Lightvessel stations of Great Britain

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Light vessel 78 Calshot Spit on station in 1979

The history of the many lightvessel stations of Great Britain goes back over 250 years to the placement of the world's first lightship at the Nore in the early 18th century.

A lightvessel station is a named position at which a lightvessel was placed, rather than a particular ship; 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.


The world's first lightvessel was the result of a business partnership between Robert Hamblin, a former barber and ship manager from King's Lynn, and David Avery, an investor.[1] In 1730 the pair secured a government licence to moor a ship, with a prominent light affixed to it, to serve as a navigation aid at the Nore in the Thames mouth. Hamblin and Avery intended to profit from the vessel by collecting a fee from passing merchant vessels. The licence was opposed by Trinity House, which considered that it possessed a monopoly on construction and maintenance of navigation aids in British waters. After extensive legal dispute the licence was revoked in 1732 and Trinity House assumed direct responsibility for the proposed lightship; Hamblin and Avery were granted nominal lease revenues in exchange.[2] The Nore lightship commenced operations in 1734.[3]

A second lightvessel was placed at the Dudgeon station, off the Norfolk coast, in 1736, with others following at Owers Bank (1788) and the Goodwin Sands (1793).[3] While the Admiralty opposed the 1802 Sunk lightvessel, claiming it would aid enemy ships, it soon afterwards placed three vessels of its own to protect the fleet during the Napoleonic Wars; they were taken over by Trinity House a few years later.[4] 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.

Lightship LV86, on station at the Nore from 1931 to 1974

Following their acquisition of the Admiralty ships, 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.

Communications and safety[edit]

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;[5] 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;[6][7] the East Goodwin lightvessel was used during one of Guglielmo Marconi's early experiments in radio transmission in 1896.[8] 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 second half of the 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".[9]

By the start of the 20th century, Trinity House lightvessels had a crew of 11, of whom seven (a master and six 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.[10]


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: in 1974 at the time of Trinity House's original development project, lightship annual running costs at £30,000 were ten times those of the LANBY.[11]

The remaining UK lightvessels have now been converted to unmanned operation and most now use solar power.[citation needed]


Unlike lightships in the United States and other parts of the world, Trinity House lightvessels were usually unpowered and needed to be towed to or from their position. In order to act as effective daymarks they 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.[12]

It is likely that photographs on various websites showing named lightvessels, may appear to be structurally different to comparable records on other web pages due to the fact that the particular vessel might have been withdrawn from a station after photographing and being towed away for drydocking, overhaul and possible direction to a new station and therefore a different lightvessel would have been substituted at the named station on withdrawal of the previous lightvessel. This has been most evident on those vessels that have been withdrawn and shipped to another port at home or abroad to become a floating museum, floating restaurant, 'clubhouse', etc. Scarweather LV and Helwick LV have for instance changed their rôle in their lifetime and their appearance on various records varies considerably.


Active stations[edit]

The following are active stations at which Trinity House still maintains unmanned lightships, which also act as weather stations.

Name Image Position Characteristic Vessels employed
Foxtrot 3 Edit this on Wikidata51°24′7″N 2°0′28″E[13]Fl W 10sLight vessel no. 93 (from 2001 until 2003), LV17[14]
East Goodwin Edit this on WikidataGoodwin Sands
51°13′18″N 1°36′21″E
Fl W 15s[15][16]Light vessel no. 93 (from 1947 until 1953), Lightvessel no. 21
Greenwich Edit this on Wikidata50°24′32″N 0°0′6″WFl W 5s[15][17]Light vessel no. 5[18]
Sandettie Edit this on WikidataSandettie Bank
51°9′21″N 1°47′7″E
Fl W 5s[19]Sandettié (from 1978 until 1989)
Sevenstones Edit this on Wikidata50°3′37″N 6°4′20″WFl(3) W 30s[15][20]Sevenstones Lightship (1841) (from 1841 until 1879), Tyne III (from Sep 1879 until 1883), T.S. Orwell (from 1947 until 1958)
Sunk Inner Edit this on Wikidata51°51′7″N 1°34′23″E[21]Fl(5) 15s
Varne Edit this on WikidataVarne Bank
51°1′15″N 1°23′53″E[22]
Fl R 5s[15]Varne, Lightvessel no. 21 (from 1980)

