Boon Island Light – York, Maine - Atlas Obscura
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York, Maine

Boon Island Light

New England's tallest light house stands on an island with a history of cannibalism and death. 

Six miles off the shore of York, Maine, lies a small pile of desolate rocks, usually inhabited only by sea birds and occasional colonies of seals. Known as Boon Island, this rocky outcropping is home to New England’s tallest lighthouse, Boon Island Light, which stands 133 foot tall and makes the tiny shoal identifiable for miles. 

Before the light was built in 1855, however, Boon Island was notoriously dangerous for ships. Most famously, the British merchant vessel, Nottingham Galley, wrecked on the island in December 1710. Of the Nottingham Galley’s 14 crew members, two died due to injuries sustained in the wreck, and two died aboard a makeshift raft in a desperate attempt to reach shore. The remaining ten sailors, who could see the mainland clearly, though they could not signal for rescue, stayed alive for 24 days without shelter, food, or fire. Only by eating the remains of their dead compatriots were they able to survive. After the ten were rescued, their story of cannibalism and survival on the island made it infamous.

After many years of light keepers on the island, today, Boon Island is uninhabited and the light is operated by solar power. When visiting by boat, despite the massive tower of the light looming over you, it is still easy to imagine how desperate and alone the Nottingham Galley crew must have felt. The rocks are barren and unfriendly looking, while shore seems just out of reach.

It’s well worth a day trip to see one of New England’s most notorious shipwreck sites, and to make you grateful that you can return to shore. If appreciating Boon Island from the safety of the mainland is more appealing to you, it is easily visible on a clear day from any of York’s sandy beaches. 

Know Before You Go

Boon Island lies approximately 6 miles off the coast of York, Maine. Take a personal vessel from York Harbor on a clear day and simply aim for the tall lighthouse on the island, which is visible for miles. With a brisk wind, the island can easily be reached under sail power as well. Be warned, however, the rocky island can be dangerous for boats and approaching too closely is not recommended, even on the calmest of days.

Distant viewing from shore is possible from York Harbor Beach, Long Sands Beach, or Nubble Lighthouse on Cape Neddick.