Lighthouses of the Salish Sea


seaThe purpose of lighthouses

What is your idea of a lighthouse? To most people, a lighthouse is a large cylindrical building that has a bulb at the top, but there is more to lighthouses than cylinders and bulbs. You see most people who operate lighthouses live in them; this means that not all lighthouses look the same. You can define a lighthouse as a tower that has a light on top used for navigation purposes, think of it as a traffic sign on the water.

The need for lighthouses came when men realized that getting back to shore at night was dangerous, therefore lighthouses were built to help men at sea avoid sinking or destroying their vessels. There are even lighthouses on lakes and rivers. In Steveston, British Columbia, Canada, local whale watching companies like use lighthouses to guide them on the water.

How lighthouses work

The most hazardous portion of a journey at sea is coming to port; this is because areas close to shore are full of dangerous hazards such as rocks that can bring down ships. Lighthouses illuminate these hazards and are also used to help mariners navigate when there is low visibility due to fog. Simply put the purpose of lighthouses is to save lives and property.

Lighthouses also act as reference points for mariners, i.e. shows them exactly where they are e.g. how far from shore, therefore mariners use lighthouses to plot safe courses. You see even with the advancement of modern technology nothing beats things that you can see physically, a lighthouse is a physical structure that you can see this means that it can’t fail. On the other hand, if you rely heavily on technology, you should know that there is a chance that the gadget you are using to navigate can fail. If this happens and there is no lighthouse is sight your chances of making it to shore safely goes down.

When visibility is low

In the past if there was low visibility, sirens, steam whistles and other noise making devices were used to guide ships, radio beacons which run on electronic devices were also be used.

Low pitched sounds are used or are emitted minutes apart; these sounds are used by mariners to get their bearings right and plot safe routes to shore or to sea. Today things are very different.

What fuels lighthouses

Before the invention of electricity candles, spider lamps, hollow wick and lanterns were used to produce light, when electricity came it was used and is still being used to power bulbs. To save on electricity most lighthouses today rely on solar as their source of energy, LED lights are also replacing traditional bulbs because they save energy and produce more light than traditional bulbs.

Thanks to technology, today most lighthouses are automatic. This means that there is no longer need to have a lighthouse keeper, it is true to say that lighthouses are quickly becoming a thing of the past but whatever happens they will never lose their usefulness. Look at it this way, there is a high possibility that modern technology will fail at some point, therefore it pays to learn older traditional methods of navigation.

Things you didn’t know about lighthouses

Today’s generation will never understand the importance of lighthouses, you see in the past men had to go out to sea to find fish or conquer new lands without GPS. The problem was getting back to land safely at night was difficult, and then something awesome happened in third century Egypt. The first lighthouse was built and named “the Pharos of Alexandria”. The tower was built right after the death of Alexander the Great and took twelve years to complete, it stood at 118m.

It took three earthquakes in 956, 1303 and the third one in 1323 to bring down the tower, today the place where the pharos of Alexandria stood is a world heritage site.

In the past women were not allowed to hold government jobs, lighthouse keeping was amongst the first government jobs that women in north America were allowed to hold.

Another thing that you don’t know about lighthouses is the oldest existing lighthouse is known as the tower of Hercules.

The USA is home to more lighthouses than any other country on the planet; it is also home to the most expensive lighthouse ever built named St George reef in California.

Why are lighthouses still relevant today?

The 21st century has seen the invention of many technologies that have made life very easy for a man, however, if you check with the government or if you run a quick search you will find that there are many lighthouses that are still operational today in British Columbia and in many other places across the globe.

I know you are asking yourself, if there are GPS and radio why should anyone still use a lighthouse? The reason why lighthouses are still relevant is modern technology can easily fail, picture this, you are at sea and your GPS or navigation device fails or is inaccurate. This means that there is a high chance that an accident will occur and lives may be lost.

A lighthouse is something physical, something that you can see and use to actively navigate your vessel to port safely. Simply put lighthouses and other old-school technologies like buoys will show you exactly where you are and where you need to be even if modern equipment fails.

It is true that most countries today are abandoning lighthouses, look at it this way; some have been turned into homes, others into historical museums etc. This means that sooner or later lighthouses will become a thing of the past, to adapt to modern times most lighthouses today use solar to cut energy consumption and modern LED lights which are brighter than the traditional bulbs.

Proven track record

Lighthouses can’t fail except maybe when the light goes off, as a consequence of this, I think that the best way forward is to keep lighthouses active. They can be used as contingency measures in case of real emergencies; if they become extinct and modern technology fails there will be problems in future that could have been solved with very simple solutions such as a lighthouse.

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