Lightvessels in the United Kingdom
The world's first lightvessel was the result of a business partnership between Robert Hamblin, an impoverished former barber and ship manager from King's Lynn, and David Avery, a projector and inventor. Securing a patent on the technology they had developed, Avery had a lightvessel placed at the Nore in the Thames mouth in 1731, against the wishes of the lighthouse authority Trinity House, who considered the scheme worthless and the two men to be little more than adventurers. The lightvessel proved to be a great success, and Trinity House moved to acquire the patent themselves, granting Avery lease revenues in exchange. A further lightvessel was placed at the Dudgeon station, off the Norfolk coast, in 1736, with others following at Owers (1748) and Newarp (1790). Many others were commissioned during the nineteenth century, especially off England's east coast and the approaches to the Thames, where there were many treacherous shoals.
Following their acquisition of the patent, all English and Welsh lightvessels were maintained by Trinity House, with the exception of the four vessels in the approaches to the River Mersey, which were maintained by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board until 1973, and those in the Humber Estuary, which were the responsibility of the Humber Conservancy Board. In order to act as effective daymarks Trinity House lightvessels were painted red, with the station name in large white letters on the side of the hull, and a system of balls and cones at the masthead for identification. The first revolving light was fitted to the Swin Middle lightvessel in 1837: others used occulting or flashing lights. White lights were preferred for visibility though red and very occasionally green (as with the Mouse lightvessel) were also used.
Communications and safety
Communication with lightvessels proved to be a major problem for Trinity House; lightvessel crews were well-placed to observe ships in distress, but could not always alert lifeboats on shore. After a series of shipwrecks, an experiment was conducted whereby a nine-mile undersea cable was run from the Sunk lightvessel in the Thames Estuary to the post office at Walton-on-the-Naze. This was intended to commence in 1884, but was plagued by delays; the trial was unsuccessful as the cable repeatedly broke. As a result of a motion brought forward by Sir Edward Birkbeck, a Royal Commission was established to look at the issue of 'electrical communication' and gave its first Report in 1892; the East Goodwin lightvessel was used during one of Guglielmo Marconi's early experiments in radio transmission in 1896. The world's first radio distress signal was transmitted by the East Goodwin lightvessel's radio operator on 17 March 1899, after the merchant vessel Elbe ran aground on the Goodwins, while on 30 April that year, the East Goodwin vessel transmitted a distress signal on its own behalf, when the SS R. F. Matthews rammed it in a dense fog. Safety was further improved by the development of more powerful lamps and through the replacement by foghorns of the gongs previously used as fog signals.
Until the later 20th century, all Trinity House vessels were permanently manned. An 1861 article in the Cornhill Magazine described lightshipmen as being paid 55 shillings a month (in addition to drawing 1 shilling and sixpence a week "in lieu of 3 gallons of small-beer"): the vessels were supplied, and the crews relieved, once a month. It was also noted that "a general tone of decent, orderly and superior conduct" was observed, that the men were "very respectable [...] swearing and profane language are [...] prohibited" and that every man was supplied with a bible as well as "a library of varied and entertaining literature".
By the start of the 20th century, Trinity House lightvessels had a crew of 11, of whom 7 (a master and 6 ratings) would be on active duty at any one time. It was an extremely demanding and dangerous profession, and it would take 15 to 20 years of service to be promoted to master.
The majority of British lightvessels were decommissioned during the 1970s - 1980s and replaced with light floats or LANBY buoys, which were vastly cheaper to maintain: at the time of Trinity House's original project to develop LANBY buoys, a lightship cost £30,000 annually (at 1974 prices) to maintain, whereas a buoy cost £3,000.
The remaining UK lightvessels have now been converted to unmanned operation and most now use solar power.
The following are lightvessel stations; i.e. a named position at which a lightvessel was placed, rather than the names of vessels themselves. Individual vessels were often transferred between different stations during their existence. Stations themselves were occasionally changed, especially during wartime, when lights were only displayed in response to specific shipping needs.
Active lightvessel stations
The following are active stations at which Trinity House still maintains unmanned lightships, which also act as weather stations.
- Channel Lightvessel
- F3 Lightvessel (middle of English Channel, east of Ramsgate)
- East Goodwin Lightvessel (Goodwin Sands)
- Greenwich Lightvessel
- Sandettie Lightvessel
- Sevenstones Lightvessel
- Sunk Lightvessel (Thames Estuary)
- Varne Lightvessel
Former lightvessel stations
- Bar (Mersey Estuary; maintained by MDHB)
- Barrow Deep (Barrow Deep channel, Thames Estuary)
- Black Deep (Thames Estuary)
- Brake (Brake Sand, near Goodwin Sands)
- Bull (Bull Sands, mouth of the Humber Estuary; maintained by Humber Conservancy Board)
- Calshot Spit
- Cockle (North Sea)
- Cork (Cork Bank, off Harwich)
- Corton (North Sea)
- Crosby (Mersey Estuary; maintained by MDHB)
- Docking Shoal, Norfolk coast.