Former stations[edit]

Name Position Operator Sea Vessels employed Notes
Mersey Bar Edit this on Wikidata53°32′1″N 3°20′59″W[23]Mersey Docks and Harbour CompanyRiver MerseyAlarm[24] (from 1913 until 1960), Planet[25] (from 1960 until 1972)
Bar Flat Edit this on WikidataWisbech BarThe WashEstablished 1878;[26] later replaced by Roaring Middle LV
Barrow Deep Edit this on WikidataBarrow DeepThames Estuary
Black Deep Edit this on WikidataBlack DeepThames EstuaryStation established 1889[27]
Brake Edit this on WikidataBrake BankGull Stream[29] (from 1930 until 1940)Station established 1930, replacing Gull LV station, due to narrowing of the navigable Gull Stream[28]
Bull Edit this on WikidataBull SandHumber Conservancy BoardHumberSpurn[30] (from 1959)
Calshot Spit Edit this on WikidataCalshot SpitSouthampton WaterLightvessel no. 78[31] (from 1914), Tyne III (from 1943 until 1951), Light vessel no. 16[32]
Channel Edit this on Wikidata49°55′0″N 2°54′0″WEnglish ChannelPlanet, Light vessel no. 3[33]
Cockle Edit this on WikidataGreat YarmouthNorth SeaT.S. Lord Nelson[34] (from 1936)
Cork Edit this on WikidataCork Ledge
51°56′42″N 1°26′6″E
North SeaLV86, T.S. Lord Nelson[35]
Corton Edit this on WikidataLowestoftNorth Sea
Cromer Knoll Edit this on Wikidata53°16′0″N 1°18′0″ENorth Sea
Crosby Edit this on WikidataCrosby ChannelMersey Docks and Harbour CompanyLiverpool Bay
Inner Dowsing Edit this on WikidataInner DowsingNorth SeaLight vessel no. 16[32], Light vessel no. 95[37], Light vessel no. 93[38] (1998)The last manned lightship station, replaced by the Dowsing lighthouse in 1991.[36]
Outer Dowsing Edit this on WikidataOuter DowsingNorth SeaOuter Dowsing[39]
Dudgeon Edit this on WikidataDudgeon Shoals
53°15′30″N 1°13′30″E[42]
North SeaDudgeon was the second lightvessel to be established, with a patent granted to David Avery in 1736.[40] LV63 was on station when 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.[41]
Edinburgh Channel Edit this on WikidataEdinburgh ChannelsThames EstuaryLV86[35]Station established 1889 replacing the S.W. Longsand buoy[27]
English and Welsh Grounds Edit this on WikidataBristol ChannelLight Vessel 72, John Sebastian
Falls Edit this on Wikidata51°18′6″N 1°48′30″E[42]Strait of Dover
North Folkestone Gate Edit this on WikidataStrait of DoverPart of wartime Folkestone Gate Channel defences; discontinued 1919[43]
South Folkestone Gate Edit this on WikidataStrait of DoverLight vessel no. 75[45]Part of wartime Folkestone Gate Channel defences. LV75 attacked on station and sunk by German bombers in July 1940, with the loss of two crew members, Jack Wade and Harry North[44]
Formby Edit this on WikidataFormby BeachMersey Docks and Harbour CompanyLiverpool Bay
Galloper Edit this on WikidataThe GalloperNorth SeaTyne III[47] (1929), Light vessel no. 93[38] (from 1954 until 1974)Station first established by the Admiralty in 1803 to protect the fleet during the Napoleonic Wars;[4] replaced by buoy 1977[46]
Girdler Edit this on WikidataGirdler ShoalThames EstuaryIn 1884 the Girdler lightship was rammed and sunk by Indus; there were no deaths.[48]
Gull Edit this on WikidataGoodwin SandsAdmiralty, Trinity HouseNorth SeaGull Stream (from 1929 until 1930)Marked the Gull Stream: station first established by the Admiralty in 1809 and taken over by Trinity House in 1826.[49] Narrowing of the channel led to Gull being replaced by Brake LV in 1930[28]
Gunfleet Edit this on WikidataGunfleet SandsTrinity HouseThames EstuaryReplaced by Gunfleet Lighthouse in 1850.
Haisborough Edit this on WikidataHaisborough SandsNorth SeaLight vessel no. 3[50], Lightvessel no. 68[51]
Humber Edit this on WikidataHumber Conservancy BoardHumberHelwick[52] (from 1937 until 1942)Maintained by Humber Conservancy Board.
Kentish Knock Edit this on WikidataKentish KnockNorth SeaLight vessel no. 3[33], Lightship 2000, Jenni Baynton[53] (from 1949 until 1953)
Smiths Knoll Edit this on WikidataSmiths Knoll
