A lightvessel, or lightship, is a ship that acts as a lighthouse. They are used in waters that are too deep or otherwise unsuitable for lighthouse construction. Although some records exist of fire beacons being placed on ships in Roman times, the first modern lightvessel was off the Nore sandbank at the mouth of the River Thames in England, placed there by its inventor Robert Hamblin in 1734. The type has become largely obsolete; lighthouses replaced some stations as the construction techniques for lighthouses latter advanced, while large, automated buoys replaced others.
A crucial element of lightvessel design is the mounting of a light on a sufficiently tall mast. Initially, this consisted of oil lamps that could be run up the mast and lowered for servicing. Later vessels carried fixed lamps, which were serviced in place. Fresnel lenses were used as they became available, and many vessels housed these in small versions of the lanterns used on lighthouses. Some lightships had two masts, the second holding a reserve beacon in case the main light failed.
Initially, the hulls were constructed of wood, with lines like those of any other small merchant ship. This proved to be unsatisfactory for a ship that was permanently anchored, and the shape of the hull evolved to reduce rolling and pounding. As iron and steel were used in other ships, so were they used in lightvessels, and the advent of steam and diesel power led to self-propelled and electrically lighted designs. Earlier vessels had to be towed to and from station.
Much of the rest of the ship was taken up by storage (for oil and the like) and crew accommodations. The primary duty of the crew was, of course, to maintain the light, but they also kept record of passing ships, observed the weather, and on occasion performed rescues.
In the early 20th century, some lightships were fitted with warning bells, either mounted on the structure or lowered into the water, the purpose of which was to warn of danger in poor visibility and to permit crude estimation of the lightship relative to the approaching vessel. Tests conducted by Trinity House found that sound from a bell submerged some 18 feet (5.5 m) could be heard at a distance of 15 miles (24 km), with a practical range in operational conditions of 1–3 miles.
Holding the vessel in position was an important aspect of lightvessel engineering. Early lightships used fluke anchors, which are still in use on many contemporary vessels. These were not very satisfactory, since a lightship has to remain stationary in very rough seas which other vessels can avoid, and these anchors are prone to dragging.
Since the early 19th century, lightships have used mushroom anchors, named for their shape, which typically weigh 3-4 tons. They were invented by Robert Stevenson. The first lightvessel equipped with one was an 82-ton converted fishing boat, renamed Pharos, which entered service on 15 September 1807 near to Bell Rock, and had a 1.5 ton anchor. The effectiveness of these anchors improved dramatically in the 1820s, when cast iron anchor chains were introduced (the rule of thumb being 6 feet of chain for every foot depth of water).
As well as the light, which operated in the fog and also at night, from one hour before sunset to one hour after sunrise, early lightvessels were equipped with red (or very occasionally white) day markers at the tops of masts, which were the first objects seen from an approaching ship. The designs varied, filled circles or globes, and pairs of inverted cones being the most common among them.
Later lightships, for purposes of visibility, normally had bright red hulls which displayed the name of the station in white, upper-case letters; relief light vessels displayed the word RELIEF, instead. A few ships had differently coloured hulls. For example, the Huron Lightship was painted black since she was assigned the black buoy side of the entrance to the Lake Huron Cut. The lightvessel that operated at Minots Ledge, Cohasset, Mass. from 1854 until 1860 had a light yellow hull to make it visible against the blue-green seas and the green hills behind it.
David Avery and Robert Hamblin in 1731 placed the earliest British lightship at The Nore near the mouth of the River Thames. This was a private venture that operated profitably and without the need for government enforcement of payment for lighting services.
Over time, Trinity House, the public authority charged with establishing and maintaining lighthouses in England and Wales, crowded out the private light vessels. Trinity House is now responsible for all the remaining lightvessels England and Wales, of which there are currently eight unmanned lightvessels and two smaller light floats.
The British were the first to deploy unmanned lightships, called crewless lightships in the early 1930s, which could operate for six months to one year.
The first lightvessel conversion to solar power was made in 1995, and all vessels except the '20 class' have now been converted. The '20 class' is a slightly larger type of vessel that derives its power from diesel electric generators. Where a main light with a visible range in excess of 20 nautical miles (37 km) is required, a '20 class' vessel is used, as the main light from a Trinity House solar lightvessel has a maximum range of 19 nautical miles (35 km).
Hull numbers: 19, 22, 23 and 25 (the 20 class); 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 17 (solar lightvessels); and LF2 and LF3 (solar lightfloats).
