of the Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger
the German Maritime Museum, Bremerhaven
Photographed in 2011 before the closure
of the museum for refurbishment
In the middle of the 19th century, around 50 ships per year were
wrecked off the German North Sea islands. A lack of
equipment the only life-boat was stationed on the island
Norderney - and the beach law that was still in use often
prevented rescue measures. One of the accidents was the sinking of
the JOHANNE in 1854 off Spiekeroog, which cost the life of 84
emigrants. Moved by such disasters, calls for the formation of a
national rescue agency were raised. But it was not until 1861 that
rescue associations were founded independently of one another in
Emden, Bremerhaven and Hamburg. The first rescue stations were set
up on island of Juist and Langeoog. A few years later, further
private associations were founded on the Baltic coast between Kiel
To improve on the ineffctiveness of life-boat stations working in
isolation, a meeting to found a unified German Society for the
Rescue of Shipwrecked People (DGzRS) took place on May 29, 1865 in
Kiel on the initiative of the Bremen Association. The aim was to
standardise and improve the boats and other equipment and organise
the nation-wide to collection of donations. The DGzRS to this date
finances itself through donations only.
The association obtained in 1867 the patronage from the Prussian
King Wilhelm I (from 1871 Emperor), which enticed more local
rescue services to join. Ten years after it was founded, 91
stations were recorded and by 1887, the remaining rescue stations
from Prussia to the Russian border could also be transferred to
the DGzRS. In 1890, 25 years after it was founded, the company had
111 stations between Borkum and Nimmersatt and was divided into 58
district associations. The uniformly equipped network continued to
grow to a total of 129 stations by 1910 and at that time had the
largest expansion in its history.
Depending on the local situation the stations were either equipped
with rowing or sailing life-boats initially. The first rowing
boats were bought in England, but these wooden boats proved to be
too heavy to be towed across the soft dune-belts and wide beaches
along the German coasts. The DGzRS commissioned to boatbuilders,
Kirchhoff in Stralsund at the Baltic and Havighorst in
Bremen-Blumenthal at the North Sea, to develop a more suitable
boat-type. They choose the Francis-system. Francis-boats are
constructed hydraulically stamped panels of corrugated sheet-iron.
These boats had large sealed air-tanks along the sides and in the
bottom that were filled with cork. This made the boat floating
even in a filled state, self-draining as the floor was above the
load-line, and self-righting. The boats were kept in brick-sheds
and transported across the beaches on specially designed launching
carriages that were pulled by a team of eight horses with all the
crew and equipment on board. The carriage is backed into the sea
and the fore-carriage pin pulled, so that the rear-carriage
transforms into a slip-way down which the boat glides into the
on pictures for enlarged images. All images
by the author, if not otherwise noted.
(Light conditions in the museum are not very conducive to
taking photographs, which accounts for some the images being
'Souvenirs de la Matine'
Life-Boat GEHEIMRAT HEINRICH GERLACH of 1913
and Transport Carriage
FALCK, W.E. (2003): Die Francis-Boote
der Deutschen Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger (DGzRS).
- Das Logbuch, 39(1): 22-26, Köln (AK Historischer Schiffbau).
RABBEL, J. (2009): Vom Ruderboot
zum Motorrettungsboot.- Das Logbuch, 45(2): 57-64, Köln (AK Historischer Schiffbau).
WIRZ, H. (1965): Seenot - Opfer - Siege,
Ein Jahrhundert DGzRS.- 268 p., Bremen (Carl Schünemann).
webmaster at maritima-et-mechanica dot org