52°43′30″N 2°18′0″E[42]
Trinity HouseNorth Sea
Leman and Ower Edit this on WikidataTrinity HouseNorth Sea
Longsand Edit this on Wikidata51°47′40″N 1°40′0″E[54]Trinity HouseThames Estuary
Lune Deep Edit this on Wikidata53°56′48″N 3°7′56″WTrinity HouseMorecambe BayUnattended gas lit "lightboat", established 1909
Mid Barrow Edit this on WikidataBarrow DeepTrinity HouseThames EstuaryIn the middle of fairway of Barrow Deep, 9m SW of Barrow Deep LV[55]
Morecambe Bay Edit this on Wikidata53°54′0″N 3°31′0″WTrinity HouseMorecambe BayBreeveertien, LV94[56], Light vessel no. 70[57] (1903)
Mouse Edit this on WikidataMouse SandTrinity HouseThames EstuaryGull Stream
Nab Edit this on WikidataNab RockTrinity HouseThe SolentReplaced by the Nab Tower in 1920.
Newarp Edit this on WikidataNewarp BanksTrinity HouseNorth SeaLight vessel no. 44, Lightvessel no. 21[58] (1972), LV83[59] (1967)
Nore Edit this on WikidataNoreTrinity HouseThames EstuaryLV86[60] (from 1941 until 1942)The world's first manned lightship, 1731.
North Goodwin Edit this on WikidataGoodwin SandsTrinity HouseNorth Sea
North West Edit this on WikidataMersey Docks and Harbour CompanyRiver MerseyGood Intent[61] (from 1813)
Outer Gabbard Edit this on WikidataOuter Gabbard
51°59′23″N 2°4′38″E[42]
Trinity HouseNorth SeaLight vessel no. 3[33], Jenni Baynton[53] (from 1962 until 1965), Tyne III[62] (1911)
Owers Edit this on WikidataThe Owers, off Selsey BillTrinity HouseEnglish ChannelLight vessel no. 3Replaced with a beacon. LV Owers now a wreck in Tel Aviv harbour.[citation needed]
Roaring Middle Edit this on Wikidata52°58′38″N 0°21′5″EThe WashReplaced Bar Flat LV; replaced with buoy 1919[63]
Royal Sovereign Edit this on WikidataRoyal Sovereign ShoalsTrinity HouseEnglish ChannelLightship 2000[64]Replaced with Royal Sovereign lighthouse 1971.
Selker Edit this on WikidataSelker Rocks
54°16′5″N 3°30′15″W[65]
Trinity HouseIrish Sea
Shambles Edit this on WikidataThe Shambles
50°36′50″N 2°20′30″W
Trinity HouseEnglish ChannelTyne III[47] (from 1891 until 1909), Trinity, Light vessel no. 67
Shipwash Edit this on WikidataShipwash Shoal
52°2′0″N 1°42′0″E[42]
North SeaLight Vessel 72[66], Mary Mouse 2[67] (from 1968 until 1969), LV94
South Goodwin Edit this on WikidataGoodwin SandsTrinity HouseNorth SeaLight vessel no. 69[72] (until 1940), Light vessel no. 90 (until 1954), LV17Replaced South Foreland Low lighthouse. LV69 was sunk on station, probably by a mine, in October 1940.[68] The replacement, LV90, sank on 27 November 1954 when cables to her two sea anchors broke in a hurricane-force storm. The ship ran onto the Goodwin Sands close to the Keller Gut and turned on her side. The seven crew members perished, the only survivor being Ronald Murton, an ornithologist from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The wreck of the ship can still be seen at low tide. The next replacement ship was decommissioned and was towed away on 26 July 2006.[69][70][71]
Spurn Edit this on WikidataSpurn PointHumber Conservancy BoardHumberSpurn[73] (from 1927), Sula[74] (from 1959)
Sunk Edit this on WikidataSunk Sands
51°49′35″N 1°30′40″E
Thames EstuaryEstablished 1802; replaced 2007 by Sunk Centre as part of a new Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS).
Sunk Centre Edit this on Wikidata51°50′3″N 1°46′2″E[75]Established as part of TSS in 2007. Decommissioned 2021.
Swarte Bank Edit this on WikidataNorth SeaEstablished 6 December 1912[76]
Swin Middle Edit this on WikidataSwinTrinity HouseThames EstuaryThe first revolving light was fitted to the Swin Middle lightvessel in 1837.[citation needed]
Tongue Edit this on WikidataTongue Sands
51°30′39″N 1°23′5″E[42]
North SeaJenni Baynton, Light vessel no. 5 (1973)
Lynn Well Edit this on WikidataTrinity HouseThe WashGull Stream[77], Light Vessel no. 89[78]Replaced with a Lanbyin September 1973.
Would Edit this on WikidataHaisborough SandsNorth Sea

