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 regular investor in small projects. 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 After extensive legal dispute the licence was revoked in 1732 and Trinity House assumed direct responsibility for the proposed lightship; Hamblin and Avery were granted nominal lease revenues in exchange. The Nore lightship commenced operations in 1734.
A further 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). 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 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.
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.
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 but they kept their Trinity House LV number. Stations themselves were occasionally changed, especially during wartime, when lights were only displayed in response to specific shipping needs. 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 LV 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 LV. This has been most evident on those LVs 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 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 (now a clubhouse in Bathurst Basin, Bristol)
- Falls (Dover Strait)
- Formby (Mersey Estuary, maintained by MDHB)
- Galloper (Galloper shoal, North Sea)
- Girdler (Thames Estuary)
- Gull (marked the Gull Stream on the Goodwin Sands)- was rammed and sunk on 18 March 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)
- Newarp (North Sea)
- Nore (Thames Estuary; the world's first manned lightship, 1731)
- North Goodwin
- 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)
- South Goodwin lightvessel replaced the land based South Foreland Low lighthouse, also known as Old St Margaret's Lighthouse. On 25 October 1940, the South Goodwin Lightship was bombed by the Germans and sunk. The replacement lightvessel, LV90 sank on 27 November 1954 when cables to her two sea anchors broke in a hurricane-force storm, the worst storm in two centuries. 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.
- 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)
- Lynn Well (entrance to The Wash); replaced with a LANBY (Large Automatic Navigation BuoY) September 1973
- 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). Scottish 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]).
- Skeirinoe (Sgeir In-ao, near Scalpay, Harris)
Former Welsh lightships were maintained by Trinity House. Remaining substitute navigational aids still are.
- Breaksea (off Barry (Breaksea Spit), Bristol Channel) Replaced by a LANBY, then a lightfloat and currently a lighted buoy with RACON radar facility
- Helwick (off Worms Head)
- Milford Haven Lightvessel
- Scarweather (Swansea Bay; replaced with buoy 1989)
- St Gowan (off Pembrokeshire coast). The station once carried the name St Govan, i.e., spelling change
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 Philip & Son Ltd 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".
- LV5; was constructed by Philip & Son Ltd., Dartmouth, England, in 1947. She was deployed as relief lightship to replace vessels undergoing refit or otherwise out of commission. She served, among other stations, the South Goodwin in 1961, the Tongue in 1973, the Falls from 1973 to 1976 and the Varne in 1977. Her last station was the South Goodwin again, before being withdrawn from service for conversion to unmanned operation.
- 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 repair yard 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 by Philip & Son at Dartmouth in 1953, decommissioned in 1991, and opened in 2000 in Cardiff as a church ship. Works No.1246, it was removed from Cardiff docks on financial grounds on 18 May 2015 and towed to Sharpness for drydocking and refurbishment. The press had stated that it was to become a floating museum at Newnham in Gloucestershire and was reported as being seen there in August 2016.
- LV15; Light Vessel 15 was built by Philip & Son at Dartmouth in 1954, sold in 1988 and is now used by a church charity Fellowship afloat near the river Blackwater in Essex.
- LV16; Light Vessel 16 was built by Philip & Son 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 nostalgia stations (RSLs & BBC Essex) 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 has been transformed into a floating art centre and performance venue. Currently moored at St Andrew's Quay, Gravesend, Kent.
- LV23; Light Vessel 23, now called the Mersey Planet, has been removed from Liverpool on 21 September 2016. Location Sharpness docks.
- 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. It was in service until springing a leak in 1953 and was towed to Barry Docks for repair. Later sold as a burnt-out wreck in 1954 to the Cabot Cruising Club in Bristol, she is now called the John Sebastian and is located in Bathurst Basin, albeit with a considerably remodelled lantern.
- 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 en 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 lying in poor condition, severely listing on a mud berth near the River Neath's Swing Bridge and does not float.
- LV78; spit 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. On 25 October 1940, the South Goodwin Lightship was bombed by the Germans and sunk. The replacement sank in a storm in 1954 at the South Goodwin station. The next replacement South Goodwin Lightvessel was decommissioned and was towed away on 26 July 2006.
- LV91; Light Vessel 91 was built by Philip & Son, Dartmouth, Devon in 1936. She was decommissioned in 1977 and became a floating museum in Swansea.
- LV93; Light Vessel 93 was built by Philip & Son, Dartmouth, Devon, in 1938. She was sold in 2004 and moved to the London Docklands. She is now in use as a photographic studio and location.
- LV94; Light Vessel 94 was built by Philip & 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
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- COAST COMMUNICATIONS, Hansard 26-04-1892
- COMMUNICATION WITH LIGHTHOUSES, Hansard 21-03-1893
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- England, Historic. "ST MARGARET'S OLD LIGHTHOUSE, St. Margaret's At Cliffe - 1070066| Historic England". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-07-27.
- Map of Skeirinoe lightvessel (via National Library of Scotland maps API (Map) (Popular Edition (Scotland) ed.). 1:253 440. Ordnance Survey. 1920–1930. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
- From text explaining the LV5's catoptric light system in the Maritime museum, Ramsgate, England.
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Media related to Lightships of the United Kingdom at Wikimedia Commons