Lighthouse keeper

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Mrs. Fanny May Salter, a lighthouse keeper in the United States Coast Guard service, polishes the lens in the Turkey Point Light, Maryland in 1945.

A lighthouse keeper or lightkeeper is a person responsible for tending and caring for a lighthouse, particularly the light and lens in the days when oil lamps and clockwork mechanisms were used. Lighthouse keepers were sometimes referred to as "wickies" because of their job trimming the wicks.[1]

Duties and functions[edit]

Lighthouse keepers were needed to trim the wicks, replenish fuel, wind clockworks and perform maintenance tasks such as cleaning lenses and windows. Electrification and other automated improvements such as remote monitoring and automatic bulb changing made paid keepers resident at the lights unnecessary. The earliest record of a named individual in a formal capacity as a lighthouse keeper was William, a member of the now famous Knott family, who was appointed to the South Foreland lighthouse near Dover, England in 1730.[2] In the US, periodic maintenance of the lights is now performed by visiting Coast Guard Aids to Navigation teams.

"Stag light" was an unofficial term given to some isolated lighthouses in the United States Lighthouse Service. It meant stations that were operated solely by men, rather than accommodating keepers and their families.[3][4][5]


George Worthylake served as the first lighthouse keeper in the United States. He served at Boston Harbor Lighthouse from 1716 until his death in 1718.[6] In 1776, Hannah Thomas became the first female lighthouse keeper in the United States when she became keeper of Plymouth (Gurnet) Lighthouse in Massachusetts following the death of her husband, John Thomas. Both Hannah and her husband received $200 per year for their service.[7]

Current status[edit]

Cover of The Lighthouse at the End of the World by Jules Verne and Michel Verne, one of several fictional depictions (books and films) of the lives of lighthouse keepers.

North America[edit]

According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, there are 51 staffed lighthouses left in Canada, as of October 2017: 1 in New Brunswick, 23 in Newfoundland and Labrador, and 27 in British Columbia. All of these lighthouses are staffed for operational reasons, except for the light on Machias Seal Island, in New Brunswick.[8] This lighthouse, manned by the Canadian Coast Guard, is kept occupied for sovereignty purposes due to the disputed status of the island with the US.[8][9]

The last civilian keeper in the United States, Frank Schubert, died in 2003. The last officially manned lighthouse, Boston Light, was manned by the Coast Guard until 1998. It now has volunteer "keepers" whose primary role is to serve as interpretive tour guides for visitors.[10]

The lighthouses of Mexico are managed by the General Directorate for Ports and Merchant Marine, a government agency within the larger Secretariat of Communications and Transportation. Automation is not as common in Mexico as in other countries and many of the larger lights are therefore still staffed by resident civilian keepers.[11]

South America[edit]

As of 2013, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) listed 650 lighthouses in Chile and approximately 20 of those were inhabited as of 2003. The southernmost lighthouse in the world, located on the northeast coast of Isla Gonzalo, in the Diego Ramirez Islands, remains a continuously staffed lighthouse and meteorological station administered by the Chilean Navy. In October 2017, the lighthouse keeper Marcelo Escobar had to be airlifted to Punta Arenas after he suffered a broken arm.[12]

The United Kingdom and the British Isles[edit]

Automation of lighthouses in the British Isles began in the late 1960s, but the majority of lighthouses remained staffed by resident keepers until the 1980s and 1990s. On the Isle of Man, the final lighthouses to become automated and therefore lose their keepers were the Calf of Man and Langness lighthouses, which were converted in 1995 and 1996 respectively.[13][14] The Langness Lighthouse was purchased in 2008 by British television personality Jeremy Clarkson, and his ex-wife currently operates the property as tourist accommodations.[15]

The Hook Head Lighthouse, at the eastern entrance to Ireland's Waterford Harbour, is the second oldest operating lighthouse in the world. It was manned continuously from at least 1207 until 1996, when it was finally automated.[16][17] From the time of its construction in the 13th century, until the mid-17th century, the lighthouse was even home to an early Christian monastery.[18]

Following the automation of Hook Head Lighthouse, Baily Lighthouse became the last Irish lighthouse to have a resident keeper, but it too was automated in 1997, and the lighthouse keeper was no longer needed.[19]

A couple years later, on March 31, 1998, the keepers left the Fair Isle South Lighthouse in Shetland, and with that the final Scottish lighthouse to be staffed became automated.[20]

