What do we lose when lighthouse keepers leave? Do you think technology can do a better job guiding boats at night? Do we even need lighthouses anymore? Colin Lowther and Liz Waid look at how technology is replacing people in lighthouses.

Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Colin Lowther.  

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Voice 2

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

One hundred years ago. The night was dark. The sea was rough. The waves were high. And the wind was strong. The sailor was worried. He had sailed a long way. And he knew that he was close to land and dangerous rocks. If he sailed too close to the rocks, they would wreck his boat. He could drown.

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But then he saw it! He saw something that would keep him and his boat safe. He saw a bright light in the distance. The light was shining on and then off. He stopped worrying. It was a lighthouse. This tall building, a tower with a bright light at its top, would guide him. It warned those at sea to keep away from the rocks around it. With its light, the sailor knew where to sail to keep safe. Lighthouses like this have been guides for sailors for hundreds of years. But what is their future? Today’s Spotlight is on lighthouses.

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Imagine a world without GPS or computers. How would you know where you are in the dark? Sailors depended on lighthouses for many hundreds of years. They were built on the coast, on islands, rocks, and even the sea floor. Lighthouses guided sailors. The lights showed sailors where to sail and where not to sail. But lighthouses also helped sailors to identify where they were. Each lighthouse was different. Each had its own colours and marks. And each lighthouse had its own system or pattern of light flashes. So sailors knew where they were just by looking at the lighthouse both in the day and at night.

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Before lighthouses existed, fires on top of hills sometimes guided sailors. Later, people built towers to make the fires more noticeable. The first known lighthouse was the Pharos of Alexandria in Egypt. It was built over 2000 years ago. For many centuries, this lighthouse was one of the tallest buildings in the world. It was about 106 meters tall.

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That ancient lighthouse no longer exists. But some other ancient lighthouses do. The Tower of Hercules in north-west Spain, is one such lighthouse. It was built by the Romans during the first or second century. This lighthouse is the oldest working lighthouse in the world. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Experts say that the age of modern lighthouses began in the 18th century. In this period engineers improved the way that lighthouses were lit. Some lighthouses used coal fires to create the important light. Others still used wood fires. And some used oil lights or even wax candles. But all these forms of light produced smoke. And the smoke made the glass of the lighthouse black and dirty. When the glass was dirty, sailors could not see the light.

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But in 1782 a Swiss scientist solved the problem. He invented a method of burning oil that did not produce smoke. Other engineers produced equipment to increase the intensity or power of the light.

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Over the years, lighthouses used different methods of shining a light out into the sea. But in every case, someone needed to look after the light in the lighthouse. Someone had to light it at night. Someone had to keep the equipment working. So, lighthouse keepers were needed. George Medlicott was a lighthouse keeper in the United Kingdom for 32 years. He told the Independent about his memories of living and working in a lighthouse.

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‘It was not an easy job. Some of the lighthouses did not have running water, working toilets or heating. Winters were not great. We stayed in small rooms and often spent hours in the dark.’

Voice 1

Often a lighthouse keeper had to live away from his family. But sometimes his family stayed with him. Ebonee Gregory had an unusual time as a child. Her father was an assistant lighthouse keeper. She lived with him on a lonely island off the coast of Australia. She told the Guardian about his job and how it affected her.

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‘My father helped the head lighthouse keeper run and care for the lighthouse and island. They took turns to turn the light on every night and off in the morning. They cleaned the glass. They made weather reports. Our food arrived by air every two weeks along with any letters. If there was bad weather, the food drops would be delayed. I did not have any friends. A picture of my second birthday party shows no one my age, just the two families on the island.’

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But times have changed for lighthouses. New technology for lighthouses and navigation has arrived. Soon there may be no lighthouse keepers living in lighthouses. Many countries including Australia, Finland, Ireland, and Japan no longer employ lighthouse keepers.

