Lighthouse keeper

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Mrs. Fanny May Salter, a lighthouse keeper in the United States Coast Guard service, polishes the lens in the Turkey Point Light, Maryland in 1945.

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. Lighthouse keepers were sometimes referred to as "wickies" because of their job trimming the wicks.[1]

Duties and functions[edit]

Lighthouse 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, England in 1730.[2] In the US, periodic maintenance of the lights is now performed by visiting Coast Guard Aids to Navigation teams.

Current status[edit]

George Worthylake served as the first lighthouse keeper in the United States. He served at Boston Harbor Lighthouse from 1716 until his death in 1718.[3] In 1776, Hannah Thomas became the first female lighthouse keeper in the United States when she became keeper of Plymouth (Gurnet) Lighthouse in Massachusetts following the death of her husband, John Thomas. Both Hannah and her husband received $200 per year for their service.[4]

The last manned lighthouse in Australia was Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse, where the last keeper left in 2006.[5]

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.[6] 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.[1]

The last manned lighthouse in Finland was deserted in 1987.[7]

All French lighthouses are automated, though a few are still manned.[8]

The last lighthouse keeper in Iceland was terminated in 2010.[9]

Baily Lighthouse was the last Irish lighthouse to be unmanned, in 1997.[10]

As of 2011, there were 62 manned lighthouses in Italy[11]

In 2006 Meshima Lighthouse became the last lighthouse in Japan to become automated.[12]

As of 2011, there are two manned lighthouses in the Netherlands, one at Schiermonnikoog and the other at Terschelling.[13][14]

All lighthouses in New Zealand have been automated since 1990.[15]

The last Norwegian lighthouse keeper moved out of Runde Lighthouse in 2002.[16]

The last manned lighthouse in the United Kingdom, the North Foreland Lighthouse, was automated in 1998.[17]

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.[18]


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.[19] The following 175-foot (53 m) WLMs are in service as of 2006:


  1. ^ "Lighthouse Glossary of Terms". United States Lighthouse Society. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ U.S. Coast Guard, "Light Station Boston," Last modified on January 12, 2016,
  4. ^ Clifford, Mary Louise and J. Candace Clifford, "Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers," Williamsburg: Cypress Communications, 2013; U.S. Coast Guard, "Historic Light Station Information and Photography, Massachusetts," Last modified on January 12, 2016,;
  5. ^ Lighthouses of Australia Bulletin 1999 Archived 2013-04-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Canadian Lightkeepers Association: Our lighthouses Archived 2012-02-25 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ A world of your own on a lighthouse island
  8. ^ French Department of Public Works Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Last lighthouse keeper in Iceland evicted
  10. ^ Commissioners of Irish Lights Archived 2010-04-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Lighthouse memories
  12. ^ Lighthouses of Australia, Inc.
  13. ^ Sea on screen encyclopedia
  14. ^ Indispensable eye of the lighthouse keeper
  15. ^ Maritime New Zealand Archived 2011-12-19 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ Runde
  17. ^ Association of Lighthouse Keepers: FAQ
  18. ^ The Lighthouse Encyclopedia, The Definitive Reference, Jones, Ray; 2003. Guilford, Conn.: Globe Pequot. ISBN 0-7627-2735-7
  19. ^ USCG: About Us - Aircraft & Cutters

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]