What Is A Lightship?


What is a Lightship?

A lightship or a light vessel is a ship that can also operate as a lighthouse. These types of ships are used in waters that are too deep and where lighthouses cannot be constructed. Lightships play an important role in assisting other ships to navigate through waters.

A lighthouse is a structure, usually a tower or a building, which is used specifically to emit bright lights and assist maritime vessels and pilots for maritime navigational purposes during the dark.

Light  ships were used more in olden times as compared to today. Nowadays due to the advancement and development of construction and architecture lightships are slowly going out of use.

The concept of a lightship has been in existence since Roman times. However, the first known modern light vessel was the scene of the Nore sandbank in England which was placed in 1734.

In the 19th century, the idea of a lightship moves towards the west. The United States of America started employing these ships in the country. This is where most of the technological advancement was made on the ship which included the redesigning and modification of the anchoring system to ensure stability during harsh climates.

In the beginning, oil and kerosene lamps were used on lightships. Later on, lights with refractive lenses were adopted.

Towards the 20th century, some light vessels were also equipped with warning bells that warned the people of danger in case of poor visibility or the presence of another vessel in proximity. These bells could be heard at a radius of a distance of 24 kilometers from the ship.

How is Lightship Moored?

To keep the vessel fixed and its position fluke anchors were used. They are used even today. However, they were not sufficient to keep the ship stationary in rough seas. Now mushroom anchors that can weigh up to 4000 kgs are employed in these ships.

Read more: What Is A Mooring Buoy?

Construction of Lightships

The hulls of lightships were previously built with wood. Now with technological advancement, wood has been replaced by damage-resistant, non-corrosive, stronger, and more durable material like iron or steel.


Lightvessels at a time served another important purpose. The bodies of these ships were color-coded and easily identifiable. This helped the sailors in the oceans to confirm their location in the ocean during day time. Lightships used to operate for more than 12 hours a day, from sunset to sunrise.

These ships have been in use for more than a century and a half. They were used most towards the end of the 19th century before lighthouse towers started growing in number. This began to reduce the number of lightships.

Even today, they are declining in number and use. Currently, very few mobile lighthouses exist across the world. Due to more developed advanced navigation systems and satellite communication lightships are not required by many.

Still, we cannot overlook the kind of purpose that these ships have served in their time of operation. We should also keep in mind the kind of scientific minds possessed by people at that time who thought about the concept and actually made it into a reality.

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