An unmanned lightship
Commonwealth Lightship 4, Carpentaria, was 1 of 4 unmanned lightships built at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney, in 1916-17. It originally used an automatic acetylene light with a sunlight-operated valve to turn it on and off. Painted red with its name in huge letters on the side, it was easily recognisable to navigators.
The light on CLS4 was powered by a six-month supply of acetylene gas held in tanks. The flow of gas, which was ignited by a pilot flame, was controlled by an automatic mechanism to produce the characteristic code of flashes. A warning bell tolled with the rolling of the ship.
The lightships felt the fury of the sea and were frequently rotated between pairs and returned to port for maintenance. CLS4 spent much time in the Gulf, hence the name Carpentaria emblazoned along the side, but was last stationed in the Bass Strait oilfields serving as a traffic separator. The lightship retired from service in 1985 after several close encounters with container shipping in Bass Strait, one of which almost sent the sturdy, steel-hulled vessel to the bottom! A more modern design of lightship has replaced CLS4.
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Lightships are floating lighthouses placed where a permanent light is impossible to build, to warn ships of hazards and to act as navigational aids. Shoals and shifting sandbanks which often lie out to sea and may be submerged at high tide present a very real danger to shipping. Outcropping rocks that defy the construction of a lighthouse on them can only be marked by floating lightships or buoys.
A lightship usually has no propulsion of its own. It is taken under tow to its position at sea or to return to port for maintenance or repairs. The machinery space is instead used for equipment to run the powerful light for months at a time. Lightships of the 19th century had cramped accommodation for the crew who operated this gear, but automation in the early 20th century led to unmanned vessels.
Lightships are given distinctive features to make them easily recognisable to navigators by day, for example the name of the ship painted in huge letters on its side. By night each lightship has its own code of flashes. The museum’s lightship was transferred from the Department of Transport.
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On the Waterfront
Extended to 6:00 pm in January
Last boarding time for Submarine and Tall Ships – 4.10pm
Closed Christmas Day 25 December.
+61 2 9298 3777
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© Copyright 2013
Australia National Maritime Museum
Every day 9.30 am - 5 pm
Extend to 6.00 pm in January
Closed Xmas Day 25 Dec.
2 Murrey Street
sydney NSW 2000, AU
+61 2 9298 3777