My name is Spence and I am a lighthouse keeper. I live on an island 365 days a year and watch the light and the waves. It is a very unique profession and automation has taken this job away from many in the past all over the world.
Canada still has staffed lightstations, both on the west coast and the east coast and I am lucky enough to find myself as one of the few who still do this job. Maybe you have some questions for me?
My proof: Reddit Proof
I want to thank everyone for participating, it was pretty awesome. I am going to take care of things but feel free to leave further questions at any time and I will answer them when I can.
Thank you Reddit/r/IAmA.
Are you alone on the island? Do you get horrendously bored?
25 of the 27 stations in BC are mandated to have 2 people on the station at all times. This is in case there is an emergency or something happens. The other 2 stations have full road access and so they are not required to have the 2 keepers because in an emergency someone can get to the station in a pinch.
I don't get bored myself. It is actually more like there still is not enough time in a day to do all the things I want to do. Lucky for me the station I am currently at has full internet but not all of them are so lucky and your connectivity is limited. Some don't have cell service or anything, your only form of communication is the radio telephone.
How often do you leave it? You said you live there for 365 days a year, but what is with family, friends etc? Do you see them?
Ok, so here is where things can get interesting.
When you sign up for a keeper you start as relief. Relief is when a full time keeper needs to leave his station and so someone is sent to fill in for them while they are off site. Reasons for leaving are things like doctors issues, training sessions and vacation time. If you have no reason to take any of these reasons for leaving then you would indeed be there for 365.
As for family and friends, some stations you can have visitor access. This location is still pretty close to land so if you really wanted you could take a boat out to the station. So I can't leave but others can come provided it is not a disruption to the site.
When you take vacation time you can do as you please, go and visit anyone you want or go anywhere you desire. The difference is you can't just leave on a whim. Any time a keeper needs to leave for any reason it must be cleared first and someone needs to be sent out to replace them while they are off site.
Since noone supervises what you do the whole day, how often do you skip a task?
Tasks are done as they are needed. If your house runs out of fuel, you will have no heat and that is not something you want to happen in the colder months, so you are sure to check the level of the fuel each week.
Many of the tasks that are needed to be done are kept in a log book, similar to what you see in the movies. There are log books for weather, log books for tasks and log books for paperwork. This paperwork needs to all be submitted monthly to the Canadian Coast Guard hub that you are working with.
Any way you look at it, it is government work so there is a ton of paperwork that goes with the job. The nice thing is that if I don't feel like painting the lighthouse today because it is cold out, I can do it tomorrow. You need a fairly good sense of responsibility to keep things going.
That's interesting. Can you please describe a typical day?
certain stations are set up different depending on the principal keeper. They are essentially your all powerful god on a station.
Currently, I wake at 3am, go outside and monitor the weather, check to make sure the light is still on and then report the weather over the radio telephone.
I do this again at 6am and at 9am. Also at 6 I have to check and record temperatures for Environment Canada.
10 to 3 is work time where we do different tasks on the island. Painting, lawn mowing, general up keep and what not.
After 3 is my own free time where I can do what I wish and I usually go to bed by 7 or so.
This would be 7 days a week. No weekends. I do forgo the 10 to 3 work bit on the weekends tho.
The other keeper would be responsible for more reports at 12, 3, 6 and 9 at night.
Does the lack of human interaction affect you? How do you deal with it?
The station I am at right now has full internet access and cell service so I get a ton of interaction, just not in person. I get all my phone calls like normal and use Facebook regularly and even have a youtube channel where I post Lighthouse stuff weekly. Even this AMA is a ton of human interaction that I can choose to have or to not have.
The amazing thing about being in a place like this is if I want to be away from everyone and everything, I just turn off my computer and phone. Done, no way for anyone to get me and no way anyone is going to knock on my door.
I have never been one for crowds so I don't miss things like going to the movies or doing sports events and really the only thing that I do kind of miss is going out for dinners. Altho, that has been a lot better for my beltline since I have started doing this.
How realistic is the A24 movie Lighthouse?
That movie is 100% realistic, if it was 100 years ago. Living as a keeper today is really very little like that. No need to shovel coal but there are engines that need to be tended to. They run on diesel now so no shoveling but occasionally you have to move large barrels around.
The nice thing about most modern places is you don't share a dwelling. Each keeper has their own place to live so you have a lot more privacy then what it was like when there was only one keeper dwelling.
I will say, I absolutely love this movie and while there is no way for me to get out and see it in theaters, I will be buying the DVD as soon as it comes out.
