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Let there be light!

Despite being an old invention, lighthouses are still essential in ensuring maritime safety

The bright light at the top warns seafarers of dangerous areas. While there were several jokes about vessels mistaking lighthouses for stubborn ships refusing to change course (to avoid collisions), they are essential towers to alert vessels on obscured hazards.

Evolution of lighthouses
The earliest forms of lighthouses were said to be beach bonfires. Some sources claimed the earliest known lighthouse was built in Egypt over 2,000 years ago. Archaeologists have allegedly found remains of more than 30 lighthouses built by the Romans. The first British colonial lighthouse is located in Boston, Massachusetts – built in 1716. The first lighthouse in Florida is located in St. Augustine, and was lit in 1824.

History noted when the Spanish settled in St. Augustine in 1565, they built wooden towers along the coast to defend the city. It was plausible that Spanish soldiers used bonfires to light their watchtowers; making them a makeshift lighthouse. In 1737, the Spanish used coquina to fortify the wooden watchtower on Anastasia Island, East of St Augustine. When the British took over Florida, they extended the wooden watchtower’s height. A keeper’s house was added to the watchtower when Florida became a part of the United States. That became Florida’s first lighthouse and first light station.

In 1870, the Lighthouse Board decided to construct a new one in St. Augustine. In 1874, keeper William Russell lit the lamp in the new lighthouse. The lighthouse stood at 165ft (50m) tall. The daymark is a black and white spiral on the tower with a red lantern on top. Ships near the shore used it as a landmark during the day. Until 1936, the lightkeeper carried oil up 229 stairs to keep the light lit. Subsequently, the lighthouse became electrified, and automated in 1955 by the United States Coast Guard. Thereafter, keepers and their families need not live at the light station.

According to the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, while lighthouses still guide seafarers, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), NOAA’s nautical charts, lighted navigational aids, buoys, radar beacons, and other aids to navigation effectively warn mariners of hazards and guide them to safe harbours. Some 48,000 federal buoys, beacons, and electronic aids of the marine transportation system mark more than 25,000miles (40,000km) of waterways, harbour channels, and inland, intracoastal and coastal waterways, and serve more than 300 ports.

Marine Online Media Team
Please email us at marketing@marineonline.com to contact the author for this article.

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