Q. Why are there so many lighthouses in North Carolina ?
Q. Why is there a lighthouse here?
Q. Is the Cape Hatteras lighthouse still a functional navigational aid?
Q. With today's navigational technology, is it still a useful aid-to-navigation?
Q. Why is it painted with black & white stripes?
In North Carolina, the Currituck Beach Light is unpainted red brick; Bodie Island is banded black and white; Cape Hatteras is black and white spiral stripes; Ocracoke is white; and Cape Lookout is black and white checkerboard. No evidence has been found to indicate that the checkerboard or diamond pattern was originally intended for the Cape Hatteras Light at Diamond Shoals, despite a popular folk story that some bureaucrat messed up the work order.
Q. What is meant by the term “daymark” and how does it apply to lighthouses?
Generally, the shapes of the tower and dwelling, the advertised color and the geological background such as cliffs, rocks, hillsides, etc. provide adequate data to the mariner to assist with location determination. Towers can also be painted, often in solid colors that contrast with their natural backgrounds making them more visible. So, a lighthouse that is built of stone on a rocky island would most likely be painted white; a lighthouse near a town with numerous white buildings would probably be painted red.
However, problems can occur in areas such as the central/southern Atlantic coast of the United States. In general, the coast is topographically quite flat with few, if any, outstanding natural features to assist the mariner. Compounding this issue, the tall coastal towers, built primarily between the 1850s and 1870s, were virtually identical in appearance from a distance at sea. Therefore, to make them identifiable, they each received distinguishable daymarks – usually paint, though some towers were left unpainted. Only certain colors – black, white and red - were used because these are the ones that would stand out the best against the background. Therefore, along the Outer Banks, the tall coastal lighthouse daymarks are: Currituck Beach Light - unpainted red brick; Bodie Island - banded black and white; Cape Hatteras - black and white spiral stripes; and Cape Lookout - black and white checkerboard.
Q. Has the Cape Hatteras lighthouse always been black and white spiral striped?
The 1803 sandstone tower appeared to be white. This may have been due to the natural color of the stone or a whitewash coating. This changed when the tower was extended with a brick addition in 1854. The lower 70 feet of the tower remained white and the top 80 feet was red. It was probably red on top to contrast with sky and white on bottom to contrast with the vegetation. It was painted with a cement-based brick wash.
The 1871 Report of the Light-House Board indicates that, when it was first painted, the top part of the current tower was painted red and the bottom part white. Other reports say that the whole tower wasoriginally red. In any case, the stripes were painted in 1873. There are two black and white stripes on the tower, each stripe circles the lower tower 1 1/2 times, and all are wider on the bottom than on the top. It is not known exactly how the stripes were laid out, but it could have been done using a combination of pre-calculated dimensions, plumb bobs, and taut lines. Originally, the keepers painted the tower using bosun’s chairs, taking up to 4 months every 6-10 years. Modern painting contractors use a window washer type platform.
From 1936-1950, the official tower was a steel structure, though many mariners still used the 1870 lighthouse as a daymark.
Q. How can lighthouses be told apart at night?
Did You Know?
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick structure ever moved. When it was built in 1870, it stood 1,500 feet from the shore. By 1999, the lighthouse was within 100 feet of the ocean. To protect it from the encroaching sea, it was moved inland a total of 2,900 feet over a 23-day period.