Lighten our darkness

Article Featured Image
detail of ship model

Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

I have been out at sea in the middle of the night on a few occasions and it is fascinating how different the heavens can look.

On one occasion I slept on deck on the Liverpool to Dublin ferry watching the shooting stars as I nodded off.

Everything is much darker out at sea in huge contrast to many places on land with widespread man-made light pollution.

Modern ships may be equipped with the latest radio and satellite navigation devices but light is still essential on the open seas in the pitch dark.

In the early days vessels relied on the moon and clear night skies as they made their way over largely uncharted waters. On board candles and oil lamps were used above and below decks. As ships became more sophisticated, rules and regulations were introduced to improve safety.

As steam brought about faster ships, there was a growing need for vessels to be seen especially on busy sea routes with the danger of collisions.

A fire on board a crowded emigrant ship could be devastating. Strict rules covered the use of lamps and naked lights were not allowed.

A pair of safety candle lanterns, on display in the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s emigration gallery, was supplied by Price’s Patent Candle Company.

The development of electricity on board ships brought about many different types of lighting from curved passageway lights and four-bar lights to three-shade lights and post lights.

In 1848 Britain introduced regulations requiring steam vessels to display red and green sidelights along with a white masthead light.

A ship’s green starboard (right) and red port (left) navigation lights are also on display at the museum.

The rule of the road at sea requires vessels to carry lights to enable other ships to see them and be able to determine in which direction they are going.

The starboard and port lights are usually fixed to the ship’s bridge. The lights can be seen on the museum’s ship models including the Titanic and Empress of France (pictured).

The first international Maritime Conference was convened in 1889 to draw up regulations aimed at preventing collisions.

This resulted in the Washington Conference Rules adopted by the US in 1890 before they became effective internationally in 1897. These revised rules required steamers to carry a second masthead light.

More changes came in the international Safety of Life at Sea Conference of 1948 including fixed stern lights for most vessels.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents and bookshops.