LIGHTSHIPS BY THE NUMBERS

By Jim Gill

Most lightship sailors think of their ships in terms of the station that the ship happened to occupy at the time they were aboard. For instance, Joe over there says, “I served in Nantucket Lightship.” OK Joe, that’s fine, but which one?

In the reasonable life-span of existing lightship sailors there were four different ships assigned to Nantucket Station at various times and before that twenty two!

After 1854 lightships were referred to only by number. In this manner one ship could maintain it’s identity while over the years it was assigned to several different stations. Lightship 612 for example served four stations. SAN FRANCISCO and BLUNTS REEF on the West Coast,  PORTLAND and NANTUCKET on the East Coast. But the ship was always identified as Lightship 612.  Other lightships served as many as six different stations including interim assignments as relief.

Relief lightships present another problem. Over the years there were probably no less than 40 lightships called “Relief”.  Some were given this designation for the entire service life of the ship while others due to age or circumstance were withdrawn from regular station assignments and became Reliefs. If I said I served in  Relief, it could mean any of a dozen different ships located up and down both East and West coasts.

The numbers vs. names issue is, of course, important only to purists, historians and researchers. Only a handful of lightship sailors can remember the number of their ship but most certainly know the station name. My ship, of course, was SAN FRANCISCO. What’s that? Was it 83/508, 612, 100/523?  Darned if I know.

Perhaps that is the way it should be. In a few more years all of us old lightship sailors will be gone and there will be nothing left. Only the numbers.  

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