Why hasn't GPS replaced lighthouses in general, and why hasn't automation replaced your job specifically?
How much maintenance is required for the light?
Part of the reason that lighthouses are still a thing is people have a hard time changing. Ship captains still rely a lot on actual light to guide them into ports. While GPS is very useful, we have a buoy about 20 meters offshore to the north west and it has never been hit due to GPS but there is still something to be said about old school charts and lights.
Weather reporting is really what we do a lot of now. We do occassionaly get calls from airports, planes and helicoperts who want a 100% up to date account of what the weather is actually like. They will call on the radio to be sure of exactly what they are getting into especially when the weather starts getting bad.
The light itself has been changed once in 10 years on this station. Everything is solar powered and it comes on and turns off on its own. You have to paint the tower itself more often then you have to do anything with the actual light any more.
How often do you get supplies? Do you pay for the food and supplies or does your work? How many days of supplies do you keep on site? Are you prepared to repel invaders when the zombie apocalypse forces people to seek secure shelter?
There is a helicopter scheduled once a month for personal supplies and groceries. Of course, this will only happen if the weather is decent. No need to put a station in a place where it is always nice so yeah, some places can get pretty bad weather.
We buy all our own groceries over the internet which is super convenient compared to what it used to be like. The groceries are all delivered to the head office of your station and then on a certain day of the month everything is loaded onto a helicopter and brought out to you. Normally the chopper will do 4 or 5 stations in a day so it is not to waste the day for the chopper.
If you are doing relief work and are only going to be somewhere for a month or two then you try and buy your groceries on this premise so you don't bring too much with you. You are limited by weight when you take a chopper out to a station so you can't just bring 500 pounds of food with you. If you are living in a station permanent then you try and do your shopping as you normally would for a month at a time. If you think you are going to run out of flour in 2 weeks then you try and be sure you bought another in the last tender instead of waiting until the next one to arrive.
Back before the internet was really interesting. You would need to make a list of your groceries and when the chopper came to drop off your groceries you would give them the list and then head office would send out someone to shop for you and then it would be delivered on the next tender. This means you always needed to be an additional month ready for your food. A lot of thought needed to go into what you were doing when you did your shopping.
As for the apocalypse, it was one of the first things I asked when I got to this station. We have no guns other than flare guns so it would be hard to repel people if it came down to that. As for welcoming them, it would depend on how well you keep your pantry stocked. Shopping for 1 is pretty easy when it comes down to it but you don't always keep food around to feed a dozen or 20. Best for you to find a different island to head for.
That sounds like something for me! Good therapy perhaps.
Do you ever get lonely? What about relationships?
Do you ever travel on boat back to the country to see family/friends or do some activities or holidays?
I don't get lonely but I do like my solitude. I do a lot of reading and I don't feel the need to just talk and talk and talk so it is not a big deal for me. I can see where it would be difficult for some tho, there is a need for companionship that we as humans seem to need a lot of the time.
My relationship with my wife is great and we see each other when we can. She does have access to the island if she wants to pay for the boat ride out but she has a life of her own also that she enjoys so it works out.
I am originally from Vancouver and my wife is currently there as well. We are planning on going to visit the Philippines maybe in late 2020 once I can book some time off. Depends on how things work out for her and for myself. If I am given a permanent station between now and then I may end up waiting until 2021 before I take any leave.
How much do you get paid?
Wages differ depending on what station you are on. Starting wage is around 30k a year but you can make up to double that if you are a principal and at a location that is pretty isolated.
It may not sound like much but when you are not paying rent, don't need a car and don't buy a $5 starbucks every day, it is actually pretty amazing money.
A few questions...sorry for lumping them all together as reddit won't let me post rapid fire. 1. What is the most notable emergency situation you've had to deal with?
Do a lot of people apply for this job?
(Most importantly) do you ever fish from your island?
1 - I have never had one yet, thank goodness but the principal I am currently working with has had two notable situations. Saved 9 people in an overturned boat once and then 2 others on an overturned boat that no one else could find. He was the only one who saw their flare and was able to send search and rescue to the right location.
2 - the application is super hard to find actually so it does not get a lot of applicants. Also the process is insane as it is a government job. My appliation took over 4 months and that is knowing someone who has been doing this for 10 years and is pretty well respected in the work. I plan on putting together more information about this in my youtube vlogs as I gather info but I want to have everything in place before I do. They only open up for applications once or twice a year so you kind of need to know about it to make it happen.
