The Boats Collection contains over 300 images of NOAA boat operations. The majority of these images are of either Coast and Geodetic small boat operations or of its descendant organization, the NOAA Office of Coast Survey. However, there are also a number of images of marine mammal tagging operations, oceanographic operations such as buoy maintenance, or liberty boat runs.
In the case of the early Coast and Geodetic Survey small boat images, most boat work was carried out from ships serving as mother vessels for small boats or from shore camps supplied periodically by the mother vessel. In either case, boats would be engaged in hydrographic surveying or in supporting such things as signal building or tide gage installation. The boats would head out in the morning and then return after the day's work. Either working from a mother ship or from a shore camp there was much inherent danger as it was the job of the crew on the small vessels to find uncharted rocks, to carry their sounding lines as far towards the breaker line as they dared, and to make landings through the surf when setting up and supplying the shore camps. Even when not confronted with these conditions, there was the continual problem of knowing what the weather was like when putting small boats out in the morning but not knowing what the weather held in store when it came time to pick them up or return to camp. Even moderate seas can make boat retrieval a difficult task at best. Prior to modern radio communications, once a small boat was out of sight of the mother ship or shore camp it was on its own. When accidents occurred, it was often hours and sometimes days before the mother vessel was notified. In the course of the history of the Coast and Geodetic Survey at least 30 men died as the result of boat accidents. Given the conditions, it is only surprising that there were not more accidents. However, the millions of soundings collected and the charts produced by the men who did their lives work in these boats is a tribute to their courage and fortitude. They made American waterways safer for the mariners of the world.