United States lightship Chesapeake (LV-116)

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Lightship Chesapeake (LV 116)
Career Lighthouse service
Name: Chesapeake
Builder: Charleston Drydock & Machine Co., Charleston, South Carolina
Cost: $274,434
Launched: 17 August 1930
Commissioned: 1930
Decommissioned: 6 January 1971
Fate: Museum ship
General characteristics
Type: Lightship
Displacement: 130 long tons (132 t)
Length: 133 ft 3 in (40.61 m)
Beam: 30 ft (9.1 m)
Draft: 13 ft 9 in (4.19 m)
Propulsion: Diesel-electric, 350 hp (261 kW)
Speed: 9 knots (10 mph; 17 km/h)
Complement: 10 seamen, 5 officers, 1 cook
Armament: 2 × 20 mm rapid fire machine guns (World War II only)

The United States lightship Chesapeake (LV-116) is owned by the National Park Service and on a 25-year loan to the Baltimore Maritime Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. Since 1820, several lightships have served at the Chesapeake lightship station and have been called Chesapeake. It was common for a lightship to be reassigned from one Lightships Station to another and thus "renamed" and identified by its new station name. Even though the "name" changed during a Lightships service life, the hull number never changed. Although the Coast Guard did assign a new hull number in April of 1950 to all Lightships still in service on that date. After that date, Light Ship / Light Vessel 116 was then known by the new Coast Guard Hull number: WAL 538. In January 1965 the Coast Guard furthered modified all Lightship hull designations from WAL to WLV, so Chesapeake became WLV 538.

Lightship 116/538 had many redundant systems in order to maintain its position through most storms. The 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg) main anchor was backed up by a second 5000 pound anchor attached to the side of the ship. The 30,000 candlepower main light was also backed up with a secondary lamp and the Radio Locator Beacon also had a backup system. On more than one occasion (in 1933, 1936 and 1962) the main anchor chain snapped during violent storms and the ship had to use its engines to stay in place and drop its second anchor.


Built in 1930 at Charleston Drydock & Machine Co in Charleston, S.C. for $274,434.00, Lightship 116 took on the name of whatever station she was anchored at. The ship was also absorbed into the United States Coast Guard in 1939, as were all vessels in the United States Lighthouse Service.

Service in the U.S. Coast Guard meant a pay cut for the sailors aboard Chesapeake and other Lightships, as well as the requirements for the crew to pass Coast Guard physical exams and wear uniforms. Coast Guard officers, usually a Warrant Bos'n, were also placed in command of the lightships, which meant a more efficient, orderly and strict operation. It did also, however, mean better supplies and training reached the crew. During WWII, Lightship 116 was based out of Sandwich, Massachusetts, where it served as an examination and guard vessel at the north entrance of the Cape Cod Canal and helped protect the important port of Boston.

In the 1960s with the introduction of automated buoys as well as permanent light stations, the lightship fleet was slowly mothballed. Chesapeake left her station at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in September 1965 when she was replaced by a large, manned light tower similar to an oil rig. This station was helicopter accessible and was easier to maintain than a lightship. Eventually the light tower was fully automated. Eight lightships were built after Chesapeake.

Chesapeake's last tour of duty was at the mouth of the Delaware Bay from 1966 to 1970 where she was named "DELAWARE". A large 104 ton buoy beacon replaced her at this station in 1970. After leaving Delaware Bay, Chesapeake was moored in Cape May, New Jersey until her decommissioning on 6 January 1971. She was then transferred to the National Park Service and used as a sea-going environmental education classroom until she was handed over to the city of Baltimore in 1982. In 1988 Chesapeake became part of the Baltimore Maritime Museum, now the Historic Ships In Baltimore museum and is moored at Pier 3 in Baltimore's Inner Harbor at 39°17′8.51″N 76°36′31.62″W / 39.2856972°N 76.6087833°W / 39.2856972; -76.6087833Coordinates: 39°17′8.51″N 76°36′31.62″W / 39.2856972°N 76.6087833°W / 39.2856972; -76.6087833. She is open for touring after a paid admission to the Museum, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark [1].

Name and Station Assignments

  • FENWICK, Fenwick Island Shoal, DE (1930–33)
  • CHESAPEAKE, Chesapeake, VA (1933–42)
  • LS-116, Examination and Guard Vessel WWII Sandwich, MA (1942–45)
  • CHESAPEAKE, Chesapeake, VA (1945–65)
  • DELAWARE, Delaware Bay, DE (1966–1970)

External links



  1. "Maryland Historical Trust". National Register of Historic Places: Properties in Baltimore City. Maryland Historical Trust. 2008-06-08. http://www.mht.maryland.gov/nr/NRDetail.aspx?HDID=620&FROM=NRNHLList.aspx. 

Additional reading