3 - I don't fish myself but the person I am filling in for is a pretty avid fisherman. He has boats and traps and rods and reals all over the place and the principal here gave me half a salmon the other day that was caught right off the island. On good days we are surrounded by boats fishing the area.
How does this work affect your marriage? And how long have you been a lighthouse keeper and how long do you plan on doing it?
Very interesting, thank you for sharing!
My marriage is .....interesting.
my wife is a filipina and we have been together for about 7 years. When we met, I was working in Hong Kong and so right from the start we had a long distance type relationship. I would go to the Philippines every 3 months or so or she would come out to HK to visit so we are pretty used to spending time away from each other. This does not mean it is easy. lol. There are times it is pretty hard being so far away. My wife does have plans to come out to stay over the holidays in December. Tough as the boat to the island is $150 and then the boat back is also $150 so $300 just to get to the island and then travel to naniamo as well which can be expensive coming from Vancouver.
I have been a keeper for a very short time, only a few months but I have been involved in the keeping side of things for a while so at least i knew what to expect going into it. I plan on doing this for the remainder of my carrier so I will do this until retirement and then likely retire in the Philippines. Not the first keeper to be doing it this way by the way.
Have you seen the episode of Scooby-Doo where Shaggy answers an ad thinking it is for Light Housekeeping only to discover that it’s for Lighthouse Keeping?
OMG, no I have not. That sounds too funny. I am going to have to look that up.
What drew you to this kind of lifestyle? Any expectations vs. reality moments?
Always been an outdoor kind of guy. Went through scouts when young, was a leader for years as well. Always wanted to live in a cabin away from nowhere. My grandparents also lived on an island in Lake of the Woods so I was always drawn to this type of secluded lifestyle.
Actually being a keeper is 2000 times more amazing than I could have anticipated. I was blown away the first time I set foot onto this island and I can only hope I get a chance to see many more of the stations out there.
Have you ever had a pizza delivered to you while you were at work?
Pizza delivery would cost me $150 for the delivery fee. I have not needed a pizza that bad yet.
The location I am at is not too far off shore so we do get visitors once in a while. I have had people promise they would be back with pizza but no one has done it yet.
I'm not certain I caught specifically where you were, but logistics to and from your location seem difficult at best ($150 delivery fee for pizza).
What does resupply look like, who executes that(civilian, military, or government agency?).
Being a lighthouse keeper is a government job and all sites are under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Coast Guard, under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. This means that any and all responsibility of resupply happens through the Canadian Coast Guard. Fuel for the island, supplies for upkeep and maintenance and even our grocery tender are all supplied by helicopter, hovercraft or CGG boat. Things like groceries are sent out once a month and then larger resupply needs to be set up for various times of the year.
I am currently on Entrance Island, a station outside of Naniamo in the Georgia Straight.
This is an awesome read, subscribing to your channel now! Are there any female keepers?
Yes there are some female keepers. Some are wives of other keepers but there are a few who have chosen this as their preferred lifestyle.
There are not many who do this job. Consider 50 stations both East and west coast at 2 people per station and then relief work puts the number of people doing this at well under 200 for all of Canada. A little difficult to find a lot of diversity in the workplace.
Thank your for your praise.
Hey friend! This is so cool.
1) I live near Nanaimo.. could I come visit? 2) Do you play any instruments?
1- yes indeed you can come to the island. There is even a guest book to sign when you do.
2- I don't play anything myself but it would be a great time to consider learning something. No one will hear your terrible playing. Hahaha
Are you familiar with the story of the 3 lighthouse keepers who mysteriously disappeared in 1900 from the Flannan Isles? If so, what do you think happened to them? I would just like to get the opinion of a lighthouse keeper.
I do know this story and have seen many iterations of it.
I have not done too much research into it to find out what is in fact truth and how much of it is exaggerated for the sake of story telling but if you look at much of what happened, it does sound like the keepers were swept away in bad weather. While that does not match what is in the logs, well I can tell you, logs are not always kept 100% correct. lol. Age can be a factor, alcohol, sickness, mental health, all of these things can alter your logs to a point where people may question what is in them.
I would say most likely it was bad weather, and crazy big waves. Even here in BC, more up north of course, there has been instances where the weather is so dangerous that you just don't go outside. Green has lost COWS off the island in bad weather. FULL SIZE COWS IN PENS. They use ropes to hold themselves in place when they need to go from building to building in bad weather.
