Northern Lighthouse Board

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Ensign of the Northern Lighthouse Board
Commissioners' Flag of the Northern Lighthouse Board

The Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) is the General Lighthouse Authority for Scotland and the Isle of Man. It is a non-departmental public body responsible for marine navigation aids around coastal areas.


The NLB was formed in 1786 as the Commissioners of Northern Light Houses by Act of Parliament, to oversee the construction and operation of four Scottish lighthouses; Kinnaird Head, North Ronaldsay, Scalpay and Mull of Kintyre. The Commissioners' most famous engineer was Robert Stevenson, whose sons David, Alan, and Thomas followed their father into the profession. The Stevenson dynasty built the majority of the Northern lights, in some exceptionally challenging locations. Their lights were some of the engineering masterpieces of their time, notably those at Bell Rock, Skerryvore and Muckle Flugga.

Sign outside the Board's offices in Edinburgh

Between 1876 and 2005 the NLB also maintained foghorns at a number of locations. The last (at Skerryvore) was sounded for the last time on 4 October 2005.[1]


The board is based at its Georgian headquarters building in George Street in the centre of Edinburgh from where it remotely monitors its network. Technical operations are carried out from a base in Oban, Argyll and Bute, where there are maintenance workshops and facilities for the construction of buoys and beacons. The NLBs vessels are also based here. The Oban depot has been recently modernised.

Under the terms of the Scotland Act 1998, the NLB is not a devolved body and thus remains directly accountable to the UK Secretary of State for Transport. In practice, close co-operation is made with both the Scottish Government and the Isle of Man Government. The NLB is funded by pooled light dues administered by the UK's Department of Transport and distributed to the NLB, Trinity House and Commissioners of Irish Lights.


As of 2006, the NLB operates the following:

Navigational devices[edit]


The NLB operates two lighthouse tenders, known by the prefix Northern Lighthouse Vessel, or NLV. NLV Pole Star has been in service since 2000 and NLV Pharos was delivered on 31 March 2007 to the Oban depot.[2] This will be the tenth Pharos, replacing the ninth Pharos which was sold in September 2006 for use as a Fishery Protection vessel for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

The Commissioners[edit]

The Board's headquarters in George Street, Edinburgh. The nameplate on the door gives the traditional name of 'Commissioners of Northern Lights'.

Most of the Commissioners have always been ex officio appointments. The original Commissioners appointed in 1786 were the Scottish law agents of the Crown, the Sheriffs of Scotland's coastal counties, and the Provosts and Lord Provosts of Scottish cities and towns with strong mercantile interests. Reform of local government and sherriffdoms have since resulted in changes.

The current Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses are the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland; the Lords Provost of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, the conveners of Highland Council and Argyll and Bute Council; the Sheriffs Principal of all the sheriffdoms in Scotland; a Manx representative nominated by the Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man and appointed by the Secretary of State; and up to five co-opted Commissioners.


The NLB uses two flags, an ensign and a Commissioners' Flag. The ensign is a Blue Ensign defaced with a white lighthouse in the fly, and is for general use. The Commissioners' flag, a plain White Ensign with a pre-1801 Union Flag in the canton, defaced with a blue lighthouse in the fly, is the only British flag to still use the pre-1801 Union Flag.[3] This flag is only flown from vessels with Commissioners aboard.

The Board HQ flies the Commissioner's flag, alongside the Saltire and the Isle of Man flag.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sounding Out". Northern Lighthouse Board. Archived from the original on 2008-03-03. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  2. ^ "MV Pharos". Northern Lighthouse Board. Archived from the original on 2009-09-19. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  3. ^ "Northern Lighthouse Commissioner's Flag". Flags of the World. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  4. ^ "Northern Lighthouse Board". 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°57′10″N 3°12′05″W / 55.9527°N 3.2014°W / 55.9527; -3.2014