UPDATE: New LED-based rotating beacon lit at Oak Island Lighthouse, Monday

Soon, mariners approaching Oak Island will no longer be in the dark

OAK ISLAND, N.C. (WECT) - The Coast Guard lit the new LED-based rotating beacon at the Oak Island Lighthouse on Caswell Beach, Monday.

The famous beacon’s lights have been replaced with specially-designed LED bulbs to provide a permanent, cost-effective and energy-efficient solution for the lighthouse.

The Coast Guard lit a first of its kind, LED-based, rotating beacon at Oak Island Lighthouse on Caswell Beach, Monday.
The Coast Guard lit a first of its kind, LED-based, rotating beacon at Oak Island Lighthouse on Caswell Beach, Monday. (Source: Petty Officer 3rd Class Isaac Cross)

“Lighthouses have navigational and historic significance here in North Carolina,” said Lt. Brittany Akers, chief of waterways management at Coast Guard Sector North Carolina. “The Oak Island Lighthouse is especially notable as it marks the entrance to the Cape Fear River.

Since 1958, the Oak Island Lighthouse has guided mariners through the infamous Cape Fear shoals, although the property has been in use as a Coast Guard station since the 1930s.

With its distinct black and white bands, the lighthouse was the next-to-last built along the Atlantic Coast, and was once one of the brightest in the world.

The lighthouse was deeded to the Town of Caswell Beach in 2004; however, the Coast Guard continues to maintain the lighthouse because of its purpose as a navigational aid for the Frying Pan Shoal area.

Several weeks ago, a series of power surges caused the mechanical system the lights sat on to malfunction, darkening the lighthouse.

Chairman of the Friends of Oak Island Lighthouse group Bob Ahlers said the reaction from the structure’s neighbors was immediate.

“Once the lights stopped burning about four weeks ago, we got hundreds of calls from people and on Facebook and everything saying, ‘What happened to the light, how come it’s not on?’”

But the malfunction provided the opportunity to transition to a new type of light, which the United States Coast Guard was already considering.

“The reason we decided to go to LEDs is that the Coast Guard has been looking at LED technology as replacements, because it’s a lot more efficient and cost effective,” Ahlers said.

Neighbors and regular visitors need not worry, however, because Ahlers said the unique style of the rotating beacon will be preserved.

And despite maritime technology moving on—Radar and GPS are the primary navigation tools these days—he said the historic beacon is still active, meaning it can be used as a back up warning for boats that may experience malfunctions with their modern tools.

And it also holds a special place in the community.

“If you’d ask any of the local boaters whether this is a useful light, useful structure, useful navigational aid, they would say ‘Without a doubt.’ Every one of them as they come across the horizon said they love to see the light of the Oak Island Lighthouse welcoming them home.”

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