The Lifeboats at Bamfield BC

by Christopher Cole and John MacFarlane 2018

Pachena Lifeboat Station

The Pachena Bay Lifeboat Station (Photo from the MMBC collection.)

A lifeboat station was established at Pachena Bay in response to the great loss of life that was occurring on the West Coast of Vancouver Island at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The area had gained a fearful reputation as the "Graveyard of the Pacific". Other stations were established at key locations including Victoria and Tofino. When the Pachena Station was abandoned the building was sold and removed to Bamfield for use as a general store.

As is evident in the picture the facility at Pachena Bay was very fundamental and exposed to the bad weather and heavy seas experienced on the west coast.

Prior to the lifeboat stations being established the Dominion Government and LLoyd’s had an agreement with the B.C. Salvage Co. to keep the steam up all the the time on the salvage steamer Salvor. The Salvor would deliver a lifeboat where needed. The Salvor was stationed in the calmer, relatively wreck free waters of Esquimalt. The wreck of the Valencia on the West Coast of Vancouver Island demonstrated the need for lifeboat stations to be closer to the scenes of marine accidents.

The Tofino Lifeboat

The Tofino Lifeboat under oars (Photo from the MMBC collection.)

The Tofino Lifeboat station (at Spring Cove, Ucluelet) was the first to be established on the coast. After three years it was moved to Tofino. The first lifeboat there was powered by oars. In 1913 a gasoline engine powered vessel was purchased which suited conditions much better.

Lifeboat Station 1908

The Bamfield Lifeboat Assistance (I) at the Bamfield Lifeboat Station (Photo from the collection.)

The lifeboat station was moved to Bamfield in 1908 on Banfield Inlet which is protected and a better location for vessels. The new boathouse had a proper marine railway and boathouse to keep the Lifeboat between deployments. Some saltwater was filled with earth from the top of the hill, which was done with hand labour and a stone retaining wall was built to hold it. A residence for the Engineer was built there.

Lifeboat Station

The Bamfield Lifeboat Station boathouse track for launching and retrieving the boat (Photo from the MMBC collection.)

Banfield Creek Lifeboat Assistance (I)

Lifeboat at Bamfield

The Banfield Creek Lifeboat Assistance (I) (Photo from the MMBC collection.)

The first Banfield Creek Lifeboat Assistance served 1907–1909. She was built in 1907 by the Electric Launch Company of Bayonne New Jersey USA. She was designed by Captain C.H. McLellen. 36.0’ x 8.2’ She was propelled by screw (35–40hp Holmes Auto Marine gasoline engine), lug rigged sails, and oars.

She was diagonally planked in two layers of mahogany with canvas in between. She was fastened with gun metal and copper as it was specified that no iron was permitted in the construction. Her Coxwain was Captain William Gillen.

Lifeboat at Bamfield

Banfield Creek Lifeboat Assistance (I) (Photo from the MMBC collection.)

In 1909, when she broke free from her moorings during a south–east gale and wrecked on Robbers Island.

The Banfield Creek Lifeboat Assistance (II)

Banfield Creek Lifeboat Assistance (II) was built 1909 as a duplicate of first lifeboat. She used the engine from first boat and was re–powered in 1912. She served 1909–1951.

Her Coxwain was Captain William Gillen followed by Percy Brady.

Lifeboat at Bamfield

Banfield Creek Lifeboat Assistance (II) (Photo from the MMBC collection.)

Banfield Lifeboat

Lifeboat at Bamfield

The Banfield Lifeboat while still afloat. (Photo from the Captain Tony Toxopeus collection.)

The Banfield Lifeboat served 1951–1969. ON 193828 built 1950 by Chantier Maritime de Saint–Laurent, Isle d'Orleans, QC. wooden hull She was powered by 4–71 GM diesel engine. She had a crew of six, including the Coxswain. The vessel was built to specifications to match the capabilities of U.S. Coast Guard vessels of a similar type at that Time. Standard equipment (which was quite technologically advanced for the time) included a radiotelephone, direction finder, line–throwing rocket gun, a searchlight and a first aid kit.

As originally constructed she had no cabin covering to protect the crew as this was the design advocated by the U.S. Coast Guard. The coxswain, John Logvinoff, arranged for a cabin to be built on his own authority. R. Bruce Scott recounts the marvellous anecdote that during a visit by the Neah Bay Lifeboat to the station the U.S. Coastguardsmen admired the modification. When they wrote to the Department of Transport HQ in Ottawa for the plans the senior managers contacted Bamfield asking "What plans?", "What cabin?"

