Egan Maritime's Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum

158 Polpis Road, Nantucket, MA 02554 - United States




During the summer of 1967 there was a buzz on Nantucket: Robert “Bob” Caldwell was dreaming of a way to share his extensive collection of lifesaving memorabilia with the public. That fall Bob gathered with island pal H. H. Kynett, former trustee of the Mystic Seaport Museum, and local mariners and marine enthusiasts Robert F. Mooney, Paul C. Morris, Jr., Charles F. Sayle, and Edouard A. Stackpole to make plans for a museum.

On December 6, 1967 at the Town of Nantucket Board of Selectmen’s meeting, the gentlemen put forth an application for certificate of incorporation, and were approved. Soon after, Nantucket Life Saving Museum, Inc. was founded and the two year journey to build and open the nation’s first Lifesaving Museum began. In 2004 the Museum was enfolded into Egan Maritime Institute. In 2008, 40 years since incorporation and after a $3-million capital campaign to renovate, reinterpret, and rebrand, the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum opened to the public.

In the 19th Century, hundreds of ships passed by Nantucket Island each day, all navigating without the benefit of modern nautical technology. Unpredictable storms, dense fog and strong currents often caught even the most experienced sailors off guard. Treacherous shoals and inclement weather led to over 700 shipwrecks in the surrounding waters of Nantucket, causing the area to be dubbed “a graveyard of the Atlantic.”

The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum preserves the memory of those Islanders who risked their lives to save shipwrecked mariners. These men served in organizations devoted to maritime rescue, such as the Massachusetts Humane Society; United States Life-Saving Service; and the United States Coast Guard.

The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum features permanent and changing exhibitions that will fascinate both children and adults. Permanent exhibits are devoted to the history of Nantucket lifesaving; famous shipwrecks and rescues; life-saving equipment; the daily routine at a life-saving station; and the workings of the United States Coast Guard in modern day.

From a collection of over 5,000 artifacts, other highlights of the museum include period surfboats; beach carts; vintage photographs; and a Fresnel lens from Brant Point Lighthouse and Great Point Lighthouse.


At 11 A.M., 1 P.M., and 3 P.M., a Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum Guide will share stories taken from the “Assistance Rendered Reports” written by the U.S. Coast Guard’s Madaket Lifesaving Station. Reports in the collection date from 1916 to 1946 and describe day-to-day events ranging from rescues to delivering needed medicine to residents of nearby Tuckernuck Island. In a time before AAA, 911 calls and Uber drivers, the Coast Guard Stations rendered a variety of services to the island community. We have names, times and places to share. Perhaps a relative or family friend will come to life in a tale of a bygone era.

Additionally, the day’s offerings will include activities for young visitors with two new children’s games recently introduced at the Museum:

Shipwrecks & Sailors: with the intent to save the lives of those stranded on shipwrecks around the island of Nantucket, players strike out into the dangerous waters off Nantucket, rescuing sailors and learning about the real shipwreck that met with disaster.

Lifesaving Service Memory Game: For younger audiences, this simple memory game aids the learning process by familiarizing participants with the tools used during rescue efforts.


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