Sinking of sidewheeler leads to mandatory life preservers

On this day in 1837: The steamship Home, seeking to break its own record for fastest passage from New York to Charleston, fails to survive a storm off Cape Hatteras. Of 135 passengers and crew members, 90 perish.

The storm is not especially violent by Outer Banks standards, but the sleek, 220-foot sidewheeler, converted from inland to sea use, can’t handle the high waves.

When the boiler fires go out, the captain turns the Home toward land and grounds it seven miles east of Ocracoke village. As the ship begins breaking up, chaos rules – only three lifeboats and two life preservers are aboard.

At the time the Home disaster is the deadliest ever on U.S. shores. In response, Congress will pass the “Steamboat Act,” requiring all passenger ships to carry a life preserver for each person on board.


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