U.S. Life-Saving Station, East Quogue, 1904. (Image from the Southampton Pictorial Collection of the Suffolk County Historical Society Library Archives. Copyright © Suffolk County Historical Society. All rights reserved.)
Early life-saving stations were run entirely by volunteers. Local baymen and farmers lived at the stations from October until May to patrol the coastline for stranded ships and perform rescues when needed. After decades of public outrage over fatal shipwrecks along the Atlantic Coast, however, the U.S. Congress finally acted, in 1871, to appropriate funds to create a federal life-saving system. The provision allowed the Secretary of the Treasury to build new life-saving stations and employ crews to man them. Sumner Kimball served as General Superintendent of the United States Life-Saving Service (USLSS) from the day it was formed to the day it ended in 1915. Kimball began by organizing the new USLSS into thirteen districts from Maine to Florida, to the Gulf Coast and the Pacific, and north to the Great Lakes. Long Island was
designated as District 4, and by 1914 it had 30 life-saving stations.
The stations along the Atlantic Coast were continually threatened by wind and encroachment of the sea, forcing the stations to be moved back from the ocean. In 1877, the Jones Beach station was hit by a storm that forced abandonment of the building when the ocean tore the station from its foundation and began to carry it away, requiring the crew to anchor their station like a ship to save it. The USLSS realized it could never withstand the powers of the sea, so it made its stations moveable. The stations of New York were built in the classic pattern of three to five miles apart. Beach patrols and lookouts covered the coastline, and the close proximity of the stations allowed for joint rescue missions involving two or more stations. New York was the only state to have life-saving stations on both the ocean and the Great
There were 279 stations in the United States by the end of the Life-Saving Service in 1915, when the newly created U.S. Coast Guard took control of the stations.