The first United States lightship was established at Chesapeake Bay in 1820, and the total number around the coast peaked in 1909 with 56 locations marked. Of those ships, 168 were constructed by the United States Lighthouse Service and six by the United States Coast Guard, which absorbed it in 1939. From 1820 until 1983, there were 179 lightships built for the U.S. government, and they were assigned to 116 separate light stations on four coasts (including the Great Lakes).
The first United States lightships were small wooden vessels with no propelling power. The first United States iron-hulled lightship was stationed at Merrill's Shell Bank, Louisiana, in 1847. Wood was still the preferred building material at the time because of lower cost and ability to withstand shock loading. Wooden lightships often survived more than 50 years in northern waters where the danger of rotting was reduced. Lightvessel 16 guarded Sandy Hook and Ambrose stations for more than 80 years; she had both an inner hull and an outer hull with the space between filled with salt to harden the wood and reduce decay. Several lightships built with composite wood and steel hulls in 1897 proved less durable than either wood or steel. The first modern steel lightship in United States service was lightvessel 44 built in 1882. One of the last United States wooden hulled lightships built, lightvessel 74, went into service at Portland, Maine, in 1902. The first United States lightships with steam engine propulsion were built in 1891 for service on the Great Lakes where seasonal ice required prompt evacuation of light stations to avoid destruction of the lightships.
The official use of lightships in the United States ended March 29, 1985, when the United States Coast Guard decommissioned its last such ship, the Nantucket I. Many lightships were replaced with Texas Towers or large navigational buoys - both of which are cheaper to operate than lightvessels. In fact, lighthouses often replaced lightships.
The naming and numbering of American lightships is often confusing. Up to and through the Civil War lightships were identified by name, usually that of the station where they served. As they were moved from station to station, however, the keeping of records became hopelessly tangled. Therefore, in 1867 all existing lightships were given numbers by which they would be permanently identified, and the station at which they were presently serving was painted on their sides, to be changed as needed. Lightships held in reserve to serve in place of those in dock for maintenance were labeled "RELIEF". Surviving lightships are commonly taken to be named according to these labels, but for instance the "Lightship Chesapeake" actually served at two other stations as well as being used for examinations, and last served at the Delaware Light Station. In another case, the LV-114 was labeled "NEW BEDFORD", though there has never been such a station. In an attempt to sort out the early lightships, they were assigned one or two letter designations sometime around 1930; these identifications do not appear in early records, and they are to some degree uncertain.
There are three different and overlapping series of hull numbers. The Lighthouse Service assigned numbers beginning with "LV-" and starting from 1; however, not all numbers were used. When the Coast Guard took over the lighthouse service, all existing lightships were renumbered with "WAL-" prefixes, beginning with "WAL-501". In 1965 they were renumbered again, this time with "WLV-"; however in this case the numbers given were not sequential. Given that only six vessels were constructed after the Coast Guard takeover, the "LV-" series numbers are most commonly used.
It is estimated that there are 15 United States lightships left today. Among them:
There are currently 3 unmanned German lightvessels:
In Russia lightships have been documented since the mid 19th century. The lightvessel service was subordinated to the Russian Hydrographic Office and most of the lightships under it were in the Baltic Sea. In the early 1900s there were about ten lightships in the Russian sector of the Baltics. Among these the following may be mentioned:
Yelaginsky, located on the Yelagin Channel —later moved to the Petrovsky Channel and renamed, Nevsky in the middle of the main channel to St. Petersburg, and Londonsky on Londonsky Shoal off Kotlin Island on the approach to Kronstadt. Other Baltic lightships were located further to the West, with Werkommatala by Primorsk (Koivisto) harbour, Lyserortsky at the entrance of the Gulf of Finland, and Nekmangrund over the treacherous shoals off Hiiumaa Island's NW shore, known as Hiiu Madal in Estonian.
Another well-known lightship was Irbensky of the Soviet Union era. It was the last Russian lightship, having been located in the Baltic in the 1980s, and was briefly renamed Ventspilssky while serving near Ventspils port in the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic.
The last Russian lightvessel in service was Astrakhansky-priyomniy, of the same class as Irbensky. Until 1997 she was marking the deepwater channel leading to Astrakhan harbour while it was doing service in the Caspian Sea.
The duty that lightvessels serve places them in harm's way. Many lightships have been lost in hurricanes.
Some destroyed lightships:
The Colchester Reef Light is an actite lighthouse situated on Colchester Reef in the Western Basin of Lake Erie south of the town of Colchester, Ontario.