- Inner / Outer Dowsing (North Sea; Inner Dowsing was the last manned lightship station, replaced by the Dowsing lighthouse in 1991)
- Dudgeon (North Sea; the Dudgeon lightvessel was bombed by the Luftwaffe on 29 January 1940. Only one crew member, John Sanders, survived. The incident was the subject of a 1940 British Government propaganda film, Men of the Lightship.
- Edinburgh (Thames Estuary; the name refers to the Edinburgh Channel)
- English and Welsh Grounds (Bristol Channel)
- Falls (Dover Strait)
- Formby (Mersey Estuary, maintained by MDHB)
- Galloper (Galloper shoal, North Sea)
- Girdler (Thames Estuary)
- North / South Goodwin (the South Goodwin vessel was driven onto the Goodwin Sands and wrecked during a severe storm on 27 November 1954, the first Trinity House ship to be lost in this manner. Ronald Murton was the only crew member to be rescued, after clinging to the ship's hull for eight hours)
- Gull (marked the Gull Stream on the Goodwin Sands)- was rammed and sunk on March 18 1929 by the City of York, resulting in the death of Captain Williams of the lightship. In 1947 it was bought for £750 by Thurrock Yacht Club, and towed to Grays to become the club’s headquarters. It was last used as a clubhouse in 1971.The Gull was then abandoned and now suffers from regular acts of vandalism and degradation through river action.
- Gunfleet (Gunfleet Sands, Thames Estuary; replaced by Gunfleet Lighthouse in 1850)
- Hasborough (North Sea)
- Humber (maintained by Humber Conservancy Board)
- Kentish Knock
- Knoll (Smith's Knoll, North Sea) off Norfolk
- Leman and Ower (North Sea)
- Longsand (Thames Estuary)
- Morecambe Bay
- Mouse (Mouse Sand, Thames Estuary)
- Nab (Straits of Dover; replaced by the Nab Tower in 1920)
- Nore (Thames Estuary; the world's first manned lightship, 1731)
- Newarp (North Sea)
- Northwestern (Mersey Estuary, maintained by MDHB)
- Outer Gabbard (North Sea)
- Owers (Owers Bank, off Selsey Bill). Replaced with a beacon. (LV Owers now a wreck in Tel Aviv harbour).
- Royal Sovereign (off Eastbourne; replaced with Royal Sovereign lighthouse 1971)
- Shambles (the Shambles Bank, off Portland Bill)
- Shipwash (North Sea, off Harwich)
- Spurn (Spurn Head; maintained by Humber Conservancy Board. A former Spurn lightvessel is preserved at Hull Marina)
- Swin Middle (Swin Channel, Thames Estuary)
- Tongue (Tongue Sands, Thames Estuary)
- Well (outside The Wash; replaced with buoy 1975)
- Would (North Sea)
Scotland, Isle of Man
Lightvessels in Scotland and the Isle of Man were maintained by the Northern Lighthouse Board, with the exception of one maintained by the Clyde Lighthouse Trust. Only the North Carr station was manned.
- Bahama Bank (off Maughold Head, Isle of Man; replaced by Maughold Head lighthouse 1914)
- North Carr, Dundee
- Otter Rock (south-west of the Isle of Mull)
- Skeirinoe (Sgeir In-ao, near Scalpay, Harris)
Welsh lightships were maintained by Trinity House.
- Breaksea (off Breaksea Spit, Bristol Channel)
- Helwick (off Worms Head)
- Milford Haven Lightvessel
- Scarweather (Swansea Bay; replaced with buoy 1989)
- St Gowan
Decommissioned Light Vessels
The central records of the UK's light vessels were lost when Trinity House was bombed in 1940.
- LV1; Light Vessel 1 was constructed by Philip & Son Ltd., Dartmouth, England. In 1993 she was decommissioned and sold to Dean & Reddyhoff Ltd., Southampton, for use as marina club house at Gosport, Hampshire.
- LV3; Light Vessel 3 was built in 1949 by Phillips of Dartmouth, Devon. It sank off the coast of Israel in 2000.
- LV4; Light Vessel 4 was built by Philip & Son, Dartmouth, Devon, England. She was decommissioned in 1989. In 1991 was sold to the Musée de Bateau in Douarnenez, France, for £40,000. She has been restored and renamed "Scarweather".
- LV8; Light Vessel 8 was decommissioned in 1991. In 2005 Radio Waddenzee bought the lightship and towed it from Rotterdam to Harlingen, Netherlands, where she is used as a radio station.
- LV11; Light Vessel 11 was decommissioned in 1988. She was saved from scrap and towed to the repairyard in the Waalhaven in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Rebuilt into a maritime restaurant.
- LV12; Light Vessel 12 was constructed in 1927 by Goole Shipbuilding and Repairing Company Ltd., and decommissioned in 1975. After being acquired by the Hull City Council, since 1987, she has become a museum vessel in Hull Marina.
- LV13; Light Vessel 13 was built in 1952 at Dartmouth and transferred to Hamburg in 1991, where she was used as a restaurant and hotel.
- LV14; Light Vessel 14 was built at Dartmouth in 1953, decommissioned in 1991, and opened in 2000 in Cardiff as a church ship.