The last manned lighthouse in England, and the United Kingdom, was the North Foreland Lighthouse in Kent. The last six keepers Dave Appleby, Colin Bale, Dermot Cronin, Tony Homewood, Barry Simmons and Tristan Sturley completed their service in a ceremony attended by the Master, the Duke of Edinburgh, on 26 November 1998.[21] In an interview with the BBC, Dermot Cronin remarked, "I had no idea I would be closing the door of the last manned lighthouse in the British Isles."[22]


The last manned lighthouse in Finland was deserted in 1987.[23]

Most French lighthouses are automated, though a few are still (as of 2011) manned.[24]

The last lighthouse keeper in Iceland was terminated in 2010.[25]

As of 2011, there were 62 manned lighthouses in Italy[26]

The last Norwegian lighthouse keeper moved out of Runde Lighthouse in 2002.[27]

As of 2011, there are two manned lighthouses in the Netherlands, one at Schiermonnikoog and the other at Terschelling.[28][29]


There are five lighthouses along the coasts of the Malay Peninsula, all managed by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. Of those five, two were still regularly staffed by lighthouse keepers as of the end of 2015. Raffles Lighthouse, on Singapore's southernmost island, and Pulau Pisang Lighthouse, which is technically located within the neighbouring country of Malaysia, are both crewed by a rotating staff of eight lighthouse keepers who work 10-day shifts in pairs.[30]

In 2006 Meshima Lighthouse became the last lighthouse in Japan to become automated.[31]


The last staffed lighthouse in Australia was the Sugarloaf Point Light, otherwise known as Seal Rocks Lighthouse. Although the lighthouse was electrified in 1966, and automated in 1987, a caretaker and lighthouse keeper remained on site until 2007, when the lighthouse keeper's cottages were renovated into tourist accommodations.[32]

All lighthouses in New Zealand have been automated since 1990.[33]


In popular culture[edit]

The character of the lighthouse keeper has been popular throughout history for their associated air of adventure, mystery, isolation and their rugged lifestyle. The heroic role that lighthouse keepers can sometimes play when shipwrecks occur also feeds into their popularity.

The following books and films draw heavily upon the life of the lighthouse keeper:

I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper is a song written by musician Erika Eigen and performed by her band Sunforest on the soundtrack to the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange.[34]

In Marine Safety and National Coast Guards[edit]

