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Visit to the Northern Lighthouse Board Headquarters on 19 February 2002

The Scottish Branch visited the headquarters of the Northern Lighthouse Board on 19 February 2002 and were given a presentation by Mr. Guy Platen, the Operations Director on the work of the Board. Based at 84, George Street, Edinburgh, in a building acquired in 1828, the board aims to provide a network reliable, cost efficient navigation aids.

The Northern Lighthouse Board was established in 1786 by an Act of Parliament authorizing the building of four lighthouses in Scotland and the establishment of a Commission to maintain them. This Commission had evolved into to-days Board, consisting of the Lord Advocate, the Solicitor General, the Sheriffs-Principal of Scotland, the Lords Provost of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, the Provost of Inverness, the Argyll and Bute Council Convenor, a nominee from the Isle of Man and a further 5 co-opted Commissioners. The Board is the oldest customer of the Royal Bank of Scotland and has the same Patron as the ILT, HRH The Princess Royal.

Mr. Platen explained, that under the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, the Board is responsible for the maintenance of all lighthouses, buoys and beacons throughout Scotland and the adjacent seas and islands and the Isle of Man. Scotland has more lighthouses than in the rest of the UK. This totals 201 lighthouses in addition to 131 Buoys, 41 Unlit Beacons, 22 Racon Stations, 12 Fog Stations and 3 DGPS Stations. The buoys are all solar powered. The Board also has responsibility for inspection of all oil rig navigational aids on oil rigs in the Scottish Sector and the approval of the placing or removal of buoys provided by other authorities and providing advice to harbours.

All of the lighthouses are now fully automated, the last manned lighthouse being converted in 1998. All buoys are solar powered and feature LED lighting technology. This gives extremely reliable equipment with availability rates of between 99.8% and 100%. Buoys are inspected annually and given a major overhaul every 5 years.

The lights and buoys, located from Muckle Flugga in Shetland to Chicken Rock off the Isle of Man, is managed from the "Headquarters" where there is a dedicated control room monitoring all automated lighthouses 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In addition, there are two depots, one at Oban and the other at Stromness, where maintenance work can be carried out on buoys. The Board operates two ships, the MV Pharos and the MV Polestar and one is based at each depot.

The Service is entirely funded from the collection of "Light Dues" from ships visiting ports and by fishing boats over 10 metres long. These dues, currently 42p per ton, are paid into the "General Lighthouse Fund" administered by the DTLR and money is paid out to the Northern Lighthouse Board, Trinity House and the Commissioners for Irish Lights.

Mr. Platen ended his talk with a look at future technology, such as enhanced GPS systems, a "black box" for shipping, before taking part in a lively question and answer session, during which he ably answered the various questions put to him. For more information on the work of the Northern Lighthouse Board, click here.

The Scottish Branch would like to thank the Northern Lighthouse Board for its hospitality and in particular Mr. G. Platen for his excellent talk and Ms. Lorna Hunter for making the arrangements.

Report by John Fender.


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