The lifeboat crew kept a 24–hour radio watch with the lighthouses at Cape Beale and Pachena Point. Her coxswain until 1972 was John Logvinoff

Lifeboat at Victoria

The Banfield Lifeboat on display at the Coast Guard Base in Victoria BC about 1990. (Photo from the John MacFarlane collection.)

In 1990 Captain Alec Provan contacted John MacFarlane at the MMBC about taking the lifeboat into their collection. It had become surplus to their needs and occupying valuable footprint at the base. They alternative was that she would be sold off. Captain Provan arranged for it to be transferred to the museum’s collection. Very quickly however the logistical difficulties of such an acquisition became apparent – the Museum could not manage either an exhibition venue or a storage venue. MacFarlane contacted the Alberni Valley Museum to see if there was interest in transferring the vessel to a site closer to her original venue. Fortunately the City was enthusiastic about taking her on and in 1992 she was moved to Port Alberni.

Lifeboat at Port Alberni

The Banfield Lifeboat on public display at Port Alberni BC in 2016. (Photo from the John MacFarlane collection.)

Subsequently the Lifeboat was transferred to the collection of the Maritime Heritage Centre in Port Alberni and they have created a protected outdoor display site very close to the waterfront. This proves to be a great attraction and is the main focus of the holdings of the group that operates the Centre.

Bamfield CG104


The Bamfield CG104 (Photo from the John MacFarlane collection.)

1969–2001 Bamfield CG104 She was built by McKay Cormack Ltd. Victoria , British Columbia in 1969 and sold 2001. 44.9’ x 12.66’ x ? 22gt 17.9 disp steel hull Her call sign was CG2390. She was powered by 2 x Cummins diesel V6–200M engines and later re–powred by 2 x Caterpillar 3208 diesel engines.

The hulls of the 44 foot MLBs (motor life boats) were built out of 1/4 inch corton steel. This would be as strong as if it were built out of 1/2 inch regular steel. In 1969 there were 3 lifeboats built for the west coast. The CG104 for Bamfield, the CG105 for Tofino and the CG106 for Bull Harbour. When these boats were built they were powered by V6 Cummins engines with a hydraulic start. These engines gave the boat a top speed of 13+ knots. The 44’ MLBs would reach about 12 knots at half power. This meant they could tow quite well and still have lots of power in reserve. In the late 1970s or early 1980s the Cummins engines were replaced with Caterpillar 3208 engines, and equipped with an electric start. The top speed with these engines was 12 knots with no where near the towing power that the previous engines had. In 2000 the original 44’ MLBs from Bamfield, Tofino, and Bull Harbour were decommissioned and sold off by the Crown Assets and Disposal Corp.

Dave Howell’s Dad (name to be inserted here) recalled that when the Coast Guard Hovercraft that was stationed in Parksville was decomissioned it was replaced by a fourth 44’ life boat. This boat had been in service in Nova Scotia at the Coast Guard College in Sydney NS. While there it had been in a collision, struck amidships on the starboard side. The Atlantic Region decided not to repair this vessel and took it out of service. About 1990 she was assigned to the West Coast. This vessel was powered by GM V8–71 engine so she had lots of power. The boat became a winter project for the engineers from one of the R–class cutters that was in the shipyard for refit. Normally they would have been laid off for the duration of their ships refit but were given the task of rebuilding the Lifeboat’s engines. While that was taking place the damage on the starboard side was cut out and a new piece was fabricated and welded into place. This boat was then sent to French Creek and operated there until being replaced by one of the new 47’ MLBs, about 2005.


Rigid hulled inflatable boats at the Coast Guard station. (Photo from the collection.)

C.C.G.C. Cape McKay

Cape McKay

The C.C.G.C. Cape McKay at the Bamfield Coast Guard station. (Photo from the Christopher Cole collection.)

Bamfield CG Station

The current Bamfield Coast Guard Station. (Photo from the Christopher Cole collection.)

Cape McKay

The C.C.G.C. Cape McKay at the Bamfield Coast Guard station. (Photo from the Gordon Tolman collection.)

Cape McKay

The C.C.G.C. Cape McKay at speed. (Photo from the Gordon Tolman collection.)

To quote from this article please cite:

Cole, Christopher and John M. MacFarlane (2018) The Lifeboats at Bamfield BC. 2018.

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