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Museum ship Elbe 1

A light vessel (abbreviation FS ) is a manned or unmanned, lying at a certain position anchor and a beacon like a lighthouse equipped watercraft , as the navigation signs of navigation of the maritime used.

Fire bearer of the Belgian lightship Westhinder II

Function and equipment

Lightships usually have a red color and are marked on the ship's side with a clearly visible designation for the position, for example " Elbe 1 ". These ships are always in the same position (fixed at the station) and are also entered in the nautical charts and electronic navigation aids . The name is derived from the typically existing lighting . Today a distinction is made between the classic manned lightships (FS) and the unmanned lightships (UFS) .

These navigation signs have beacons (similar to a lighthouse ), signal transmitters for fog ( fog horn , firecrackers ), membrane transmitters , radio and underwater sound devices ( echo sounder , sonar ), active radar beacons , passive radar reflectors and other aids to identify their position Time to be quickly recognized by ships passing or searching for this position.

Lightships are anchored at positions that are important for seafaring, at which a lighthouse could not be erected or only with great effort due to the depth of the water or the nature of the subsurface. Daytime signs such as balls or cones, which are hoisted in a clearly visible place, signal to the other ships that the lightship is in position. The manned lightship also contains bedrooms and lounges for the crew and additional rooms for any shipwrecked people ; Unmanned lightships, on the other hand, only have maintenance and engine rooms, and occasionally also a rescue room for shipwrecked people.


The first fire vessel was about 1770 in the Thames estuary stationed (Themseästuar). In Germany , a pilot transfer boat equipped with a lamp was used for the first time in 1774 to carry a position light .

In 1815 the Eiderfeuerschiff was put into position in Germany . To make it visible in the dark, it carried an oil lamp in the mast . This ship ran aground in 1834 and was replaced by a more modern version in 1835. This lightship was in service until 1909. In the same year it was replaced by a successor, which was in service until 1926.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the German North Sea coast was secured with 18 lightships. There was also a very large number of lighthouses .

With the decommissioning of the Borkumriff IV on July 15, 1988, the use of manned German lightships ended. In the meantime, the manned lightships have been replaced by unmanned lightships (UFS) or by barrels .

Since almost all older lightships had a sailing hull due to the emergency sails, five lightships were converted into sailing ships after the end of their service:

  • the lightship Kiel to the barque Alexander von Humboldt , built in 1906 as a reserve in Sonderborg
  • the lightship Aussenjade built in 1903 for the three-masted gaff schooner White Shark (later Sunthorice )
  • the 1905 built Mayor Bartels to the barquentine Atlantis under the flag of Malta
  • the 1911 built Senator Brockes for the Dutch barque Europa .

Seven lightships have been preserved in Germany as museum ships.


The names for these floating “beacons at sea” are not uniform. In Germany they were officially until 1921 lightship called, and only after the term began Lightship by. But the terms light ship , signal ship or position ship were also used at a certain time. A long time ago, the term lantern ship was also rarely heard .

International designation

Even though the English designation lightvessel (LV) or lightship (LS) is usually used on international nautical charts, the names in the local language are occasionally used on regional nautical charts. That would include:

Unmanned lightship FS 3

Situation in Germany

Today three unmanned lightships are still operating in German waters, alternating in two positions:

  • Position "GW / EMS" (German Bight Western Approach) formerly "TW / EMS" (Tiefenwasserweg / Ems) at 54 ° 10.0 ′ north, 6 ° 20.8 ′ east
  • Position "GB" (German Bight) formerly "Deutsche Bucht" at 54 ° 10.8 ′ north, 7 ° 27.6 ′ east

The whereabouts of former lightships (naming according to the last position on the side inscription):

Model of the lightship Adlergrund

The following are no longer available:

See also

Literary mention

Web links

Commons : Lightship  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  2. lightship station: "EAGLE BASE" . At, accessed on May 4, 2017
  3. Józef Pluciński: Latarniowce na Zátoce Pomorskiej . On August 29, 2011 from, accessed on May 4, 2017