To recognize the role of Lighthouse keepers in the nation's maritime safety, the US Coast Guard named a class of 175-foot (53 m) USCG Coastal Buoy Tenders after famous US Lighthouse Keepers. Fourteen ships in the "Keeper" class were built between 1996 and 2000 and are used to maintain aids to navigation, including lighthouses:[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Lighthouse Glossary of Terms". United States Lighthouse Society. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  2. ^ David Alan Stevenson, The World's Lighthouses before 1820, Oxford University Press, 1959, p103. Genealogical research has now shown the keeper's name as William - not Henry - Knott, as stated in the reference.
  3. ^ "Seeing The Light - A Glossary of Lighthouse Terminology". Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  4. ^ Snow, Edward Rowe (1945). The Lighthouses of New England. Applewood Books. p. 48. ISBN 9781933212203.
  5. ^ Caldwell, Bill (2002-01-01). Lighthouses of Maine. 1986: Down East Books. p. 205. ISBN 9781461744702.CS1 maint: location (link)
  6. ^ U.S. Coast Guard, "Light Station Boston," Last modified on January 12, 2016,
  7. ^ Clifford, Mary Louise and J. Candace Clifford, "Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers," Williamsburg: Cypress Communications, 2013; U.S. Coast Guard, "Historic Light Station Information and Photography, Massachusetts," Last modified on January 12, 2016,;
  8. ^ a b "Lighthouses in Canada". Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  9. ^ Schmidt, Paul B. (1991). Machias Seal Island: A Geopolitical Anomaly (MA). University of Vermont, Department of Geography.
  10. ^ The Lighthouse Encyclopedia, The Definitive Reference, Jones, Ray; 2003. Guilford, Conn.: Globe Pequot. ISBN 0-7627-2735-7
  11. ^ Rowlett, Russ (September 21, 2018). "Lighthouses of Mexico: Southern Gulf Coast". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  12. ^ "Chilean Navy airlifts lighthouse keeper". Air, Med & Rescue Magazine. Voyageur Group Publishing. November 1, 2017. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  13. ^ "Calf of Man Lighthouse". Lighthouse Library. Northern Lighthouse Board. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  14. ^ "Langness Lighthouse". Lighthouse Library. Northern Lighthouse Board. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  15. ^ Darbyshire, Adrian (May 25, 2018). "Militant dog-walkers' 'targeted campaign'". Isle of Man Today. Tindle Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  16. ^ "Our History". Commissioners of Irish Lights. Commissioners of Irish Lights. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  17. ^ Murphy, Ciaran (June 21, 2011). "Lighthouse tops guide book list as world's flashiest". The Irish Examiner Online. Irish Examiner Incorporated. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  18. ^ "Hook Head Light". Lighthouse Explorer. Lighthouse Digest Magazine. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  19. ^ Commissioners of Irish Lights Archived 2010-04-14 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ "Fair Isle South Lighthouse". Lighthouse Library. Northern Lighthouse Board. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Hughes, Dominic (November 26, 1998). "UK Lights out for the last time". BBC News. BBC. BBC Online Network. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  23. ^ A world of your own on a lighthouse island Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ French Department of Public Works Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ "Last lighthouse keeper in Iceland evicted". Archived from the original on 2012-07-08. Retrieved 2012-02-13.
  26. ^ "Lighthouse memories". Archived from the original on 2012-07-24. Retrieved 2012-02-14.
  27. ^ Runde
  28. ^ Sea on screen encyclopedia
  29. ^ Indispensable eye of the lighthouse keeper
  30. ^ Ong, Wee Jin (December 3, 2015). "Keepers of the Lighthouse". The Straits Times. Asia One. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  31. ^ Lighthouses of Australia, Inc.
  32. ^ Rowlett, Russ (June 4, 2016). "Lighthouses of Australia: New South Wales". Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  33. ^ Maritime New Zealand Archived 2011-12-19 at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ Wood, John (1971). Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange - Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Vinyl LP). USA: Warner Bros. Records. K46127.
  35. ^ USCG: About Us - Aircraft & Cutters

Further reading[edit]

  • Crompton, Samuel Willard & Michael J. Rhein, The Ultimate Book of Lighthouses (2002) ISBN 1-59223-102-0.
  • Hyde, Charles K., and Ann and John Mahan. The Northern Lights: Lighthouses of the Upper Great Lakes. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8143-2554-8
  • Jones, Ray & Bruce Roberts, American Lighthouses (Globe Pequot, September 1, 1998, 1st Ed.) ISBN 0-7627-0324-5.
  • Jones, Ray, The Lighthouse Encyclopedia, The Definitive Reference (Globe Pequot, January 1, 2004, 1st ed.) ISBN 0-7627-2735-7.
  • Noble, Dennis, Lighthouses & Keepers: U. S. Lighthouse Service and Its Legacy (Annapolis: U. S. Naval Institute Press, 1997. ISBN 1-55750-638-8.
  • Oleszewski, Wes, Great Lakes Lighthouses, American and Canadian: A Comprehensive Directory/Guide to Great Lakes Lighthouses. Gwinn, Michigan: Avery Color Studios, Inc., 1998. ISBN 0-932212-98-0.
  • Penrod, John, Lighthouses of Michigan (Berrien Center, Michigan: Penrod/Hiawatha, 1998) ISBN 0-942618-78-5.
  • Penrose, Laurie and Bill, A Traveler's Guide to 116 Michigan Lighthouses. Petoskey, Michigan: Friede Publications, 1999. ISBN 0-923756-03-5.
  • Putnam, George R., Lighthouses and Lightships of the United States. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1933).
  • Roach, Jerry, Ultimate Guide to Great Lakes Lighthouses, (2003).
  • Thurston, Harry, Against Darkness and Storm: Lighthouses of the Northeast. Halifax: Nimbus, 1993. ISBN 1-55109-039-2.
  • United States Coast Guard, Aids to Navigation, (Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1945).
  • Wagner, John L., Michigan Lighthouses: An Aerial Photographic Perspective. East Lansing, Michigan: John L. Wagner, 1998. ISBN 1-880311-01-1.
  • Weiss, George, The Lighthouse Service, Its History, Activities and Organization (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1926).
  • Wright, Larry; Wright, Patricia, Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia. Erin: Boston Mills Press, 2006. ISBN 1-55046-399-3.

External links[edit]