An unmanned lightship

The museum's Commonwealth Lightship 4 Carpentaria at a wharf

  • About


    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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  • Photo Gallery

    Photo Gallery

    Lightship CARPENTARIA beachedThree lightshipsLightship CARPENTARIALightship CARPENTARIADetail of the lightship CARPENTARIADetail of the lightship CARPENTARIADetail of the lightship CARPENTARIALine drawing of lightship CARPENTARIA
  • More info

    More info

    History of Lightships

    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.

    Ship specifications

    Length 21.94 m overall
    Breadth 7.82 m
    Builder Cockatoo Island Dockyard Sydney, New South Wales
    Construction Rivetted steel
    Engine Nil
    Crew Nil
    Features Acetylene light, signal bell, safety equipment, anchor windlass The light is now powered by solar power
  • School Excursions

    School Excursions

    A group of school children on endeavour

    School Excursions

    We offer a truly unique excursion experience for students and teachers alike.

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