The LSS had two basic boats; surfboats and lifeboats. The terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference. Either type can be rowed or powered.
The lifeboat was created in 1784 in England by a coach-builder named Lionel Lukin. He was obsessed by the fact that the crew and passengers of a stricken hip would take to the small boats only to lose their lives when it would overturn or sink in rough weather. He redesigned a 20-foot Norwegian yawlby installing water-tight chambers filled with cork in the double-ended bow and stern. He then installed a heavy cast iron keel to make it right itself if it would turn over in heavy seas. He then installed a deck inside with scuppers on the sides above the water line. This would make it self-bailing. He called it an “unimmersible” and named it The Experiment. His concept was successful and the true lifeboat was born.
The design was also applied to a rescue boat on-shore to go out when a ship was in distress. The first American rescue lifeboat came on line in 1851. It was 30 feet in length, typically with air chambers, weighted keel, self-bailing, and self-righting. These were manned by volunteers who would function like today’s volunteer fire department.
By 1873, the latest design was.34 feet long. It required eight oarsmen and a coxswain, have two removable masts, four sails, a jib, and centerboard.
In 1899 at the Marquette Life Saving Station on Lake Superior in Michigan, the first motorized lifeboat was born. A 34-foot lifeboat was brought in from a Life Saving Station in New Jersey, and, under the watchful eyes of Captain Henry Cleary and the Lake Shore Engine Company of Marquette, a 2-cylinder 12 horsepower Superior engine was installed. This proved successful and the process of equipping other lifeboats began. By 1909 the engines were increased to 35 and 40 horsepower. They still had provisions for sails and rowing. By the 1930s, newer boats were soon being built (E Class) and the length was increased to 36 feet. These would serve until the mid 1970s.
Surfboats were lighter weight, smaller, and of shallower draft than the lifeboats. They were easier to transport over the beach and more easily maneuvered in the surf. They were designed to be hand launched and were typically 23 to 27 feet long and weighed between 700 and 1,100 pounds. They were self-bailing. They were not self-righting, but were fairly easy to right. Though the boat was designed to be pulled and launched by hand, some station personnel acquired horses to help on long beach trips.
David Dobbins, a LSS Superintendent, developed a compromise. The Dobbins lifeboat was self-bailing and self-righting, but it was only 24 to 30 feet long and weighed between 1,600 and 2,000 pounds. It could be launched by hand, but did not carry as many people as the 36-foot lifeboat.
For a complete list of LSS surfboats and lifeboats go to this Link.