The History of Surf-lifesaving in the Town of East Hampton
Over the last several days, I’ve been working with several members of East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue (EHVOR) to write a history page for our organization’s website. Our Chief, Michael Forst, felt that it would be interesting to let people know how EHVOR came to be and how the use of dory rescue boats for saving lives in the ocean changed over the years to the use of jet skis. My research led me to discover many things I didn’t know.
East Hampton has a rich history of everyday heroes, ordinary men and women who do extraordinary things. Since the 1770’s, when local volunteers patrolled the coastlines of New York, these heroes courageously saved many lives in the waters surrounding the Town of East Hampton. In 1848, The United States Life-Saving Service, a governmental agency, formed with the mission to save the lives of shipwrecked seafarers and their distressed passengers. Then in 1915, they merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the United States Coast Guard.
Fast forward to 1978, when a group of local, courageous East Hampton baymen organized themselves, forming what was to become the East Hampton Baymen’s Association Dory Rescue Squad, a volunteer organization that grew out of humanitarian efforts to protect the lives of people in distress in the waters around the Town.
Due to their unique fishing skills of haul-seining, a fishing practice that required specialized knowledge of how to deal with powerful surf, these men provided emergency response teams for the Town’s lengthy ocean coastline. Thanks to their unending commitment, their knowledge and skills saved many lives. At its peak, the group had 130 members, all men.
Benny H, Jens L, Tom F, Dan K, Billy H, WallyB, Stuart V, Calvin L, Richard L – Rescue Dory 1979-80 (All pictures in this piece were given to me by Tom Field, one of the original Dory Rescue responders)
Each year, the Dory Rescue Squad would drill with the East Hampton Ambulance preparing for any water emergency.
In 1990, however, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) banned haul-seining, a fishing practice that provided livings for many of the local baymen. Hauling-seining was a unique way of fishing that involved the use of 20 to 25-foot flat-bottomed wooden dory boats that had a narrow bow and a narrow stern. The baymen would launch their dory boats from the beach into the surf. Once out far enough, the fishermen laid seine nets in a U-shaped pattern. They would then bring the nets together, and row back to shore where the trapped fish, mostly Stripped bass, would be flopping in the huge nets. With this new ban on haul-seining, the baymen realized that there was no need to pass their skills and knowledge down totheir children as this fishing practice was now deemed illegal.
Sadly, in 2005, there were 17 members left when the group disbanded.
In 2003, however, a group of local, ocean certified lifeguards formed a rescue organization called East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue. These dedicated, tenacious lifeguards and ocean rescue swimmers, still to this day, train year-round to carry on the time-honored tradition of surf lifesaving that was passed on to them by the United States Life-Saving Service and the East Hampton Baymen’s Association Dory Rescue Squad.
The transition from the use of a dory boat, that was rowed by the dory rescue crew members, to the use of a motorized dory boat, to the acceptance of a jet ski used by members of EHVOR as a recognized rescue craft took place over many years.
How fortunate East Hampton Town is to have such an organization whose committed members respond to water emergencies 24 hours a day, 365 days a year since 2003. EHVOR is a one of a kind volunteer rescue organization, safeguarding thousands of swimmers each year with the mission of making expedient and safe water rescues year-round at all unprotected beaches from Wainscott to Montauk.