It was originally built in 1885 by Colonel William P. Anderson to replace a lightvessel that was previously stationed on that location. The original lighthouse tower was demolished in 1954 and the current structure is a white steel skeletal tower with a helicopter landing pad.
It is currently listed on the Canadian List of Lights as Light No. 620 and can be found on the [Canadian Hydrographic Service] Chart No. 2123.Diamond Shoal Light
Diamond Shoal Light is an inactive offshore lighthouse marking Diamond Shoals off Cape Hatteras.Fladen
The Lightship No. 29 FLADEN is a lightvessel built in 1915 and now a museum ship moored at the Maritiman maritime museum in Gothenburg, Sweden.She was stationed in the Baltic Sea at Hävringe and later at Öland bank. She was then moved to Fladen bank in 1966.
She was replaced in 1969 by an anchored buoy.Kentish Knock (England)
The Kentish Knock is a shoal (shallow area of the sea bed) in the North Sea, east of the Thames Estuary in southeast England.Light characteristic
A light characteristic is a graphic and text description of a navigational light sequence or colour displayed on a nautical chart or in a Light List with the chart symbol for a lighthouse, lightvessel, buoy or sea mark with a light on it. The graphic indicates how the real light may be identified when looking at its actual light output type or sequence. Different lights use different colours, frequencies and light patterns, so mariners can identify which light they are seeing.Lightship 2000
Lightship 2000 (Welsh: Goleulong 2000) was a restored old red Lightvessel with a cafe and chapel on board situated in Cardiff Bay. During the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay, the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation called together the churches in Cardiff to discuss the role of Christianity in the Bay. Lightship 2000 was the result of these discussions.Lightship Finngrundet (1903)
The Lightship Finngrundet is a lightvessel built in 1903 and now a museum ship moored in Stockholm, Sweden.Lightvessel Gedser Rev
Lightvessel No. XVII Gedser Rev (Danish: Fyrskib XVII Gedser Rev) is a decommissioned lightvessel built in 1895, now serving as a museum ship in Helsingør, Denmark, having formerly been stationed in the Nyhavn Canal in Copenhagen. It is owned by the National Museum and takes its name after Gedser Rev south of Falster where it was stationed most of its working life.Lightvessel No. 11
Lightvessel No.11 was a lightvessel that was in service in the Irish Sea between 1951 and 1988. She was built in 1951 for Trinity House by Philip & Son Ltd in Dartmouth, England.
She was used as a lightvessel near St Gowans Banks and Morecambe Bay before being retired on 21 October 1988. She was sold to Pound's Marine Service Ltd in 1991 for the price of £20,000, arriving in Portsmouth on 16 July 1991. She was later sold to Gus van der Loodt in 1995, who towed her to Rotterdam to convert her to a floating restaurant, opening as Breeveertien in 1999. She has been moored in the Wijnhaven, Rotterdam ever since, except for a brief period in April/May 2009 where she underwent a refit and restoration under new owners. Since 1 November 2009 she has been the location for Restaurant Tinto serving Spanish & Portuguese cuisine.Lightvessels in Ireland
Lightvessels in Ireland describes any lightvessel or lightfloat previously stationed off the coast of Ireland. The Commissioners of Irish Lights are responsible for the majority of marine navigation aids around the island of Ireland.Lightvessels in the United Kingdom
The history of lightvessels in the United Kingdom goes back over 250 years. This page also gives a list of lightvessel stations within the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar.List of lighthouses and lightvessels in Denmark
This is a list of lighthouses and lightvessels in Denmark. Except for the island of Bornholm, Denmark is located at the transition between North Sea and Baltic Sea which includes the Skagerrak and Kattegat waters.List of lightships of the United States
This is a list of lightships of the United States, listing lightships operated by the United States government. The first US lightship was put in place off of Willoughby Spit in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, in 1820. Lightships remained in service in the United States until March 29, 1985, when the last ship, the Nantucket I, was decommissioned. During that period, lightships were operated by several branches of the government: by the Lighthouse Establishment from 1820 to 1852, the Lighthouse Board from 1852 to 1910, the Lighthouse Service from 1910 to 1939, and the Coast Guard from 1939 to 1985.
