The Lightship, A History

The history of the lightship began more than two centuries ago. Its origin is traced to Roman coast guard galleys that carried an open framework basket at the top of their masthead. A fire was built in the basket to provide guidance for ships entering the harbor at night or during storms. The lightship was often subject to inclement weather and raging storms, but its sailors worked diligently to keep the fires burning and the coast clear. By the 18th century, maritime commerce had become a 24-hour-a-day undertaking, with shipping commerce spanning the globe. Similar vessels soon entered service off the coast of most seafaring nations to provide a continuous signal for safe passage. During the 1800s, more than 116 lightships were stationed along the coasts of the United States.

Ship captains and owners considered the lightship a godsend, providing crucial guidance for their precious cargo.

The ships became known by the names of their stations, such as the famous Vineyard Lightship.