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Punta Carena is an important lighthouse on the edge of the island of Capri in Italy. Lighthouse keepers worked there for over 151 years. But now its last lighthouse keeper has left. Carlo D’Oriano was the last lighthouse keeper of Punta Carena. He did not want to leave. He felt that it was important to have a person in a lighthouse in case anything went wrong with the technology. As he prepared to leave his lighthouse home and job he talked with the BBC. He remembered storm waves crashing into his window 25 metres up the lighthouse. He remembered storm winds that made the lighthouse shake.


‘At first I believed these shakes were small earthquakes or shocks. But over the years I have learned that the anger of the sea is more beautiful than a quiet sea. It makes you remember that nature exists and that this mass of water is open and alive. Only someone who lives alone can understand this. My heart is here. When I can no longer keep the light, I think part of me will turn off too.”

Voice 2

What do you think is lost when lighthouse keepers have to leave? Do you think technology can do a better job guiding boats at night? Do we even need lighthouses anymore? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 1

The writer of this programme was Katy Blake. The producer was James Totton. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for the programme and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this programme again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This programme is called ‘Living in a Lighthouse’. 

Voice 2

Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


What do we lose when lighthouse keepers leave? Do you think technology can do a better job guiding boats at night? Do we even need lighthouses anymore?

Join the discussion

  • Hello Dears,

    I think we don’t need lighthouses any more due to the huge technological development in Navigation field, on the other side we have to provide a good job opportunities to lighthouses keepers to ensure a good and safe life for them!

  • I think we are not need for lighthouse keeper’s more because the technology and gbs replaced these jobs so we We saved lives and money.

  • I am concerned that modern technology is replacing human labour. As in the professions of lighthouse keeper, salesman, stoker and so on.

  • When I write this comment, I imagine living many centuries ago, locking a message inside a bottle that I will abandon in the ocean, thinking that it could be picked up by a stranger from a distant country across the ocean, and I feel like a guardian of the lighthouse that blesses the progress that allows me to write with a computer connected to the internet.

  • I think we must leave one keeper on lighthouse if technology breakdowns , and technology will solve this problem of stay keppers on lighthouses

  • Nowadays , we almost know about the massive development of technology for example like GPS ,.. that help people for addressing lots of issues in many majors.Especially, guiding people on the sea by GPS instead of lighthouses . The way of using GPS works more efficiently than lighthouse .It’s particularly helping reduce terrible job where you have just lived in a tower without friends ,family , running water , or even working toilet and yet you just have a little foods . And the worst of them is spending hours in the dark lonely ! HOW THEY AFFORD IT?.So anyway , thank to the huge technology not only replacing this job and but also helping people reduce time and money and of course ! Lighthouse keepers are not necessary anymore

  • When lighthouse keepers leave, we lose the human connection and the additional safety they provided. While technology may be efficient, human presence offered reassurance in emergency situations. However, some argue that modern technology can effectively guide boats at night, raising questions about the ongoing need for traditional lighthouses.

  • When lighthouse keepers leave, we lose the human presence and caretaking, Lighthouse keepers are vital to support. Yes, I think technology can effectively guide boats at night through GPS, radar, or automated navigation systems. We still need lighthouses because they can provide a backup or supplementary aid to electronic navigation systems, especially in remote or hazardous areas where technology may be less reliable.

  • When lighthouse keepers leave, we lose the human touch and historical connection to these iconic structures. Technology can indeed guide boats more efficiently at night with systems like GPS and automated lights, but lighthouses still serve as backup and landmarks. While technology advances, the nostalgia and symbolism of lighthouses make them enduring symbols of safety and guidance.

  • The departure of lighthouse keepers signifies a loss of traditional maritime heritage and the sense of community associated with these coastal landmarks. While technology can enhance navigation efficiency, lighthouse keepers provided a human connection and local knowledge crucial for safe passage, particularly in challenging weather conditions.

  • we don’t need a lighthouse now with GPS . It considered an ancient places. so it’s a good way to explore how sailing was a difficult

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