Scotland, Isle of Man[edit]

Lightvessels in Scotland and the Isle of Man were maintained by the Northern Lighthouse Board, with the exception of those maintained by the Clyde Lighthouse Trust and by the Dundee Port Trustees. Of the NLB vessels, only the North Carr was crewed.

Name Position Operator Sea Vessels employed Notes
Abertay Edit this on WikidataGaa Sand
56°27′0″N 2°42′0″W
Trustees of the Harbour of DundeeFirth of TayEstablished 1877. First lightship in Europe to be fully automated, 1971; discontinued 1984.[79]
Bahama Bank Edit this on WikidataBahama Bank
54°19′40″N 4°12′55″W
Northern Lighthouse BoardRamsey BayBahama Bank (from 1848), Bahama Bank[80] (from Sep 1879)Replaced by Maughold Head Lighthouse in 1914.
Cath Sgeir Edit this on WikidataIsle of GighaNorthern Lighthouse BoardSound of JuraUncrewed "lightboat". Established 2 June 1905[81]
Clyde Edit this on WikidataKilbrannan Sound
55°10′0″N 5°22′0″W
Northern Lighthouse BoardFirth of ClydeNorth CarrWartime station; established c. 1944[82]
Garmoyle Edit this on WikidataPort GlasgowClyde Lighthouse TrusteesRiver ClydeEstablished 1868. Replaced by buoy in 1905[83]
Garvel Edit this on WikidataClyde Lighthouse TrusteesRiver ClydeGarvelOriginal crewed lightship replaced 1882 by unattended, gas lit vessel built by Blackwood & Gordon.[84] Removed 1915
North Carr Edit this on WikidataNorth CarrNorthern Lighthouse BoardFirth of ForthNorth Carr (from 1887 until 1889), North Carr (from 1889 until 1933), North Carr (from 1933 until 1975)
Skeirinoe Edit this on WikidataThe MinchNorthern Lighthouse BoardSea of the HebridesUncrewed "lightboat" stationed near Scalpay;[85] established 1906.
Otter Rock Edit this on WikidataOtter Rock
55°34′0″N 6°8′0″W
North ChannelScottish Maritime Museum in Irving has a small scale coloured General Arrangement (1923) from Builder (Clyde Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd. hull #249, 60 ft [183 m]).


Breaksea Light Vessel following a refit at Swansea in 1978.

Former Welsh lightships were maintained by Trinity House. Remaining substitute navigational aids still are.

