Coast Guard Heroes: Joseph O. Doyle

The Coast Guard Compass was proud to unveil the first 25 heroes the service’s new fast response cutters would be named for and we are even prouder to share the next 10 names with you in a continuation of our Coast Guard Heroes series. Over the next two weeks we’ll be sharing profiles of the namesakes of the Coast Guard’s fast response cutters, from legends of the U.S. Life Saving Service to courageous men who served during the Vietnam War. Today, we share with you the story of Joseph O. Doyle.


U.S. Life Saving Serice crew landing rescued

U.S. Life Saving Serice crew landing rescued


Written by Christopher Havern

Joseph O. Doyle was born in Canada April 17, 1836. He lived at the family homestead until 1853 when he decided to strike out for himself. He went to Oswego, New York and became a skillful boat builder. After learning this trade he became a successful fisherman. In 1858 he decided to become a trader. He built himself a boat and traded in fruit and fish between U.S. and Canada. It was while engaged in this business that he was capsized by the carelessness of his mate and swam through heavy surf to Yorkshire Island, where he lived for eighteen days until rescued by a passing schooner. On July 11, 1878 he was appointed keeper of the Charlotte, New York Life Saving Station. As keeper, he secured the appointment of a paid crew and became known as one of the most distinguished surfmen attached to the U.S. Life-Saving Service. His efficiency upon the occasions of shipwreck was always notable, but during 1878 he achieved two rescues so impressive that he was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal.

The first was the wreck of the schooner B.P. Dorr of Chicago, which was discovered Sept. 11, 1878. At 9:30 p.m. the ship stranded about a mile west of Doyle’s station, or approximately 1,200 yards from the beach. The vessel was visible by the flare of a strong torch on board despite the rain. A large crowd of men and women had gathered on the beach. They saw the boat, with the six men and the woman onboard; go swiftly toward the beach under the steady oar of the keeper and return to the sand and it was safely over.

Rochester-Charlotte LSS-no date


The second rescue in which Doyle showed his great skill and bravery involved the wreck of the schooner Star of Millpoint, Ontario, Canada Oct. 23, 1878. This vessel made an effort to gain the harbor at Charlotte during a fierce northwest gale, but missed the harbor entrance between the piers and was driven eastward about a 1,000 feet. Doyle and his men were assembled on the beach opposite the wreck. The vast drift was sweeping in from the northwest in huge rolling breakers, changing under the action of the wind. To launch a boat was simply impossible. It was equally impossible to reach the wreck with a shot-line. All Doyle could do was to wait until the wind had fully set to the northeast and somewhat beaten down the waves. The large beach-lantern of the station was lighted and planted in the sand. Signals were continuously made from the beach and pier to encourage the sailors upon the wreck. Under Doyle’s orders a lantern squad constantly scanned the surf ready to aid any men that might be washed ashore. But for the noble keeper and his men, her crew would have been lost.

For his heroic actions in the conduct of both rescues, Joseph O. Doyle was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal Aug. 2, 1879. Doyle held the position of keeper for 17 years and was medically retired Oct. 23, 1893 due to injuries received in service. He then founded a large boat building establishment at Charlotte. He later purchased several paying gold mines in Colorado and moved there to manage them. He died in Pueblo, Colorado Aug. 20, 1905.

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