History of Sanderling Resort’s Lifesaving Station

Sanderling Resort's Lifesaving Station as seen in the past.

By Sanderling Resort

While Sanderling Resort’s Lifesaving Station is a restaurant you can dine at today, the site historically served as the Caffey’s Inlet No. 5 Life-Saving Station. The Station, built in 1874, was established as one of the 29 stations along the Outer Banks of North Carolina that spanned 200 miles from Currituck to Oak Island. Due to the frequency of shipwrecks along the coast, the area became known as the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’.

Thanks in part to the Slick Family and Wes Stetson the building has retained its character and authenticity and is now also part of the National Historic Registry. In this post, learn about the Station’s past and the journey to its present.

In 1848, the Federal Government, administered under the United States Revenue Marine, formally got involved in the efforts to save lives of shipwrecked mariners that previously were private and humanitarian efforts. As the number of shipwrecks increased along the treacherous waters off North Carolina’s coast, stations were built along its coast starting in 1874. In 1878, the network of stations were recognized as a separate agency of the United States Treasury, called the Life-Saving Service. By 1915, President Wilson signed for the Life-saving Service to become the United States Coast Guard.

The unofficial motto of the U.S. Life-Saving Service was: “You have to go out; you don’t have to come back.” Keeper James

Due to the increasing shift from using sails to gasoline paired with the introduction of modern equipment like airplanes, radios, and radars, the Coast Guard began to abandon some of the stations. As shipping patterns used less of North Carolina’s coast in the late 1950’s, this cutback included the Caffey’s Inlet No. 5 station.

Eventually the Federal Government sold the site to Pine Island Inc. in 1965 and Earl Slick acquired it in 1977. He made plans to preserve its history while opening it up as a restaurant to the public in 1985.

Rescuers at Caffey’s Inlet patrolled for seven miles along the coast to look out for ships every day. This patrol was measured to go halfway between their station and the next, where they would meet their neighboring station’s patrol to turn a key in a time-clock. This check was then shown to the station’s Keeper to prove they had completed their patrol. Upon seeing a ship in distress, they would light a coston light and fire flares to warn ships if they were too close to land.

Crews could save ships either by 24 foot long surfboats or with a Lyle gun. These surfboats were stored in the current downstairs dining area of the Lifesaving Station restaurant. When wrecks were closer to shore, the Lyle gun was used to fire out an eighteen pound bullet over 300 yards for the stranded ship to use as a breeches buoy to pull themselves to shore.

Understanding the importance of history to the building, Wes Stetson took the task of collecting memorabilia for the site. “Most of the items were already at the site I just put them together in bespoke displays shadow boxes,” Stetson recalls. However, researching uniforms affiliated with the Station and Coast Guard proved to be a challenge. Badges and insignia were tracked down in New England and added to the decor. Further renovations began again in 2012.

One of the biggest changes made to the Lifesaving Station was the addition of the ‘Keeper’s Loft’ upstairs. It had originally been an open deck until about 1994. The front of the building has never changed. The No. 5 Bar originally served as a Board Room, and laundry was done in the back where the Kitchen now stands.” -Janice Beasley, Longtime Sanderling Resort Employee
Renovations to Keeper’s Loft in 2012 dressed up the venue to open its doors and hold both meetings and weddings.

Today the Lifesaving Station stands in remembrance of the courageous lifesavers who held watch over the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic.’ We hope that you will one day stop by to enjoy a meal and take in our piece of Outer Banks history.