Irish Lights Headquarters at the Cutting Edge
The coastline of Ireland must rank as one of the most treacherous in the world. The majority of lighthouses in this country were built during the 1800s and early 1900s in response to the needs of merchants and mariners to support the development of trade. Constructed at remote headland sites and on isolated rocks and islands in the most inhospitable locations, they provide navigation marks and guiding lights to improve safety at sea. Each lighthouse in its own way is an extraordinary feat of construction and each is a testament to the engineers who designed them and the men who built them. For over two hundred years the Commissioners of Irish Lights have been at the forefront of innovation and endeavour.
The large rotating and fixed optics installed many years ago used gas or incandescent paraffin vapour as the light source. Lighthouse electrification made possible the use of large 3kW filament lamps to form that warning beam. Advances in light technology have now enabled the use of 35W metal halide lamps in these magnificent lenses to achieve ranges of up to 19 nautical miles.
Lighthouse Keepers and Lightshipmen, the backbone and life-blood of the Service until advancing technology enabled aids to navigation to be automated, have a special status in the history of Irish Lights. The lives of Lighthouse Keepers were transformed by the introduction of the helicopter, but automation and central monitoring finally ended their role in Irish Lights when in March 1997 the Baily was the last lighthouse to be automated.
The reduced power requirement of modern lights and electronic systems has enabled solarisation of most offshore lighthouses, thus assisting Irish Lights in reducing its carbon footprint. Similarly, buoys have been converted from acetylene powered lights to LED type lanterns powered by solar panels on standardised buoy platforms.
So what are the new challenges as we move forward in the 21st century? e-Navigation is the most recent buzz word to enter the shipping world, and work is ongoing at international level to develop an e-Navigation strategy. We in Irish Lights consider that the development of e-Navigation is an opportunity to optimise the multiplicity of currently evolving systems and equipment, and to ensure that the focus of future development is a comprehensive approach to safe navigation throughout a ship's full voyage.
GPS is universally used as the positioning and navigation system by modern shipping. However, satellite navigation systems are vulnerable to interference, inadvertent or otherwise. An alternative complementary but different system is required. e-Loran has been identified as the alternative and this is confirmed by the recent decision of the US Department of Homeland Security to implement e-Loran as their national positioning, navigation and timing system that is independent but complements GPS. Coverage from the new General Lighthouse Authorities' e-Loran transmitter in Anthorn in Cumbria will be assessed over the next months to determine if a fill-in mini e-Loran station is required on the west coast of Ireland.
Differential GPS services have been provided from fourteen GLA transmitters around the UK and Republic of Ireland since 1998. Re-equipping of this service is currently being undertaken. The Automatic Identification System, recently introduced as a transponder system for shipping, is now also being introduced as an aid to navigation. This enables real time information on the status and position of aids to navigation to be transmitted directly on to the ship's bridge. Irish Lights will be installing AIS on lighthouses and buoys over the next four years in order to achieve a comprehensive network around our coast.
Irish Lights has always been at the cutting edge of technology. As we move into our new state of the art environmentally friendly building I wish to pay tribute to my colleagues throughout the Service for their dedication to the task and to thank them for their patience over the last few years as building progressed. The challenges ahead are new and exciting and I know we will meet those challenges head on.Stuart Ruttle,