|The use of lights aboard
ships began in the 16th century, when lanterns were placed on the sterns
of Spanish and Dutch galleons sailing in large fleets. The lights kept
the fleet together and prevented collisions. By the mid-19th century,
red and green running lights and white bow lights were adopted to prevent
The use of lights for spelling out messages in Morse code dates back
to 1867. With the advent of electric lights in the 1890s, the "blinker
light" became an effective tool for signaling. Most widely used
by naval ships, blinker lights were essential for merchant ships sailing
in wartime convoys and observing radio silence. Blinker has remained
a useful backup for merchant vessels, and until the late 1980s deck
officers were trained in its use. Usually however, blinker work was
done by the Radio Officer.
Above: Blinker was used on World War II convoys to preserve radio
silence. Photo courtesy U.S. Naval Institute.