Divert Your Course


There’s an old joke about a US Navy ship trying to order a lighthouse to divert course. The purpose of the joke is to remind you that no matter how big you are there’s usually something bigger. That something bigger for those responsible for the safe travel of a ship is called “land”, and the lighthouse used to be how they know where land is.

Crisp Point Light

Crisp Point, opened in 1876, was one of 5 Great Lakes Life-Saving Stations authorized by Congress as part of the United States Life-Saving Service, a forerunner to the US Coast Guard. The Life-Saving Service was charged with providing aid to shipwrecked sailors and passengers. As traffic increased on the Great Lakes in the late-1800s with the iron ore industry booming, five life-saving stations were opened.

In 1904 a lighthouse was built at Crisp Point to warn sailors of the presence of land. The lighthouse became part of quite a complex of buildings including a lighthouse keeper’s residence, barns, boathouses, etc. It became an outpost on the coast of Lake Superior and would warn sailors to divert course until 1965 when it was decommissioned. All buildings except the light tower and the service room were destroyed by the Coast Guard. Ten years later, 17 miles north of the lighthouse, the Edmund Fitzgerald sank.

Eventually, the light was completely removed and the Crisp Point Lighthouse fell into disrepair. Now owned by the county, local residents began collecting funds to preserve it in the late 1990s. Erosion had brought the rough waters of Lake Superior dangerously close to the lighthouse, and the service room had collapsed. Through the efforts of the Crisp Point Light Historical Society the light tower has been saved, the service room rebuilt, and a light re-installed under the US Coast Guard’s Private Aids to Navigation (PATON) system. The new light is a 300 mm marine light with a FL W 6s (Flashing White Every 6 Seconds) characteristic. It operates from May 1 to November 1 every year when manned by a volunteer keeper.

Lighthouses once dotted the coasts of North America. Before radio navigation they were critical for the safety of shipping. When radio navigation and other aids became available, the need for lighthouses was diminished. At the same time, maintenance and labor costs were going up. Soon, many of the lighthouses — often architectural wonders — were abandoned, neglected and demolished. It’s good, in this throwaway economy of ours, that there are still people and communities who seek to preserve these treasures.

[Image Credits: Public Domain; Dustin May/Atomic Toasters, © All Rights Reserved]

  • Number_Six

    Something I want to do some day is stay in a lighthouse in Ireland. A load of old buildings like this have been repurposed as rental accommodation and I think it would be great to stay right on the coast during a stormy Atlantic winter.

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    • That would be cool! Crisp Point now has a lighthouse keeper from May to November. They are a volunteer living in a trailer on the premises (I think you have to bring your own trailer). There's no cell phone signal and TV is probably limited. I would do it. A summer with no responsibility other than making sure the lighthouse is locked at night and the light comes on? Heck yeah!

      • Number_Six

        Scotcheses, books, campfires…hell yeah!

        • Dean Bigglesworth

          Sounds good to me, just being. Watching the sea and growing a beard.

          I've always been fascinated with lighthouses. Something about being alone in a remote location, basically at the mercy of the sea, all by myself.

          Sadly there are only a few manned lighthouses left in the world, nearly all of the ones that are still operational have been automated.

  • Door County, Wisconsin. Great area to travel around and see lots of cool old Lighthouses.…

  • cruisintime

    Another example of old technology fading away.
    The Captain wired in he had water coming in and the good ship and crew was in peril
    Later that night when her lights went out of sight
    Came the wreck……………….