A lightship (abbreviation FS) is a manned or unmanned, lying in a certain position at anchor and a beacon similar to a lighthouse equipped watercraft which is intended to serve as a navigational aid for shipping.

Function and Features

Lightships carry mostly a red color and are on the ship's side with a conspicuous label provided for the position, for example, " Elbe 1 ". These ships are always on the same position (station- resistant) and are registered in the charts and electronic navigational aids. The name derives from the typically existing lighting. Today we distinguish between the classical manned lightships (FS) and the unmanned lightships (UFS ).

These navaids have to ensure visibility of their position on beacon (like a lighthouse), a signal generator for fog (fog horn, firecrackers ), membrane transmitters, radio and ultrasonic devices ( echo sounder, sonar ), active radar beacons, passive radar reflectors and other tools to each time to be detected quickly by passing this position or searching ships.

Fire ships are anchored to seafaring important positions where due to the water depth or the surface of the ground would be to build a lighthouse, or only with great effort. Day vision characters such as balls or cones, which are hoisted in a conspicuous position, signal the other ships that the ship is on fire position. The manned lightship also contains living and sleeping rooms for the crew and additional rooms for any shipwrecked; however, unmanned lightships have only maintenance and engine rooms on, and occasionally a rescue space for the shipwrecked.


The first lightship was stationed in 1770 in the Thames Estuary ( Themseästuar ). In Germany the first time you took in 1774 a pilot boat equipped with a lamp as a carrier of a position fire.

In 1815, then the Eider lightship was placed in position in Germany. To identify in the darkness there was an oil lamp in the mast. This ship ran aground in 1834 and in 1835 was replaced by a more modern version. This lightship was doing his service until 1909. Later that year, it was replaced by a successor, which until 1926 did his service.

The German North Sea coast was secured around the turn of the century of the 19th to the 20th century with 18 lightships. Then there was a very large number of lighthouses.

With the decommissioning of Borkumriff IV on 15 July 1988, the use of manned German lightships ended. Meanwhile, the manned lightships were replaced by unmanned lightships (UFS ) or through tons.


The names of these floating " beacon at sea " are not uniform. In Germany they were officially referred to 1921 as a lightship, and only then, the term lightship prevailed. But the names light ship, vessel or position signal ship were common to a certain time. Very seldom was heard a long time ago, the name ship lantern.

Designation of internationally

If on international charts in general, the English name lightvessel (LV) or lightship (LS ) is called, so found on regional charts occasionally the names in the local language. That would, among other things:

  • Denmark: Fyrskib
  • Finland: majakkalaivat
  • France: Bateau - feu / bateau phare
  • Iceland: vita skip
  • Italy: battello fanale / battello faro / nature faro
  • Netherlands: light chip
  • Norway: fyrskip
  • Poland: latarniowiec
  • Portugal: navio farol
  • Spain: pontoon faro / buque faro
  • Sweden: Fyrskepp


Today in German waters three lightships are alternately on two positions in use:

  • " GW / EMS" ( German Bight Western Approach ) formerly " TW / EMS" position ( deep water / Ems) at 54 ° 10.0 'N, 6 ° 20.8 ' East
  • Position "GB" ( German Bight ) formerly " German Bight " on 54 ° 10.8 'N, 7 ° 27.6 ' E

The whereabouts of former German lightships:

  • The Alexander von Humboldt, known from the television, is a converted reserve lightship
  • The Lightship Fehmarn Belt (ex FS outside Eider ) than roadworthy museum ship home port Lübeck
  • The Lightship Læsø Rende is a floating clubhouse in Heike village near Kiel
  • The Lightship is Borkumriff as national parks and museum ship in Borkum
  • The largest fire ship in the world and last manned ship on same position 1 - the lightship Mayor O'Swald II - is a museum ship in Cuxhaven
  • The Lightship Weser is a restaurant on the Bontekai in the Great Port of Wilhelmshaven
  • The Lightship Elbe 3 is now a museum ship at the Museum Oevelgönne in Hamburg
  • The fire Amrumbank is now a museum ship in Emden Ratsdelft port and also has a restaurant and a ceremonial hall of the registry office Emden
  • The former lightship Flensburg ( Kalkgrund II) ( Flensburg ) was in 1994 converted into a 2- masted schooner Noorderlicht and takes adventure cruises in the Arctic Ocean
  • The former lightship Elbe V sails as Barkentine rigged charter trips in Europe - their current home port of Harlingen in the Netherlands

No longer available are:

  • Lightship Bremen, (1853 ), sold in 1902 to Messrs. Deetjen in Elsfleth, later aborted
  • Fire ship Weser, (1874 ), 1945 decreased
  • Lightship Jasmund, (1912 ), 1952 scrapped

Literary reference