LV116 Chesapeake

Pier 3
Today’s Hours: 10:00AM–5:00PM

Lightship 116 (LV116) Chesapeake, a ship considered to be among the most modern ships in use with the U.S. Lighthouse Service in its time, was completed in 1930. Chesapeake's main duties consisted of patrolling, inspecting, and guiding maritime traffic at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Since 1982, the ship has been part of Historic Ships collection and has continued to serve as an important link with the history of American aids to navigation.

Plan a Visit
Activities & Artifacts

The LV116 Chesapeake is located at Pier 3 alongside the USS Torsk and the National Aquarium east of the Inner Harbor.

Living aboard a lightship was not always easy for a crew of 16 on the boat. Long boring days sitting on station and terrifying nights in storms made for challenging duty that took a very special person to fulfill.

While on board Chesapeake, visitors are able to see the exhibit on sailor's Canine Companions. Plans are currently underway to replace the space with a new, hands-on exhibit on navigation aids and how to signal ships at sea. New spaces will be opened up including crew’s quarters, the engine room fiddly, and the windlass room.

Our artifact collections consist of approximately 50,000 objects, photographs and documents across all of our exhibits. These artifacts tell the stories not only of the ships and lighthouse, but of the thousands of brave sailor for whom these historic sites were a duty post, a home, and a way of life. New items, often donated by former crew members and their descendants, are rotated into exhibits so there are opportunities to see something new in future visits. If you are interested in donating an an object, photograph, or document related to one of the sites that the Historic Ships operates, we would love to hear from you.

Learn About:
Chesapeake History

Built in 1930, the LV116 Chesapeake was among the most modern and capable ships in use with the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Part of the vessel class of Lightship No.100, Lightship 116 was constructed from a standard design and was considered the best in stability, signaling capacity, living accommodations, and engineering efficiency in its time.

On two occasions, (1936, 1962) while marking the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, Lightship 116 rode out hurricanes so powerful that the ship's anchor chain broke, forcing the crew to drop the spare anchor and run full ahead into the wind for many hours in vain attempts to remain on station.

Read about her story, including:

1930-1964: U.S. Lighthouse Service

Lightship 116 was built in South Carolina at the Charleston Machine and Drydock Company at a cost of $274,424. The new vessel featured an efficient diesel-electric power-plant (superseding earlier steam powered designs), all-steel construction, and impressive signaling equipment capable of marking her station in all kinds of weather and light conditions.

Electricity for the ship's propulsion motor, lighting, and machinery was supplied by four 75-kilowatt diesel engine/generator units located in the engine room. Her signaling apparatus consisted of a 13,000 candlepower electric beacon lamp atop each mast (later consolidated on the aft mast), an electric foghorn (later replaced with a compressed-air diaphone), radio beacon, and fog bell mounted on the main deck. The ship was equipped with two 5,000-pound mushroom anchors (one main and a spare) designed to hold her on station in the roughest of weather.

Although Chesapeake was designed for a crew of up to 16, several crew members were usually away on shore leave at any given time. Crew accommodations included two-man staterooms for the enlisted men, a crew's mess, an electrically powered galley, and a refrigerator unit (which was considered an advancement for 1930). Officers (1st and 2nd Officer, Engineer and Assistant Engineer) had their own staterooms adjacent to their mess (dining room), and the Captain, or Master as he was called in the Lighthouse Service, occupied his own stateroom immediately behind the pilothouse.

The U.S. Lighthouse Service first assigned Chesapeake at the Fenwick Island Shoal (DE) Station from 1930 to 1933. After her first assignment was complete, she later marked the entrance to Chesapeake Bay until the beginning of World War II. During this time, most coastal lightships were withdrawn for security reasons and were often converted for wartime duties.

During 1942 and 1945, Lightship 116 was painted a battleship gray, armed with two 20mm cannons, and was used as a patrol and inspection vessel near the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. In 1945, she returned to the waters off Cape Henry, Virginia, where her bright red hull, beacon light, and "Chesapeake" station designation guided maritime traffic in and out of the Chesapeake Bay for the following 20 years.

1965-Current: A Historical Relic to Navigation

Chesapeake received numerous equipment upgrades, like radar during her service. However, technology began to overtake Lightship 116 by the 1960's.

In 1965, the Chesapeake Lightship Station was replaced by a Coast Guard offshore light tower built on stout pilings, which was strong enough to withstand the roughest seas. With only four crew members, the light tower was cheaper to run and had a more powerful beacon visible for a distance of 17 miles.

After being relieved at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, her final duty station was to mark the approaches to Delaware Bay, but was later replaced by a large automated light buoy in 1970.

In 1971, Lightship 116 was acquired by the National Park Service and was open to the public on the Potomac River. Since 1982, the ship has been part Historic Ships in Baltimore, and has continued to serve as an important link with the history of American aids to navigation.

Restorations

One of the most essential functions of Historic Ships in Baltimore is the ongoing maintenance and restoration work. The Museum’s dedicated Maintenance & Restoration staff and corp. of volunteers work to ensure that these national treasures survive for future generations.

This winter, work on Lightship Chesapeake is focused on the maintenance of the ship's boiler and heating systems. The next major project will be repairs and painting of the deck.