11. Today’s Station Chatham

37 Main St.
Today’s Station Chatham

“Station Chatham”, as the Chatham US Coast Guard station is called, is one of twenty designated Surf stations in the Coast Guard. The primary mission here is Search and Rescue. The designation of Surf Station harkens back to the days of the Surfmen of the US Life-saving Service, from which the present-day Coast Guard is descended.

The Search & Rescue mission at Station Chatham today is responsible for the safety of the local fishing fleet and recreational boating community. Station Chatham is home to the only three 42-foot Special Purpose Near Shore Lifeboats in service in the Coast Guard. Due to the shallow shifting sand bars found on the Chatham Bar, and the harsh weather conditions during the colder months, Station Chatham requires surf capable vessels with shallow draft capability. Its Search and Rescue Area of Responsibility includes the waters from just north of Cahoon’s Hollow Beach (on Wellfleet’s Atlantic coast) south to halfway between Monomoy Island and Nantucket, and westward across Nantucket Sound to a point roughly below Centerville.

The Coast Guard presence in Chatham from 1915 to 1939 was not at the present location at the Lighthouse. The US Coast Guard was formed in 1915 when the US Life-saving Service and the US Cutter Revenue Service were merged, but the US Lighthouse Service remained separate. Chatham’s four Life-saving Stations became part of the Coast Guard in 1915. In 1939, the Chatham Light became part of the Coast Guard, but the Search & Rescue mission remained with the two remaining Life-saving stations in town. It was not until 1955 that the Search & rescue mission was consolidated at the Coast Guard’s Lighthouse facility, with the closure of the last Chatham Life-saving Station.

While a monument and a plaque have been erected in honor of some of Chatham’s most famous Search & Rescue stories, the mission continues today, no less dedicated. In July of 2010, Station Chatham responded to a distress call from 44-foot yacht Bronze Monkey. A crew was immediately launched on a 27-foot response boat; the Coast Guard crew transferred 11 passengers off the Bronze Monkey, moments before that entire vessel became engulfed in flames.

Station Chatham also performs the other Coast Guard mission of Homeland Security, that is maintaining maritime border security.