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 like the Carpentaria 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.


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