure listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now the CHO has the duty to see it better protected and preserved to inspire many generations to come.

Why does this preservation require the boat to be permanently taken out of the water? Here are several reasons:

  • Scarce Parts and Waning Skillsets: It is increasingly hard to find the right parts and experienced craftspeople and volunteers to do repairs on the boat and keep it running. A recent search for an oil filter to fit the 36500’s Detroit Diesel 4-71 engine, built in 1948, took a year. When mechanical or wooden parts can’t be found, they must be fabricated at considerable expense, and fewer people and places are still able to do that.

  • Intricacies of Wooden Boats: Vessels like the 36500 just can’t go in and out of the water on a seasonal basis. Wood expands when wet and shrinks when dry.  Such a cycle would play havoc on the Cypress planking in the 36500’s hull, and this is made worse by being fully exposed year after year to the extremes of winter freezes and the hot summer sun. Keeping ice and snow off the boat and daily summer cleaning is a lot of work for our aging, all-volunteer crew, and slipping overboard is a danger.

  • Stormier Weather: Climate change is making Cape storms more severe and frequent. At times the 36500 has to be moved to a safer berth and/or be tied down with special lines and anchors if high wind and flood forecasts warrant. The crew takes no chances with a National Register boat and on very stormy days they are out in the extreme weather checking on the dock lines.

  • Berthing and Transportation: Each summer the Town of Orleans has given the 36500 a slip at Rock Harbor but the boat must go to a more protected winter berth to stay in the water. For years, Nauset Marine has provided a space at Meetinghouse Pond and has hauled the 36500 there by truck as a donation. They return it to Rock Harbor in the spring, usually after trucking the boat to Coast Guard Station Chatham where volunteers perform annual maintenance. Motoring the boat on a multi-day trip around the tip of the Cape each season is not practical and it is unrealistic to expect the town’s and Nauset Marine’s generosity to continue much longer. 


For these reasons and others, the CHO plans to build a permanent home for the 36500 to better preserve and protect it long-term out of the water. It would make the boat and its story accessible to everyone year-round, not just for the summer months. The building would include a small museum exhibiting the nearly 400-year history of lifesaving on the Cape and honoring the finest traditions of the U.S. Coast Guard. It is about time to move the boat to a special place of its own, keeping it in Orleans.

5.5.2023 Cape Cod Times Article: Famous lifesaving boat from 1952 rescue off Cape Cod may find new, permanent home (read article

2.23.2023 Red House Chronical Column: CHO Plans New Mission For Replica Of 1872 Orleans Lifesaving Station (read article

2.4.2023 CHO News Release: CHO Applies for CPA Grant to Fund Site Planning for Permanent CG36500 Preservation Building (read article

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