The Oaks officers and crew were responsible for setting, inspecting, repairing, and replacing buoys that marked channels and shoals. During the Oaks years of service it was customary for tenders to relieve all buoys at least once a year for cleaning and repair. Occasionally buoys drifted off station, and it was up to the tenders to return them to the precise locations indicated on navigation charts.
Buoy tenders were also tasked with delivering coal, water, mail, and supplies to lighthouses and lightships. In 1934, when the Oaks coal-fired boiler was replaced with an oil-burning system, some of the crews coaling duties were eliminated.
Stationed at Staten Island, New York, the Oaks territory extended from Long Island Sound through New York Harbor and up the Hudson River as far as Albany. In 1931, there were 442 lights, buoys, and daymarkers for the Oak to tend in the New York Bay and harbor channels alone. The Lighthouse Service considered New Yorks Ambrose Channel so important that the gas buoys marking it were inspected three times a week.
Occasionally, buoy tender crews lent assistance to vessels in distress, as on August 31, 1925, when they responded to a distress signal from a small boat that had broken down in the fog. (Transcript of the letter follows)
U.S. Lightship Service
U.S. Treasury Department
I want to take this opportunity to let you know how much I appreciate the most efficient service rendered to me by Captain Broom, Commanding Officer, the officers and crew, of the U.S.S. Oak, of the U.S. Lightship Service, on August 31st, 1925, in having answered my distress signal, towing us to Indian Head, when my small raised deck cruiser, Wyola II recently broke down in the fog in Haverstraw Bay when I was returning to New York City with my wife and boy. If it had not been for this most admirable service upon their part, other boats having failed to respond to the distress signal, we might have come to some harm in the bay, especially as quite a sea later came up.
Their service was indeed most commendable.
Edward W. Macy, Director
Department Public Information
National Child Labor Committee