Station Humboldt Bay, California
USLSS Station #5, Twelfth District
Coast Guard Station #316
Near south end of North Spit, on west side Humboldt Bay, 5 miles northeast by north from Table Bluff Light; 40-46' 00"N x 124-13' 00"W
Date of Conveyance:
1878 (first station); 1937
Still in operation
Occupied a portion of the lighthouse station.
The February, 1937 issue of the Coast Guard Magazine had an article on the station. It read:
Contractors expect to have the new $78,000 Humboldt Bay Coast Guard station ready for occupancy February . Equipment and furnishing will cost $50,000 more. The new station on the peninsula has been erected on the site of the old one, which has seen more than half a century of service. The new structure is of a type originally designed for the east coast, and built to withstand the roughest storms. All doors and windows will be weather-stripped and the walls insulated with wool. There will be steam heating.
Modern equipment to go with the new station includes a truck to carry surfboats up and down the coast, a new eight-oar 25-foot surf boat, and a self-bailing and self-righting motor lifeboat, and a line throwing gun with a range of 500 feet and a rewinding machine. Standing above the second floor of the new building will be a glass enclosed lookout with the latest type government radio. Coast Guardsmen there will stand unbroken vigil. The crew of 14 now in charge of the station is to be increased to 25 after the new station is placed in service.
- Frederick Star was appointed keeper on 25 October 1878 and resigned on 22 January 1883.
- William Osberg was appointed keeper on 18 January 1883 and was dismissed on 27 March 1886.
- Robert E. Hennig was appointed keeper 7 April 1887 (?) and resigned on 20 August 1908.
- Lawrence Elleson was appointed keeper on 31 July 1908 and was still serving in 1915.
No caption/date/photo number; photographer unknown.
No caption/date/photo number; photographer unknown
The station’s website (as of 2010) states:
Station Humboldt Bay's area of responsibility encompasses a large portion of the coastline of Humboldt County and a small portion of southern Del Norte County. The station's crew is responsible for protecting life and property in over 5,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.
Station Humboldt Bay is one of 21 surf stations in the Coast Guard. Surf Stations are required where surf greater than 8 feet occurs 10% (36 days) or greater each year. Our station is located on Humboldt Bay, home to one of the most treacherous bar entrances in California. The entrance to Humboldt Bay is the site of many famous shipwrecks and has had Coast Guard presence since 1856.
Station History File, CG Historian’s Office
Dennis L. Noble & Michael S. Raynes. “Register of the Stations and Keepers of the U.S. Life-Saving Service.” Unpublished manuscript, compiled circa 1977, CG Historian’s Office collection.
Ralph Shanks, Wick York & Lisa Woo Shanks. The U.S. Life-Saving Service: Heroes, Rescues and Architecture of the Early Coast Guard. Petaluma, CA: Costaño Books, 1996.
U.S. Treasury Department: Coast Guard. Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers and Cadets and Ships and Stations of the United States Coast Guard, July 1, 1941. Washington, DC: USGPO, 1941.
Details of Historic Station Building and Marine Railway at Station Humboldt Bay
The U.S. Coast Guard Station Humboldt Bay is considered to be the best example in the western United States of the Colonial Revival Style or ‘Roosevelt Style’ station, a standard building design used nationally by the Coast Guard. The size of the building is unusual and impressive. The building is a rare extant example of a Coast Guard Station that included the boat house in the station. In addition, the quality of its architectural detailing, such as the period exterior door and window moldings, classical columns, balustrades, gable brackets and ironwork, is especially fine. The building retains a high level of historic integrity on the exterior.
The lifeboats at the Humboldt Bay Coast Guard Station would have originally been stored on a cart in the boat room at the central area of the first floor. Launching the boat involved lowering it down the railway to the water in a cart connected to a gasoline powered motor winch inside the building. Men on the walkways on each side of the rails would steady the boat on the cart with handling lines as it was lowered into the water. The boat was backed down the ramp so its motor entered the water first. The boat would float off the cart as the cart followed the rails into the water. When the boat returned, it was settled on the cart (posts on each side of the cart helped guide it) and the winch would pull the cart with the boat back to the boat room. Given that the Humboldt Bay Station had three rails for boats from the three-bay boat room connecting to double rails on the ramp, multiple boats could be launched from or returned to the boat room.
The marine railway was designed and built according to station’s original 1936 plans. The marine railway or boat launch ramp extends 274’ east from the building’s center roll-up doors (which originally opened into the boat room). The ramp has two steel 60-pound rail tracks set on 20 bents set on wooden pilings. Each of the 25’ wide bents is supported by three wooden pilings spaced approximately 12’ apart. The 20 bents with pilings are spaced 11’ 10” apart from west to east. The 31’ of ramp adjacent to the shore has wood plank decking under the track. Up the slope from wood plank decking, the tracks are set into reinforced concrete paving before they enter the station.
The two railways slope down into Humboldt Bay. The rails themselves are set on 10” by 12” wooden beams set on the bents. Each railway has two individual rails 5’ 9”apart. A single set of rails is on the south and a double set of rails is on the north. One set of the northern rails curves to the north continuing to the northernmost opening into the boat room. The two rails to the south continue directly west to the middle or southern openings into the boat room. The rails begin to submerge in the water between the ninth and tenth bents, about 100’ from the shore. According to the 1936 plans, the rails terminated at a point where they would have been approximately 7’ under water at median low tide.
Flanking the tracks are two side walkways and a narrow center catwalk, both with 6” by 3” wood plank decking. Men on the walkways and the catwalk helped guide the boats into the water. The center catwalk is about 18” wide and it extends out about 60’ from the shore, supported by six wooden pilings. The walkway, initially about 3’ wide, increases in width to about 5’ at the eleventh bent to the east. Each walkway is constructed on 6” by 12” joists set on nine bents with flanking pairs of pilings spaced east to west 23’ 9”apart. A horizontal cross brace holds the two pilings together.
The handrails on the walkways were added later; they are not shown on the original plans, nor are they visible in historic views of the marine railway. The date of their construction is not known, but they appear to date from the last 40 years.
By the 1920s, the marine railway had become a common feature of Coast Guard stations. Maritime historian Timothy Dring identifies the marine railway for launching boats directly into the water at protected locations such as harbor entrances, inlets and coves as one the “design hallmarks” of the “Roosevelt Style” Coast Guard stations of the 1930s and 1940s. The bright white painted station houses and boathouses, along with the typical motor lifeboat and surfboat on the ramp, served for many years as the well-recognized symbol of the coastal rescue mission of the Coast Guard.1
The marine railways became obsolete when the Coast Guard switched in the 1970s to much larger 44-foot long steel lifeboats. The 44-foot boats, too large and heavy to haul from a boat house station, were stored in separate boat houses built over the water. The 36-foot boats adapted to the marine railways have been phased out. Consequently, the marine railways have largely been removed from Coast Guard stations throughout the United States. Humboldt Bay is the only operating United States Coast Guard Station on the Pacific Coast with an extant marine railway.