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What is a Lighthouse Keeper?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Lighthouse keepers are people who are employed for the purpose of keeping a lighthouse operational. In times past, it was not unusual for a lighthouse keeper to live on the premises and provide daily maintenance to the lighthouse, especially the lens, any mechanical clockwork used in the operation of the facility, and the general condition of the structure. Over time, the number of active keepers has declined as computer technology has made it possible to monitor and control lighthouse functions at a distance.

Prior to the middle of the 20th century, lighthouses were still commonly used to help guide ships safely to shore. It was not unusual for a lighthouse to be located at an elevated point near the shoreline of a sea or sometimes a lake. Along with providing light that functioned as a beacon for nearby ships, the lighthouse keeper could also use various signals to indicate potential danger, such as rock formations along the coastline or assist a ship to safely navigate through a fog bank.

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The keeper of the lighthouse normally was on duty every day of the year. Daily tasks were required to keep the lighthouse functional at all times. A lighthouse keeper would routinely trim the wicks and make sure there was an adequate supply of fuel to feed the wicks. The keeper would also clean and repair the lenses that made it possible to direct the beacons, and keep all windows in the structure clear of any salt deposits or other elements that would obscure the keeper’s view of the waters.

It was not unusual for the lighthouse keeper and possibly his family to actually set up housekeeping in the lighthouse itself. Some designs called for living quarters on the lower levels of the structure. In other situations, a caretaker’s cottage was erected within easy walking distance of the lighthouse, allowing the family to maintain separate living and working spaces. When lodgings were provided, the lighthouse keeper would normally be offered a smaller wage along with the provision of free housing.

While lighthouse keeper jobs were once plentiful, technological advances slowly made the position obsolete. By the beginning of the 21st century, most lighthouses were fully automated and could be maintained with occasional visits from construction and building crews. Some lighthouses that have been registered as historical sites do continue to have an individual designated as a lighthouse keeper. However, the main function of a keeper today is to act as the director for tourism associated with the site, including conducting tours of the facility.

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