Name Position Operator Sea Vessels employed Notes
Breaksea Edit this on Wikidata51°19′9″N 3°19′0″WTrinity HouseBristol ChannelTrinity[86]Replaced by a LANBY, then a lightfloat and currently a lighted buoy with RACON radar facility

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Naish, J. M. Seamarks: Their History and Development, Stanford Maritime, 1985, ISBN 978-0-540-07309-2, p. 107
  2. ^ The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle for 1865. Cambridge University Press. 2013. p. 624. ISBN 9781108054911.
  3. ^ a b Marcus, G.J. (1975). Heart of Oak: A Survey of British Sea Power in the Georgian Era. Oxford University Press. pp. 53–54. ISBN 0192158120.
  4. ^ a b Renton (2001) Lost Sounds: the story of coast fog signals, Dundurn, p.148
  6. ^ COAST COMMUNICATIONS, Hansard 26-04-1892
  8. ^ Baker, W. J. (1998). History of the Marconi Company. Routledge. pp. 39–40. ISBN 978-0-415-14624-1.
  9. ^ Light-Vessels, The Cornhill Magazine, III (1861), 39.
  10. ^ Trinity House,, accessed 02-09-08
  11. ^ Rowlands, D. "Points of Reference", Design 310 (1974)
  12. ^ Miltoun, F. (ed) Ships and Shipping, Moring Ltd, 1903, Ch. 11
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  26. ^ "Nautical Notices", Nautical Magazine, v. XLVII (New Series), No XI (Nov 1878), 1031
  27. ^ a b "Notice to Mariners", Board of Trade Journal, v7 (1889), 617-618
  28. ^ a b The Gull', lightvessel 38, Thurrock Council, accessed 02-12-21
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  40. ^ Naish, J. (1985) Seamarks: their history and development, Stanford, p.108
  41. ^ David MacDonald (Director); Alberto Cavalcanti (Producer) (1940). Men of the Lightship (Film (35mm, 24 mins, black & white)). GPO Film Unit.
  42. ^ a b c d e f Radio Navigational Aids, Naval Oceanographic Office, 1973, Wikidata Q7280925
  43. ^ US Navy Hydrographic Office (1919) Index to Notices to Mariners, 1-52, p.177
  44. ^ Carter, G (1974) The Battle of Britain: the Home Front, Mason & Lipscomb, pp.190-1
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  49. ^ Stevenson (2013) The World's Lighthouses: From Ancient Times to 1820, Courier, p.124
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  55. ^ Imray and Kettle (1917) Pilot's Guide for the River Thames: The South-east Coast of England, and the Strait of Dover, Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson, p.24
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  68. ^ The Disappearing Lightship, Goodwin Sands Conservation Trust, accessed 20-12-21
  69. ^ South Goodwin Light Vessel,
  70. ^ "South Goodwin Lightvessel Trinity House History". 27 November 2014. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  71. ^ Historic England. "ST MARGARET'S OLD LIGHTHOUSE, St. Margaret's At Cliffe (1070066)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  72. ^
  73. ^
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  76. ^ The Nautical Magazine, v88 (1912), 360
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  79. ^ Abertay Lightship, Dundee Maritime, accessed 22-12-21
  80. ^
  81. ^ US Navy Hydrographic Office, (1906) Notices to Mariners, nos 1-52, p.355
  82. ^ US Navy Hydrographic Office (1944), Supplement to British Islands Pilot: the western coast of Scotland from Mull of Galloway to Rudh' Re and off-lying islands, Volume 4, p.2
  83. ^ Riddell, J.F.(1979) Clyde Navigation: A History of the Development and Deepening of the Clyde, John Donald, p.98
  84. ^ "Launches - Scotch". The Marine Engineer, Feb 1, 1882, 254
  85. ^ Map of Skeirinoe lightvessel (via National Library of Scotland maps API (Map) (Popular Edition (Scotland) ed.). 1:253 440. Ordnance Survey. 1920–1930. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  86. ^

External links[edit]

Media related to Lightships of the United Kingdom at Wikimedia Commons