A lighthouse keeper is the person responsible for tending and caring for a lighthouse, particularly the light and lens in the days when oil lamps and clockwork mechanisms were used. Keepers were needed to trim the wicks, replenish fuel, wind clockworks and perform maintenance tasks such as cleaning lenses and windows. Electrification and other automated improvements such as remote monitoring and automatic bulb changing made paid keepers resident at the lights unnecessary. The earliest record of a named individual in a formal capacity as a lighthouse keeper was William, a member of the now famous Knott family, who was appointed to the South Foreland lighthouse near Dover, Kent, UK in 1730. In the US, periodic maintenance of the lights is now performed by visiting Coast Guard Aids to Navigation teams.
According to the Canadian Lightkeepers Association, there are 37 staffed lighthouses in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, though the Canadian Coast Guard has plans to automate these installations. Machias Seal Island, in New Brunswick, has a lighthouse manned by the Canadian Coast Guard. It is kept manned for sovereignty purposes due to the disputed status of the island with the US.
The last civilian keeper in the United States, Frank Schubert, died in 2003. The last officially manned lighthouse, Boston Light, was manned by the Coast Guard until 1998. It now has volunteer "keepers" whose primary role is to serve as interpretive tour guides for visitors.
To recognize the role of Lighthouse keepers in the nation's maritime safety, the US Coast Guard named a class of 175-foot (53 m) USCG Coastal Buoy Tenders after famous US Lighthouse Keepers. Fourteen ships in the "Keeper" class were built between 1996 and 2000 and are used to maintain aids to navigation, including lighthouses. The following 175-foot (53 m) WLMs are in service as of 2006:
- USCGC Ida Lewis (WLM-551); Newport, Rhode Island
- USCGC Katherine Walker (WLM-552); Bayonne, New Jersey
- USCGC Abbie Burgess (WLM-553); Rockland, Maine
- USCGC Marcus Hanna (WLM-554); South Portland, Maine
- USCGC James Rankin (WLM-555); Baltimore, Maryland
- USCGC Joshua Appleby (WLM-556); St. Petersburg, Florida
- USCGC Frank Drew (WLM-557); Portsmouth, Virginia
- USCGC Anthony Petit (WLM-558);Ketchikan, Alaska
- USCGC Barbara Mabrity (WLM-559); Mobile, Alabama
- USCGC William Tate (WLM-560); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- USCGC Harry Claiborne (WLM-561); Galveston, Texas
- USCGC Maria Bray (WLM-562); Atlantic Beach, Florida
- USCGC Henry Blake (WLM-563); Everett, Washington
- USCGC George Cobb (WLM-564); San Pedro, California
- David Alan Stevenson, The World's Lighthouses before 1820, Oxford University Press, 1959, p103. (Genealogical research has now shown the keeper's name as William - not Henry - Knott, as stated in the reference.
- Lighthouses of Australia Bulletin 1999
- Canadian Lightkeepers Association: Our lighthouses
- A world of your own on a lighthouse island
- French Department of Public Works
- Last lighthouse keeper in Iceland evicted
- Commissioners of Irish Lights
- Lighthouse memories
- Lighthouses of Australia, Inc.
- Sea on screen encyclopedia
- Indispensable eye of the lighthouse keeper
- Maritime New Zealand
- Association of Lighthouse Keepers: FAQ
- The Lighthouse Encyclopedia, The Definitive Reference, Jones, Ray; 2003. Guilford, Conn.: Globe Pequot. ISBN 0-7627-2735-7
- USCG: About Us - Aircraft & Cutters
- Crompton, Samuel Willard & Michael J. Rhein, The Ultimate Book of Lighthouses (2002) ISBN 1-59223-102-0.
- Hyde, Charles K., and Ann and John Mahan. The Northern Lights: Lighthouses of the Upper Great Lakes. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8143-2554-8
- Jones, Ray & Bruce Roberts, American Lighthouses (Globe Pequot, September 1, 1998, 1st Ed.) ISBN 0-7627-0324-5.
- Jones, Ray, The Lighthouse Encyclopedia, The Definitive Reference (Globe Pequot, January 1, 2004, 1st ed.) ISBN 0-7627-2735-7.
- Noble, Dennis, Lighthouses & Keepers: U. S. Lighthouse Service and Its Legacy (Annapolis: U. S. Naval Institute Press, 1997. ISBN 1-55750-638-8.
- Oleszewski, Wes, Great Lakes Lighthouses, American and Canadian: A Comprehensive Directory/Guide to Great Lakes Lighthouses. Gwinn, Michigan: Avery Color Studios, Inc., 1998. ISBN 0-932212-98-0.
- Penrod, John, Lighthouses of Michigan (Berrien Center, Michigan: Penrod/Hiawatha, 1998) ISBN 0-942618-78-5.
- Penrose, Laurie and Bill, A Traveler's Guide to 116 Michigan Lighthouses. Petoskey, Michigan: Friede Publications, 1999. ISBN 0-923756-03-5.
- Putnam, George R., Lighthouses and Lightships of the United States. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1933).
- Roach, Jerry, Ultimate Guide to Great Lakes Lighthouses, (2003).
- Thurston, Harry, Against Darkness and Storm: Lighthouses of the Northeast. Halifax: Nimbus, 1993. ISBN 1-55109-039-2.
- United States Coast Guard, Aids to Navigation, (Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1945).
- Wagner, John L., Michigan Lighthouses: An Aerial Photographic Perspective. East Lansing, Michigan: John L. Wagner, 1998. ISBN 1-880311-01-1.
- Weiss, George, The Lighthouse Service, Its History, Activities and Organization (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1926).
- Wright, Larry; Wright, Patricia, Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia. Erin: Boston Mills Press, 2006. ISBN 1-55046-399-3.
- Association of Lighthouse Keepers
- Bibliography on lighthouse keepers.
- Bibliography on Michigan and other lighthouses.
- Ode to the lighthouse keeper by Andrew Tremaine.
- Scott T. Price. "U. S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation: A Historical Bibliography". United States Coast Guard Historian's Office.
- Wagner, John L. "Beacons Shining in the Night: The Lighthouses of Michigan". Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.
- Pepper, Terry. "Seeing the Light: Lighthouses on the western Great Lakes".
- Database of UK lighthouse keepers: http://www.lighthousekeepers.org.uk