Zuyder Sea lighthouse tour

for amateur radio operators

A catalogue

The Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society (ARLHS) maintains a World List of Lights (WLOL) to accommodate amateur radio operation. Bearing our considerations below in mind, we clearly benefit from the enormous database the ARLHS offers. There is roughly a total number of 22 sites that we may regard as major Zuyder Sea heritage lights. Most of them have a ARLHS-registration number already.

A key question: The Zuyder Sea is enclosed by what?

Most of our 22 major lighthouses are located south of the 1932 barrier dam (Afsluitdijk). To define the barrier dam as a northern boundary - as we did - is an arbitrary choice. And we are fully aware of that. What if the barrier dam would have been build on a different position? Or if the dam was not build at all? This would effect the content of our list.

North of the barrier dam lies a zone of shallow water with tidal flats and wetlands that we call the Wadden Sea since 1908. The Wadden Sea stretches along 500 km coastline from the Netherlands, past Germany to Denmark. An amount of 70 or so islands or dry sandbanks can be counted with many lighthouses on both the islands and the mainland. 

One might claim with good reasons that everything south of the Wadden Sea island of Terschelling and west of the former estuary of the river Boorne historically belongs to the Zuyder Sea as well. A consequence of that would be that lighthouses on some (not all) of the Wadden islands must be included on our list. These lighthouses however, including a lighthouse outside the barrier dam on the mainland, like for example the lighthouse in the town of Den Helder or Harlingen, would - perhaps - fit better into a Wadden Sea lighthouse tour. 

We stumble over a second key question: What is a lighthouse?

In size similar structures were called lighthouse or light-beacon while being used as sector-, guide- or harbour-light. In The Netherlands name and size does not say all. On old nautical maps the structures often appear as lantern or simply as “light”. 
Most of our 22 major structures have a height of more than 8 m above sea level and/or a light range of more than 8 nm, today or in the past.

If it comes to lighthouses many have an image in mind of a lighthouse keepers home with next to it an iron or stone tower with a staircase to a rotating Frensel optic. This is probably the way a European child would draw a lighthouse. It matches with nostalgic and romantic ideas, form a specific period in history (maybe the English Victorian-era), but in the real world things are not so clear cut.

In the Dutch language the translation of “lighthouse” is “fire-tower”. Some other languages are even closer to the origin. Any light producing structure, from the ancient period to the industrial era into modern times, is valid as a visual aid to navigation if it is intended as such. It would be silly to impose body requirements for cataloguing.

A simple lantern on wooden poles is often a poor man’s choice. Such poor man’s lights cannot simply be dismissed if they have had huge nautical and historic significance for the sailors and communities involved. Not including these lights on a list would also be an insult to the light keepers who have risked their lives to keep the lights burning under severe circumstances.

Some other considerations

The status of a light can be active or inactive. An active lighthouse is used as a sector light, guide light etc. An inactive lighthouse is used alternatively as monument, view platform etc. Many of our lighthouses are decommissioned from active duty as result of new navigational techniques. These lighthouse structures lost their nautical function, but we consider them nontheless as lighthouses in a historical sense.   

From the early middle ages flooding was a major problem in the Zuyder Sea region and due to the ongoing land reclamation, many communities lost their fishing or trading fleets. Often a touchable evidence of the visible aids of navigation is lost too. Some can still be seen on old pictures and old postcards, others only on old paintings. We have no objection that these historical sites are catalogued with a clear “H”. 

We think it is fair to consider a non-active replica of a lighthouse as touchable evidence left on a historical site. To catalogue a non-active replica as a “H” does not really do justice to it. Perhaps a label “R” would be more appropriate. 

Due to different demands, active lighthouses are subject to all sorts of modifications. This includes overhauling the structure, modernizing the lights, submitting to new regulations or standards etc. We accept that active lighthouses today are not the same as they were when first build. Do we hold a different standard for inactive lighthouses? If we accept historical sites and replica’s, there is no reason to the exclude modified inactive lighthouses either.

Last but not least, when is a lighthouse activation a commercial activity and not in line with HAM-spirit? Active lighthouses can be financed both by private business and non-profit by state. An example: Although non-commercial by heart, the British Trinity House lighthouse authority is defacto a private business. We accept that without a second thought. But what about decommissioned lighthouses?

Many inactive lighthouses around the world depend on non-profit gifts and funds (often received from private companies as well). Many lighthouses organize a mix of market conform activities to get some extra money in. For some the commercial part is substantial and by some this is flanked by a fiscal correct organisational structure too. Some other lighthouses are fully part of and owned by a commercial company, like for example a restaurant or a bed and breakfast. We think it is important to preserve lighthouses regardless the way maintanance and restauration is financed. We don't want to politicize HAM-radio.

Do we promote the company that owns a commercially runned lighthouse by a radio activation? We don’t think so. Not necessarily. HAM-spirit calls upon the decent behaviour of individual radio operators. Whether it comes to sponsoring equipment, QSL-cars or QSO-ing on the air, we strongly believe in the responsibility of the individual radio operator. It doesn't matter if we activate an island, a national park, a mountain, a castle, mill or lighthouse, does it?