After her final decommissioning in 1981, Laffey was transferred to the Patriots Point Naval Museum near Charleston, South Carolina and designated a National Historic Landmark. Over the next 27 years, she became one of the nation’s best known museum ships. By late 2008, however, in the absence of maintenance, the condition of her hull had become critical: she had developed five major leaks that required de-watering and even without a hurricane or other triggering event, it was feared she might sink at her berth. Patriots Point closed her to visitors and faced the choices of restoring her or towing her out to sea and sinking her—either of which would have cost an estimated $10 million, well beyond its means.

Happily, in 2009, the State of South Carolina stepped in with a $9.2 million loan for Laffey’s restoration. That summer, the area around her pier was dredged and enclosing docks at an adjacent marina were moved. On 19 August, she was towed up the Cooper River to Detyens Shipyard at North Charleston, site of the former Charleston Navy Yard. For four months, Laffey remained in dry dock as workers under Project Manager Joe Lombardi replaced frames, keel and bulkheads in the machinery spaces plus the entire keelson from the stem to the after end of the skeg. They re-plated her entire bottom with 3/8-inch steel up to the 13-foot waterline, well above the current waterline. Finally, they gave her interior shell plating, bulkheads and frames two coats of epoxy and hydroblasted, primed and coated her exterior with a premium zinc-rich epoxy. On 9 December 2009, Laffey was refloated and towed to the South Carolina Ports Authority’s Veterans Terminal and, in June 2010, to an industrial site on nearby Shipyard Creek and, on 25 January 2012, back to an improved berth at Patriots Point.