Floats and buoys have been in use for many decades and similar to many other important devices, they are becoming replaced by more modern articles of less cost and others becoming obsolete.
Lobstering was at first an industry only accomplished by individuals or a small group not as a commercial venture. This method of catching lobsters was replaced around 1840 by commercial enterprises. Up to about that time, lobsters were so plentiful they could be caught by hand close to shore by anyone desiring them. Regulations concerning lobstering did not arrive to govern their harvesting till about 1900.
Around 1915, more strict laws were established requiring a license and, due to netting, the buoys anchored to the nets had to be registered by color designation, and the greatest number utilized were yellow and red.
A vital tool. Lobstermen carved their own buoys employing mainly cedar plus an added spindle of spruce to handle them by.
The buoys placed close to shore were smaller perhaps 4 to 5 inches in diameter and 8 to 12 inches long.
Years ago, buoys bobbing up and down in the rollers were a familiar sight up and down the east coast from North Carolina to Canada. Buoys were vital to all lobstermen due to the fact they marked where his trap pots were placed on the ocean floor, perhaps to depths of 50 or more fathoms.
Attached to the buoy was a warp line down to the trap. Upon retrieving the trap, the buoy is first taken up, the line is attached to a davit or crane sometimes used on the boat, the crane was swung out from the boat and the trap hauled in.
Traps or pots were long devices with spaced slats and the ends were semi-circular. This type was most commonly used, and the slots were either oak or spruce and had oak bottoms. This type was employed in the lobster catching trade for over 100 years. More recent types are wire cages.
Buoys that became too water-logged for use ended up in souvenir shops – the more barnacles on them the better.
Hard to find. This part of Americana is rapidly declining in quantity. Tourists desiring to create in their homes a nautical scene purchase these buoys, whether painted two colors or plain white, plus old floats of glass, old nets, traps and other equipment, old or new, as souvenirs and decoration.
Newer float materials have replaced buoys – small pieces of low cost plastic foam and other devices not as colorful or historic appearing as buoys. New ideas introduced are electronic-retrieved underwater buoys that are recalled by a sonar device, welded galvanized hollow steel floats, and another that telescopes to a desired length.
Traps, a go-along with buoys, were made in at least 6 types and appearances.
Round or flat. As stated earlier, the most common is the one shaped like a split piece of dowel – round on one side, flat at the bottom. A French type that is round with slats spaced apart made of chestnut with a side entrance weighted to lay on one side. A galvanized wire covered three bands with side braces used by the Dutch.
England made one, called a Leakey pot. Half-round in end view, the entire unit is nylon covered and about the usual length of any lobster trap and has a side entrance.
A Cornish pot derived its shape from a wicker beehive. It also was constructed of willow or hazel splints, and had a top entrance. Sticks placed through the wicker held the bait.