Commissioned in 1951, Columbia was the fourth and final lightship stationed at the mouth of the Columbia River. Built by Rice Brothers Shipyard in Boothbay, Maine, Columbia was launched with her sister-ship, Relief (WLV-605). The new WLV-604 replaced the aging Columbia vessel No. 90, which had been in service on the Columbia River since 1939. The Columbia River lightships guided vessels across the Columbia River Bar and an area known as the Graveyard of the Pacific from 1892 until 1979. Columbia was the final lightship to be decommissioned on the U.S. West coast. She was replaced by an automated navigational buoy soon after. The buoy has since been retired.
Because of its importance, the Coast Guard had a permanent 18 man crew stationed on board, consisting of 17 enlisted men and one warrant officer who served as ship's captain. Everything the crew needed had to be on board. In the winter, weeks of rough weather prevented any supplies from being delivered. Life on board the lightship was marked by long stretches of monotony and boredom intermixed with riding gale force storms. The crew worked two to four week rotations, with ten men on duty at all times.