Building a fixed beacon on this shifting material is often impossible. Lightships are the best choice for sites like these. This photograph is of the Sevenstones lightvessel.
Lightvessels are not designed for travel and often have no engines for propulsion. They are designed to be moored in the open sea, whatever the weather conditions.
Ocean-going vessels rely on lightships being in the exact location marked on their sea charts. The navigational calculations of a ship become unreliable and dangerous if the lightship has moved. This photograph of the Calshot Lightship, off Southampton Water, was taken in the 1900s.
These early craft were small, wooden ships, often Dutch galliots bought especially for conversion to lightvessels. By 1819 there were nine lightvessels in England.
The first lights were candle powered or used oil lamps that burned sperm whale oil. Some of the early ships were fitted with sails in case they broke adrift.
By the beginning of the 20th century it was usual for a Trinity House lightvessel to have a crew of 11. This consisted of a master and six ratings on board, and a master and three ratings ashore.
The masters were changed every month, while the rest of the crew served a month afloat followed by two weeks of shore leave. The crews were qualified seamen who had normally served at least two years on deck.
The Dowsing Lightship was built by Phillip and Son of Dartmouth in 1958. She had a helicopter pad, which was used to bring in supplies and new crew members.
Before helicopters were used, lightships were re-equipped by a fleet of Trinity House supply ships.
This 1882 picture shows a supply ship relieving the Tongue Lightship during the night. Ships such as this would land provisions and bring replacement crews to relieve the staff of the lightship.
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