The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Save Our Lighthouses

I can’t imagine that there are many sailors out there who don’t share John’s and my fascination with lighthouses—walking around them, climbing them, photographing them, reading about what it was like to take care of them—we don’t seem to tire of it. However, in Canada, the USA and the UK, and I’m sure in other places as well, as lighthouses are automated, they are almost always lost to vandalism, disrepair, or replacement with a soulless modern version.

The first question to ask is whether lighthouses should be automated at all. As Canadians, we don’t think so, because of both the economic and the social implications. Though the Coast Guard may save money by automating lighthouses, we believe that the overall cost to the tax payer is increased through unemployment insurance and welfare costs. And we know that communities lose both economically from the loss of jobs and socially from broken connections to their culture and history. So, on balance, we feel that automation, especially in small isolated communities, should be discontinued.

The second question is what to do with lighthouses that have already been automated and are now falling into disrepair. The  St. Paul Island Association of Cape Breton, Canada is working on trying to save their lighthouse, as are numerous other associations and individuals. I applaud their efforts and wish them success. I, for one, will definitely climb over, around and through any lighthouse they save!

The lighthouse at Andenes.
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David V

In OZ the properties on which these lighthouses stand was transferred from Commonwealth to State Governments about 30 years ago. Since, some (eg. the lights on SE Point @ Wilson’s Prom and Cape Otway) have been sub-leased to sympathetic entrepreneurs who let the adjoining keepers’ residences out to visitors. The Head Lease requires the lessee to maintain the buildings and surroundings… many more remote lighthouse building haven’t fared so well… suggesting that the original transfer agreement should have had a covenant to ensure that these structures are properly maintained.


Thank you for giving us the Australian perspective on the lighthouse issue, David. Though it sounds like there have been some problems with transferring leases to entrepreneurs, it also sounds like it has worked well in other situations. It may very well be the best way to ensure as many lighthouses are saved as possible.

john kelly, Tasmania.

Liked your expressions, and good but sad photos. Am a retired navigator.