General Lighthouse Information

I think I'm best starting with how British lighthouses are run,since it differs from the American way. There are three Lighthouse Authorities.

Trinity House-responsible for England and Wales

Commissioners of Irish Lights-responsible for Northern Ireland and Eire.

Northern Lighthouse Board -responsible for Scotland and Isle of Man.

The Lighthouse Authorities are effectively self-financing in that shipowners pay so much per ton shipped,rates varying with type of voyage,home voyage (between British ports) or foreign voyage and number of voyages made in the year.
Prior to Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 payment was based on which lights you had passed,though Scottish lights had changed some time before that act.
Since 1993 "light dues"have been collected by the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers.
Light Dues are paid into a General Lighthouse Fund which is under the stewardship of the Secretary of State for Transport. The amount raised by light dues is directly in proportion to costs of running the three Lighthouse Services.

What follows is the way Northern Lighthouse Board(NLB) ran things as there were at times considerable variation in how different authorities ran their service.

In the last thirty years before automation was completed there were two main types of station Rock or Shore.

Rock lighthouses where just the keepers went,doing a month on duty followed by a fortnight ashore,usually stationed for three to five years,accommodation for families being provided at a "shore station".
Some of the shore stations were in towns eg.Oban which had quite a fair sized lighthouse community,some like Muckle Flugga shore station at Haroldswick were pretty isolated.

Shore lighthouses where keepers and theirs families were stationed,from three to five years.
Shore lighthouses further divided:-
One Man station-one keeper and his family,usually one of the senior Principal Lightkeepers(PLK).The light had usually been converted to electric operation,the keeper switched on at night and out in the morning and if anything went wrong an alarm would sound in his quarters.

Two Man station-where there was just the light.Two keepers a PLK and an Assistant Lightkeeper(ALK).Once the light was on the watches were divided between them until the light was extinguished in the morning.Made good use of Occasional Keepers especially in the winter months.

Fog Signal station-one PLK and Two ALK'S.Since this was a fog signal station it meant a 24 hour watch system ie.always someone on watch.

Island stations-Could be any of the above,where only the keepers and families were on the island.Most of these were changed to Rock stations in the 1960's.

Relieving Stations--In the mid-1970's a few of the more isolated shore stations eg.Neist Point(Skye)and Cape Wrath lighthouse,were in effect,turned into Rock stations,with the keepers doing month on-month off and families living elsewhere.

There was a big upheaval in the early 1970's when our working hours were equated to a "forty hour week"
Rock lighthouses gradually changed to Month On - Month Off duty.
Was 1-PLK,3-ALK,1-OK
Became 2-PLK,3-ALK,1-LALK
or 2-PLK,2-ALK,2-LALK
Fog signal stations had an extra ALK,prior to this accommodation for the keepers was provided on the station,but to save building new accommodation the extra ALK who was called Non-mobile or "local" lightkeeper resided locally in his own house,and went in to do watches and whatever else was required.


Principal Light Keeper.(PLK)Head keeper responsible for the overall running of the station.Usually transferred between stations every three to five years

Assistant Light Keeper.(ALK)Usually transferred between stations every three to five years
Once appointed ALK's start at the bottom of the seniority list,gradually work their way up as keepers get promoted to PLK,die or resign
Promotion to PLK strictly by seniority.
Seniority also counts as to who is in charge any time PLK is absent.(receives In-charge allowance.)

Local Assistant Lightkeeper.(LALK)Normally appointed to one station,resides locally and commutes to work.
Not on seniority list

Supernumerary Lightkeeper.(SLK)Trainee Keeper.

Occasional Lightkeeper.(OK)Part Time Keeper,normally appointed to one station,allows coverage of keepers days off,holidays and sickness,etc.

Attendant.Part Time Keeper,usually visits an unmanned station fortnightly or monthly to check and clean.Primary role to be ON call.First one called out if anything reported amiss with the light.

Now that automation has been completed (1998) ,all that remains are Attendants.

From c2003 as Minor lights are solarised and monitored from Edinburgh,Attendants are being made redundant.

Retained Lighthouse Keeper.(RLK)
A new appointment started in 2003
A part-time employee to be responsible for a group of primarily major lighthouses,supercedes Attendant Keeper.
Primary duties-On call plus Keyholder and Caretaker.

Admission as a Lightkeeper.
Application for the job of Lightkeeper in 1972

A Lightkeepers Day.
As you peruse a lightkeepers journey you will learn about the different duties involved in a lightkeepers day, hopefully this page will give you an insight into a few days in the life of a Lightkeeper.
Probably best read after the journey.