*DX NEWS* Lightships Valid for LOTA

ARLHSConsidered a legitimate DX entity by the Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society (ARLHS) and its ‘World List of Lights’ referencing system, a ‘lightship’ can be defined both as “a ship which acts as a lighthouse” and/or as “a moored ship that has light beacons mounted as navigational aids…”


Through history, these ‘surrogate lighthouse towers’ were put into operation to assist ships in navigation in those oceanic areas where the WX and climatic conditions were unpredictable and actual structuring of lighthouse towers were exceedingly dangerous.

Some housing permanent crew members, some automatic, the world’s lightships were moored over treacherous reefs or built to mark sandbars or the narrow approaches to a channel or harbor entrance where lighthouses could not be built.

They were also placed in areas too far offshore for a shoreside lighthouse’s lens to reach.

The light vessel would thus provide the same feasibilities like a conventional lighthouse tower, although with the difference that the vessel would be perpetually be berthed on the same oceanic location.

Ships and crews remained on station in all WX conditions, warning sailors of treacherous waters.

Many lightships had official designations such as ” LV”, ” WAL”, or ” WVL” and were numbered sequentially according to the order of their construction.  Though, when on duty, each ship temporarily received the name of the hazardous region it protected.  Vessels could be identified by colour codes, lights, foghorn and radio signals, and large letters painted on their sides.


The earliest recorded operational date of the light vessel is said to be in the early 18th century in Great Britain, or to be more precise in the Thames River in England.

By the next century, the concept and the idea had moved further west and very soon, such vessels started to be operated by the United States of America and other countries, including Australia.

Lightship Design

A crucial element of lightship design was the mounting of a light on a sufficiently tall mast.  Initially, this consisted of oil lamps which could be run up the mast and lowered for servicing.

Later vessels carried fixed lamps, which were serviced in place.  Fresnel lenses were used as they became available, and many vessels housed these in small versions of the lanterns used on lighthouses.  Some lightships had two masts, the second holding a reserve beacon in case the main light failed.

Initially the hulls were constructed of wood, with lines like those of any other small merchant ship.  This proved to be unsatisfactory for a ship that was permanently anchored, and the shape of the hull evolved to reduce rolling and pounding.

As iron and steel were used in other ships, so were they used in light vessels, and the advent of steam and diesel power led to self-propelled and electrically lighted designs. Earlier vessels had to be towed to and from station.

Much of the rest of the ship was taken up by storage (for oil and the like) and crew accommodations.  The primary duty of the crew was, of course, to maintain the light; but they also kept record of passing ships, observed the weather, and on occasion performed rescues.


In the early 20th century, some lightships were fitted with warning bells, either mounted on the structure or lowered into the water, the purpose of which was to warn of danger in poor visibility and to permit crude estimation of the lightship relative to the approaching vessel.

Tests conducted by Trinity House found that sound from a bell submerged some 5.5 m could be heard at a distance of 24 km, with a practical range in operational conditions of 1–3 miles.

Decline of the Lightship

Although some lightships were sunk by weather and others by collision or military engagements, most of the craft and their crews survived.

These days, many have become obsolete, replaced by lighthouses as construction techniques advanced, while others have been substituted with large automated buoys.

Those that do exist are looked upon as a novelty, yet an important one for the maritime community across the world.  In many ways, light vessels are an essential bridge of knowledge and information between the past and the present, helping enthusiasts to understand the difficulties and the intellectual prowess of the seafaring community to surmount these difficulties.

 2015 International LOTA Weekend (ILW)

As stated before, while the number of active lightships has dwindled in recent times, many still exist which provide possible dx adventure targets for LOTA DXpeditioners in this year’s International LOTA Weekend (ILW).

Some include:

  • Goods Island Lightship, Torres Strait, Australia
  • Lightship Ambrose, USA
  • Lightship LV, Germany
  • Lightship Nantucket, USA
  • Lightship CLS-4 Carpentaria, Australia
  • Lightship Colombia, USA
  • North Carr Lightship, Scotland
  • Greenwich Light Vessel, England

For more in depth reading, please check out the following links: