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Photo old Coastguard rescue boat in museum

Port Orford Lifeboat Station
Museum and Interpretive Center,
Port Orford Heads State Park

Open May 1-October 31
Wednesday-Monday, 10am-3:30pm
For more information,visit their website.
Available by appointment. Admission is free.

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Imagine men scrambling down 532 steep, slippery wood and concrete steps on a 280-ft. cliff in a raging storm to a 36-ft boat…surrounded by waves and rocks, buffeted by brutal winds, tearing out to sea to rescue sailors on a ship in trouble.

These men were US Coast Guard “surfmen,” and launched search and rescue missions from the Port Orford Heads from 1934 to 1970. They were responsible for a 40-mile stretch of coastline between Cape Blanco and Cape Sebastian. Men on a 37-ft lookout tower, perched at the westernmost tip of the Heads, watched for distress signals that sent the surfmen down to the boathouse in Nellies Cove.

Photo of Nellie's Cove
Nellies Cove today, where you can see the pilings and breakwater of the old boathouse.

It was a hard challenge. To fuel the lifeboats, crewmen carried five-gallon cans down to the cove, one can in each hand, until the tanks were full. And the brutal Winter storms could easily hold winds in excess of 100 mph.

The introduction of the helicopter and the development of faster lifeboats decreased the need for a series of lifeboat stations along the coast, and so station 318 was decommissioned in 1970.

Read about" The Storm Warriors"

Photo of old boathouse
Boathouse before it burned down.

Photo of Surfman's Badge
Surfman's Badge
"You have to go out, but you don't have to come back...."  Surfman's motto

Historic Site

The Point Orford Heritage Society, working with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, established a museum on this historic site June 3, 2000, giving visitors a glimpse into the life and responsibilities of the brave men who saved lives by putting their own on the line.

The two-story crew quarters and office building, the officer-in-charge residence, garage, storage building and pump house are still standing. Together with curbed driveways, areas of lawn and privet hedge surrounding the structures and the elevated paths and walkways, the ensemble conveys a particular sense of place and time.

The park’s main trails–the Cove, Tower and Headland trails– begin at the museum. From a viewpoint on the Cove Trail, watch for remnants of the stairway to Nellies Cove. The boathouse, burned down in the late 1970s, but you can still see its pilings and breakwater structures as well as portions of a rail-mounted carriage used to launch the boats into the cove.

In the museum, read about the 1942 Japanese submarine attacks off the south Oregon coast. You can also have an authentic GI "dog tag" made on a vintage machine. The Tower Trail leads to the historical location of the observation tower, which was removed when the station was decommissioned in 1970.

The park has excellent hiking trails on the headlands affording spectacular views up and down the Pacific Coast.


It was a long and complicated route to develop this Coast Guard station. The increase in shipping traffic along the Pacific Coast in the late 19th Century created an increasing problem with shipwrecks. On March 3, 1891, an act of Congress authorized the establishment of a much-needed life-saving station at or near Port Orford.

43 years later, the Port Orford station was finally commissioned at 8am, July 1, 1934. The Port Orford Lifeboat Station (Coast Guard Station #318) had a two-story crew quarters and office building, the officer-in-charge residence, garage, storage building, pump house and boat house. It was manned with an officer in charge, a crew of thirteen men, two motor lifeboats and two pulling boats (surf boats).

During World War II, the Coast Guard was placed under the US Navy, and the number of men assigned grew to well over 100 as their mission included coastal defense as well as lifesaving. Coast Guardsmen were sleeping in the attic and, with too many for the barracks, Neptune's Lodge (now the Castaway Motel) or the old Port Authority building were leased to house the overflow.

Wartime defenses were dramatic, and the site expanded to include a guardhouse, sentries, guard dogs, barbed wire, machine gun pits and foxholes. Below the foxholes stood a twenty-millimeter cannon, and there were gun lockers and cases of grenades in the armory.

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