The North Carolina Maritime Museum's mission is to preserve and interpret all aspects of the state's rich maritime heritage through educational exhibits, programs, and field trips. Its exhibits and programming focus on North Carolina's maritime history and coastal natural history.
The 18,000-square-foot building is constructed of wood, and some of its design features resemble those of the early life-saving stations that were prevalent along the Carolina coast starting in the late nineteenth century. Public areas, in addition to the exhibit hall, include an auditorium, reference library, and the Museum Store.
In the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center, located directly across the street, visitors can watch boat restoration and construction from a platform above the boat shop floor. In the John S. MacCormack Model Shop, builders construct scale models of a variety of vessels. Classes in boat-building skills are offered for novices and experienced woodworkers alike. Class size is limited, and all tools and materials are provided. Classes are generally offered on the weekends.
Museum exhibits include Coastal Marine Life, North Carolina's Working Watercraft, U.S. Lifesaving Service and Commercial Fishing. Displayed are a typical 1950s outboard motor shop and outboards, ship models, fossil and shell collections, an observation bell, coastal plant and animal life exhibits, indigenous watercraft and more. The museum's library is available for reading and research.
The museum is also the official repository for artifacts from Blackbeard's flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge. In 1718, the notorious pirate ran his ship aground in Beaufort Inlet, roughly two miles from where the museum stands today. The exhibit illuminates the life of pirates aboard the ship with artifacts, interactive features, and fun facts.
Also on display is the reassembled skeleton of a sperm whale that washed ashore, dead, on Cape Lookout in 2004. Historically, the whaling industry was a mainstay of coastal North Carolina's economy, and sperm whales were one of the major species of hunted whales.
The museum's education staff has provided environmental education programs for the public since 1975. Coastal habitats are highlighted in trips to barrier island beaches, maritime forests, salt marshes and tidal flats. In addition, there are trawling trips aboard a research vessel, bird-watching, fossil hunts and kayaking trips. All museum trips and programs are guided and presented by natural science curators with many years of experience in the field.
Membership as a Friend of the Museum brings the Museum magazine, month e-news, the museum's calendar of activities, special invitations and discounts on most programs and Museum Store purchases. This nonprofit support organization has been vital to the museum's growth, including the acquisition of 36 acres in the Gallants Channel area, just north of the Beaufort drawbridge. The Gallants Channel site houses the museum's Junior Sailing Program, the Beaufort Oars and Sliding Seat Rowing Programs and the Great Lawn and Tall Ships Wharf, where special events and ship visits take place.
Museum and Watercraft Center hours are Monday through Friday 9 AM to 5 PM, Saturday 10 AM to 5 PM and Sunday 1 to 5 PM. No admission fee is charged.
Be sure to take the time to visit the Museum Store. It's the best place to find a special book on natural or maritime history or a navigation chart or topographical map. For more information, see the shopping section of this guide.
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