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Lighthouses on the Chesapeake Bay
Life of a Lighthouse Keeper
Lighthouse Signals
Navigational Aids
Types of Lighthouse Construction
Suggested Reading

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Lighthouse Signals

Throughout history and around the world, lighthouses have been important aids to navigation. Before the invention of modern navigation instruments, sailors depended on lighthouses to warn them of rocky shores or shallow water. The Chesapeake Bay has many shallow areas that are dangerous to ships, and yet the Bay has been a heavily traveled waterway since colonial times. The construction of a system of lighthouses to aid navigation on the Bay was an important development in the history and the economy of the Bay area.

Although sailors today have complex instruments to guide their ships, they can still depend on the signals of the Bay's lighthouses for basic information about their location. Each lighthouse flashes a pattern of light that is different from that of every other lighthouse. Navigation charts describe this pattern of light so that sailors can know their exact location.

In daylight or during fog or storms, the light may not be easily seen. Therefore, each lighthouse has two other unique characteristics that help to identify it. Its exterior markings or colors can be easily seen during daylight. Its foghorn sounds a signal that is different from the signals of all other lighthouses. The markings and fog signals are also described on the navigation charts. With charts that show the location of the lighthouses and the depth of the water in each location, an experienced sailor can navigate even without modern instruments.

Continue to: Navigational Aids



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