- LV15; Light Vessel 15 was built at Dartmouth in 1954, sold in 1988 and is now used by a church group.
- LV16; Light Vessel 16 was built by Philip & Son Ltd. and was commissioned by Trinity House in January 1953. She was decommissioned in 1988 and currently serves as the Sea Cadets training ship TS Colne Light moored at the Hythe Quay in Colchester.
- LV18; Light Vessel 18 was built at Dartmouth in 1958, sold in 1997, was used by pirate radio stations from 1999 to 2007, and in 2011 was restored and opened to the public at Harwich.
- LV21; Light Vessel 21 saw most of her service off the Kent Coast on the Varne and East Goodwin stations. The vessel is now in private ownership and is currently being transformed into a cultural facility on the River Medway, Kent.
- LV23; Light Vessel 23, now called the Mersey Planet, is moored at Liverpool as a café, bar and museum.
- LV38; Light Vessel 38 was built of oak in 1860 and was retired in 1941. It was scrapped at Grays in 2011.
- LV44; Light Vessel 44 was built in 1869, sold in 1945, and now lies derelict at Pitsea Country Park.
- LV50; Light Vessel 50 was built in 1879 and originally stationed off the Isles of Scilly. It was decommissioned in the 1900s, and bought by the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club in 1952 for use as a clubhouse. It was still in use in 2013.
- LV55; Light Vessel 55 was built (along with LV54 and LV59) by Charles Hill & Sons of Bristol in 1885, then sold as a burnt-out wreck in 1954 to the Cabot Cruising Club in Bristol. She is now called the John Sebastian.
- LV67; Light Vessel 67 is now a wreck somewhere off the west coast of the British Isles.
- LV72; Light Vessel 72 was built in 1903 by John Crown & Sons of Sunderland for Trinity House. LV72 was one of two Light Vessels which saw service on D Day carrying the name "JUNO" the ship marked a safe passage through a minefield for the landing craft on route to the invasion beaches. She was sold out of service in 1973 to Steel Supply Co., Neath for scrapping. When sold she was the oldest vessel in the Trinity House fleet. She was later considered for conversion to a floating night club but the project did not go ahead. After decades of neglect, she is now on a mud berth near the River Neath's Swing Bridge in poor condition.
- LV78; Light Vessel 78 was built in 1914 by J Thornycroft of Southampton. In 2010 she was moved to Southampton Docks for a planned restoration.
- LV80; Light Vessel 80 was built at Liverpool in 1914. Sold in 1977 and last seen at Hoo near Rochester in 2004.
- LV83; Light Vessel 83 sank in 1967 after a collision, and lies at the bottom of the North Sea off Easington, Cleveland.
- LV86; Light Vessel 86 was built in 1931 on the Isle of Wight, was sold in 1974 and is now used as a houseboat at Hoo Marina in Kent.
- LV87; Light Vessel 87 was built in 1932 in Glasgow. She was sold in 1973 and now belongs to the Haven Ports Yacht Club in Suffolk.
- LV88; Light Vessel 88 began service in 1936 at the Cockle station, was sold in 1977, and was last seen in Rochester in 2004.
- LV89; Light Vessel 89 was built by Philip & Son, Dartmouth, Devon in 1936. She was decommissioned in 1974, became a pub in Bristol, and was broken up in 1995.
- LV90; Light Vessel 90 was built by Philip & Son, Dartmouth, Devon, in 1937. She sank in a storm in 1954 at the South Goodwin station.
- LV91; Light Vessel 91 was built by Philip & Son, Dartmouth, Devon in 1936. She was decommissioned in 1977 and became a museum in Swansea.
- LV93; Light Vessel 93 was built by Phillip & Son, Dartmouth, Devon, in 1938. She was sold in 2004 and was in use in London in 2005.
- LV94; Light Vessel 94 was built by Phillip & Son, Dartmouth, in 1939. She was decommissioned in 1990. In 2008 it was moored in Amsterdam and hired out for events.
- LV95; Light Vessel 95 was built by Philip & Son, Dartmouth, Devon in 1939. She was sold in 2004. In 2011 she was being used as a recording studio at Trinity Buoy Wharf in London.
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- Miltoun, F. (ed) Ships and Shipping, Moring Ltd, 1903, Ch. 11
- BOARD OF TRADE — TELEGRAPHIC COMMUNICATION WITH LIGHT VESSELS, Hansard 16-05-1884
- COAST COMMUNICATIONS, Hansard 26-04-1892
- COMMUNICATION WITH LIGHTHOUSES, Hansard 21-03-1893
- Baker, W. J. History of the Marconi Company, Routledge, 1998, ISBN 978-0-415-14624-1, pp.39-40
- Light-Vessels, The Cornhill Magazine, III (1861), 39.
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- Ordnance Survey (1920-1930). Map of Skeirinoe lightvessel (via National Library of Scotland maps API (Map). 1:253 440 (Popular Edition (Scotland) ed.). http://nls.tileserver.com/?lat=57.84&lng=-6.55&zoom=13. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
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