Gordon Hesse


© 2017 Gordon Hesse


The New Jersey Maritime Museum

Bringing New Life to The Jersey Shore’s Nautical Heritage

by Gordon Hesse

Adapted from Jersey Shore magazine, Spring 2018

If you are fascinated by the many facets of the Jersey Shore—or think it’s limited to world-class beaches and boardwalks—there’s a place you might want to visit. The New Jersey Maritime Museum in Beach Haven is a two-story treasure chest of maritime artifacts, displays, accumulated nautical history and research, and diverse programs. (There are actually three floors, but more about that later.)

After three years of construction,

the museum opened its doors on July

3, 2007. It was the culmination of a

lifelong dream of Deborah Whitcraft,

a passenger vessel owner, former

diver and dive shop owner/instructor

(she was inducted into the Women

Divers Hall of Fame in 2011), and

columnist for local publications like

The Sandpaper, Beachcomber, and NJ

Boating Magazine. She’s also an ,

entrepreneur, philanthropist, Beach Haven

mayor (1996-2006), and wedding

officiant. The museum was her way

to pay homage to New Jersey’s rich

maritime history. She created it, with

lots of help, as a memorial where the

public can view firsthand—and free

of charge—important parts of New

Jersey’s heritage.

In the years since it opened, the

museum has grown at an amazing

rate, with donations and loans from

generous sponsors and patrons, the

diving community, and the general

public adding to its diverse collection.

The museum’s collection includes

5,000 shipwreck files, with more

than 4,800 folders describing the

misfortunes of vessels with as much

detail as could be gathered. From

each folder, key pieces of information

have been transcribed onto a data

sheet, a collection of facts about each

incident boiled down to key words

and phrases to make the information

searchable. This research data

base focuses on maritime events

that occurred in the waters along

the New Jersey coast, primarily the

Atlantic Ocean, Delaware Bay, and

Delaware River. It was collected from

a vast number of sources including

newspaper archives, ship’s logs, diaries,

United States Life-Saving Service

(USLSS) annual reports, shipwreck

books, periodicals, and many websites

on the internet.

Listed below are just some of the other contents and themes that can be found on display at the museum.

• U.S. Life-Saving Service Exhibit:

The USLSS was the predecessor of the U.S. Coast Guard. The exhibit includes rare documents, station log books, uniform medals and buttons, a complete 39-volume set of annual reports from 1876 to 1914, a Lyle gun, a coston flare canister, patrolman “checks,” and more.

• Rare Postcard Collection:  The collection includes New Jersey towns, USLSS stations, lighthouses, and other maritime-related fields.

• Extensive Research Library:  The library contains hundreds of rare, out-of-print books, periodicals (including Sailor’s Magazine  and Naval Journal, shipwreck files, and photographs.  

.• Pre-historic Fossils  (on loan):

Recovered from the inter-continental shelf off the New Jersey coast.

• Antique Navigational Equipment:

Including taffrail logs,a speaking trumpet, chronograph, compass, inclinometer, and navigational charts,

The New Jersey Maritime Museum in Beach Haven celebrated its tenth anniversary last summer. Along with a wide variety of exhibits, it includes space for research, rooms dedicated to a variety of maritime themes, and a shop that offers books, videos, and related materials.. courtesy of the New Jersey Maritime Museum


• Historic Photographs:  The collection

includes Beach Haven’s 1930s

head-boats by renowned photographer

Dave Gurtcheff along with

classic scenes of yesteryear Beach

Haven and other New Jersey coastal


• Shipwreck Artifacts:  The artifacts

include items recovered from various

wreck sites off the New Jersey

coast by well-known members of

the diving community.

• Antique China and Silver:

Includes items depicting coastal

towns, life-saving stations, and

lighthouses along the New Jersey coast.

• Morro Castle Exhibit:  The exhibit

is the most extensive of the shipwreck

ever seen, including rare

She won- dered what was the name of the vessel?What was its purpose? When did

it sink and why? And what happened to the passengers and crew? She later established two shops, Triton Divers and Inner Space Divers, and met more of the serious wreck divers(who she refers to as the “gorilla” divers to distinguish them from

less-experienced divers).

Over the years she and her first husband owned a series of fishing, sightseeing, and dive vessels, including the Black Whale (I, II, III, & IV) and the Deborah C.  They also offered cruises for passengers to the allures of Atlantic City on a regular basis.

Eventually, this, and Deb’s good luck winning $500,000 on a quarter slot. machine she’d been playing for more than a year, helped finance one of the vessels,  

Located on the corner of 528 Dock Road and West Avenue, and very close to Little Egg Harbor Bay, it’s not the kind of place you are likely to stumble upon meandering the southern end of Long Beach Island.

Deborah Whitcraft, New Jersey Maritime Museumpresident and treasurer, and Jim Vogel, museum executive director, flank the display of the U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet and outfit. It is part of the museum’s extensive collection of diving gear.            Photo by John Tawgin

With two floors of exhibits of models, photos, rare prints, out-of-print periodicals, and items salvaged by divers from shipwrecks, as well as U.S. Life-Saving records, there is something of interest for people of all ages at the New Jersey Maritime Museum.

photographs, original 1934 video

news footage of the disaster, 1934

newspaper accounts, original Acme

News media photos, an authenticated

life-vest worn by one of the survivors, autographed menus, stateroom keys, rescuer notes, inscribed tokens, and more.

• Antique Diving Gear:  The display

includes a Mark V Navy diving outfit, rebreather, double hose regulators, and more.

• Aurora artifacts:  The display includes china plates, platters, pitchers, and other artifacts recovered from the 1827 wreck off Sandy Hook.

• The Robert J. Walker Exhibit:

The Robert J. Walker  was an ironclad

side-wheel steamer assigned to the U.S. Coast Survey to chart the coast of the United States. The Walker  sank on June 21, 1860 after a collision with the Fanny  twelve miles east of Absecon Beach.

The museum is the only location to have a permanent exhibit of the Walker and some of her artifacts.

• 19th Century Shipbuilding Tools:

These tools help to understand how

those huge wooden ships were built by shipwrights and can be useful in dating shipwrecks.

Almost as interesting as the wide range of collections is how the museum cameto be. Its genesis can be traced back to when a sixteenyear-old Deb was being. Its genesis can be traced back to when a sixteenyear-old Deb was being certified as a SCUBA diver and saw her first shipwreck scattered on the ocean floor. Her curiosity was aroused.

which was late\ r sold with other assets to parlay into the three-year construction of the museum.

The museum was built entirely with private funds, the lion’s share coming from Deb, her husband, Jim Vogel, and her former husband, Bob Yates.

According to Jim Vogel, who now serves as the executive director of the museum, construction was estimated to cost nearly $2,000,000. To cut costs, Jim served as the general contractor. With contributions of paint, flooring, and other materials and services, the facility was built for $850,000.

There are two apartments on the third floor with life estate privileges for Deb and Jim in one, and Bob Yates in the other. Upon their deaths, the museum will revert to Stockton University in Galloway Township.

Deb continues to contribute her services not only as president of the museum’s board, but also as a wedding and civil union officiant.

With two floors of exhibits of models, photos, rare prints, out-of-print periodicals, and items salvaged by divers from shipwrecks, as well as U.S. Life-Saving records, there is something of interest for people of all ages at the New Jersey Maritime Museum. All fees for the ceremonies are donated to the museum. She said that she performs more than one

hundred weddings a year.

The museum is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit entity and deed restricted to remain so. It operates entirely on donations and is staffed by a group of dedicated volunteers.

A trip to the New Jersey Maritime

Museum is a worthwhile visit and

an essential part of the Jersey Shore