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Lighthouse Tenders of the United States
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[photo] with link to larger image.
Lighthouse Tender GERANIUM
Photo courtesy of USCG Historian's Office
Lighthouse tenders have played a vital role in fulfilling the federal government’s commitment to provide mariners with safe and navigable waters since the early days of the Republic. The name “tender” came from the duties performed by vessels that provided logistical support to lighthouses and other aids to navigation. Such tasks required that lighthouse tenders be able to carry personnel, cargo, fuel, and water. Another important duty of tenders was to transport construction materials and working parties to sites where maintenance operations or the construction of new aids to navigation were planned. Tenders also towed non-propelled lightships to their designated stations following maintenance or if they drifted off station.

[photo] with link to larger image. Lighthouse tender CACTUS
Photo courtesy of USCG Historian's Office

The first lighthouse tenders were general purpose sailing vessels provided by contractors. Later, the government found it was more efficient and less costly to perform these duties directly with custom-designed vessels. All lighthouse tenders shared some similar characteristics such as adequate deck space for storing equipment, working, inspecting, and servicing navigational aids. A standardized steam tender design emerged by the late 1800s, when buoys became a more common form of aids to navigation and tenders necessarily performed more buoy maintenance. Tender duties grew to include search and rescue missions, and special assignments such as assisting at yacht regattas and icebreaking. The U.S. Coast Guard merged with the Lighthouse Service in 1939 and the lighthouse tender fleet subsequently became Coast Guard cutters. The term “lighthouse tender” remained in popular use until 1943, at which time the official hull classification changed to “buoy tender,” which is still used to describe the specialized "black hull" fleet of U.S. Coast Guard cutters that service aids to navigation today.

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Last Modified: Mon, July 18 2005 3:37:00 pm EDT

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