On this day in 1975, the Portland, Maine lightship was replaced by an automated buoy, leaving Nantucket Shoals as one of three remaining lightship stations in the nation.
A month later, the Boston lightship was also retired and the stations were narrowed to two -- one off Nantucket, the other at the mouth of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest.
"In a way, I'm sad to see them pass," Coast Guard captain and lightship commander Alfred Fearing told the Associated Press in 1975. "It's a tradition that's going to be gone."
The Nantucket posting had long been considered the most dangerous lightship assignment in the Coast Guard because it was so far from shore, 200 miles east of New York City. It is "the first point of contact in the United States for ships crossing the Atlantic bound for New York," the AP reported. "Its flashing light, radio beam and foghorn guide vessels through the stormy, treacherous waters."
In January 1959, hurricane-force winds and 50-foot seas blew the Nantucket lightship 80 miles off station and knocked out communications for several days.
Lightships served as beacons to mariners off the US for 163 years, from 1820 to 1983. In that time, 116 stations were established along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts. The first station was in Chesapeake Bay; the last to be automated and its crew removed was Nantucket.
Lightship 112, known as Nantucket I, was also decommissioned in 1975. The vessel had served 39 years at the Nantucket station, the longest of any vessel. In 1989 Lightship 112 was designated a National Historic Landmark. Efforts are underway to renovate the lightship for use as a permanent museum berthed at Staten Island.
Lightship 612, also known as Nantucket II, was the last lightship to serve off Nantucket, until 1983, and the last US lightship in commission. After decommissioning, the vessel passed through a number of owners. The lightship is currently privately owned and available for charters and events. See a video tour of the renovated ship here.
Read about the Coast Guard's Lightships here.
The 1936 Lightship Nantucket, LV 112 underway. She was the largest lightship ever built in the U.S. and she was paid for by the British Government in reparation for the collision and sinking of the LV 117 in 1934 by the liner Olympic.