The naming conventions used for lightships are not consistent. Until 1867, there was no uniform method to refer to individual lightships. Lightships in that period generally took the name of the station that they served, but occasionally other names. These names were not permanently assigned to an individual vessel. Rather, whenever a lightship was moved to a new station she took on that name. That made identifying individual ships nearly impossible. Beginning in 1867, lightship numbers (hull numbers) were assigned to ships still in service. These numbers are the primary means of identifying individual lightships across her various stations. In 1938, the Lighthouse Service retroactively allocated letter codes to the unnumbered lightships based on their research of available records, although some ships may have been lost or misidentified. Even with the hull numbers, it is common to refer to a lightship by the name of the station it serves (or Relief, if it is a relief ship) and a few, such as the Nantucket I and Nantucket II have been given individual names.Puffin (lightvessel)
The Puffin was a British lightvessel situated at Daunt Rock, 5 miles southwest of Roche's Point near the Cork harbour entrance, and was in the care of the Commissioners of Irish Lights.
The ship was built in 1887 by Schlesinger Davis & Co. in Wallsend, with yard number 144. Built of iron, it was 28.5 m long and 7.3 m wide, had a draught of 3.4 m and displaced 150 tons.It sank on October 8, 1896, in a hurricane. The entire crew of eight was lost. In August 1897, the wreck of the Puffin was towed into Cobh harbour.Seven Stones Reef
The Seven Stones reef is a rocky reef nearly 15 miles (24 km) west-northwest (WNW) of Land's End, Cornwall and 7 miles (11 km) east-northeast (ENE) of the Isles of Scilly. The reef consists of two groups of rocks and is nearly 2 miles (3.2 km) long and 1 mile (1.6 km) in breadth. They rise out of deep water and are a navigational hazard for shipping with 71 named wrecks and an estimated 200 shipwrecks overall. The most infamous is the Torrey Canyon in 1967, which was at that time the world's costliest shipping disaster, and to date, still the worst oil spill on the coast of the United Kingdom.The Sevenstones lightvessel has been situated to the east of the reef since 1841, to warn ships of the danger and to mark the western boundary of a major north/south shipping route between the Isles of Scilly and the Cornish coast. An automatic weather station is on the lightvessel.Sevenstones Lightship
Sevenstones Lightship is a lightship (also known as a lightvessel) moored off the Seven Stones Reef which is nearly 15 miles (24 km) to the west-north-west (WNW) of Land's End, Cornwall, and 7 miles (11 km) east-north-east (ENE) of the Isles of Scilly. The reef has been a navigational hazard to shipping for centuries with seventy-one named wrecks and an estimated two hundred shipwrecks overall, the most infamous being the oil tanker Torrey Canyon on 18 March 1967. The rocks are only exposed at half tide and it was not feasible to build a lighthouse so a lightvessel was provided by Trinity House. The first was moored near the reef on 20 August 1841 and exhibited its first light on 1 September 1841. She is permanently anchored in 40 fathoms (73 m) and is 2.5 miles (4.0 km) north-east (NE) of the reef. Since 1987, the Sevenstones Lightship has been automated and unmanned.The Seven Stones lightvessel also acts as an automatic weather station. A series of Trinity House lightships stationed near the Sevenstones Reef have measured significant wave heights (Hs or SWH)—the periodic average of the highest one third of waves in a spectrum—since the early 1960s using Ship Borne Wave Recorders (SBWR). The Sevenstones Lightship is in a very exposed location and is open to most North Atlantic storms.Suriname-Rivier
Suriname-Rivier is a lightvessel permanently berthed in a wet dock in the Fort Nieuw-Amsterdam Open-Air Museum in Nieuw-Amsterdam, Commewijne, Suriname.The lightvessel was constructed by the Conrad wharf in Haarlem, the Netherlands, for the Ministry of Colonies of the Netherlands. It was launched in 1910 and, not being equipped with engines, was sailed to Suriname by Captain Johannes Franciscus Wijsmuller (1876-1923) in 1911.It was used to indicate the mouth of the Suriname River.
The ship was decommissioned in 1964 and transferred to the Fort Nieuw-Amsterdam Open-Air Museum. Attempts to put the ship behind the local dikes at high tide resulted in a partial flooding of the village of Nieuw-Amsterdam.The ship is presently in serious disrepair and in danger of being lost. Efforts of a Dutch foundation to raise money for restoring the ship have so far been unsuccessful.United States lightship Nantucket (WLV-612)
The Nantucket Lightship or United States Lightship WLV-612 (Nantucket I) is a lightvessel commissioned in 1950 that became the last lightship decommissioned in United States Coast Guard service.United States lightship Portsmouth (LV-101)
United States Lightship 101, known as Portsmouth, was first stationed at Cape Charles, Virginia. Today she is at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum in Portsmouth, Virginia. Portsmouth never had a lightship station, however when the vessel was dry docked there as a museum, she took on the pseudo-name, Portsmouth. A National Historic Landmark, she is one of a small number of surviving lightships.