Even Entrance, the island I am currently on, has had people go missing under mysterious circumstances. One keeper had his assistant go missing but he did not report it for 3 days begging the question, why did he wait so long for him to report it? Lighthouses have been plagued with issues and problems through their history. Theft, violence, madness and death were a very common part of lighthouse living for many years and the pay was always pretty bad as well.
“You like me lobster, though? I seen it! You do! You like me lobster!”
haha! have it your way. I like your cooking.
Hello! Thanks for this AMA, what do you think was your scariest moment as a lighthouse keeper?
Thankfully nothing scary yet.
One time the other keeper was working on something on a grinder. He did shout out some curses and I thought to myself it was time to try out my first aid but it was nothing serious. Does that count?
Lucky no big storms or anything yet but we are going into the winter seasons. Could be some excitement. There are some stations that are super dangerous and scary but this is not one of those. Have to go much further up north towards Alaska for the scary ones.
Do you ever use the Morse code to communicate with the ships?
no morse code, thank goodness. We do have radio, both a regular marine radio and special long distance radio telephones. We are required to be monitoring the radio at all times so you have one with you everywhere you go and you can get the coast guard stations no problem.
you are required to know the phonetic alphabet tho.
What kind of bear is best?
no bears here but there are other stations are part of a larger land mass. They get bears, cougars and wolves all the time. There are stations you MUST have bear repellent on you at all times when you leave any of the buildings.
Hi i have read that most lighthouses have been automated in most places. So why keep humans still ? Does it have something to with locations ?
If you consider the state of a lot of lighthouses now, abandoned, falling down and in very rough shape, you will see why these locations need human interactions. Being on the salt water all the time is really hard on construction and you get a lot of wear and tear in a very short time. So while we are not needed to physically go and turn on the light each night, it is sill a good idea to have someone around to be sure it does not wear itself out. Having to send someone out to a station that went dark after the fact can be a pretty big and complicated endeavor.
The other huge necessity is just for safety reasons. Lighthouses are placed in locations that are pretty dangerous for mariners. Accidents still happen and while you don't get a lot of huge ships running aground, there are still many smaller commercial and pleasure boats who overturn and sink each year and their lives are just as important as 100 lives on a larger boat. Having someone in these remote locations means there is always someone on hand in case there is an emergency in a particular area. Even if there is an issue somewhere that is not right at the station, a lot of times search and rescue will use the station as a converging point when arriving to an area or if they need somewhere to go while an operation is in effect.
The job is not just about the light, which is what a lot of people think because it has been so romanticized over the years but it is also really about safety overall.
What kind of qualifications do you need?
Initial qualifications are pretty simple, must have your first aid and your radio operator's certificate. Without those two things they won't even consider.
Other than that, a high school education is needed and they will always prefer a Canadian citizen first and foremost when it comes to the selection process. I think this has to do with the fact it is a government job.
I'm late to this thread, but after reading all of the posts and replies I am very intrigued! Can you describe your living accommodations? Do you live in the lighthouse itself or a separate building?
This is actually a great question and dwellings has changed a lot over the last 100 years or so.
the place I am currently staying, the house was built in 1964 I believe and the principal house was built in 1935 or 37 or something. Imagine a 3 bedroom rancher style house in the '60s and you will essentially be inside my house. There has been a lot of updates of course, better siding, better windows, and many other upgrades but essentially, it is a house from the '60s.
There are 4 or 5 different floor plans for the stations across Canada so all the places are essentially built the same expect for the more dangerous stations or locations that just don't have any land around them. Triple Island is the best example where all the keepers are required to live in a single building that is also part of the lighthouse tower itself just because there is no room for any construction.
If you want a closer look at the inside of the buildings and the house I am currently living in then watch this video where I go on a tour of all the different buildings. My house is the last thing I walk through but it should give you a pretty good idea of the living conditions.
How much weed have you smoked up there?
No weed for myself. I have never done it, I know, odd being from Vancouver and all.
I can imagine it would be great for someone who was a smoker but the biggest issue is you kind of need to be on alert 24 hours a day. An emergency can happen on the water at any time and you need to be ready to respond to the call when it happens. Would be pretty bad if you were trying to pull someone out of the water while you were stoned. Your casualness and the drowning victim's excitement may clash a little.
Thank you for doing this, I just saw the Lighthouse. A few questions, if you can!
Do you get a certain amount of guaranteed vacation time, and if so, how much?
Is this something people tend to do as a career or just at a certain age? I could see younger people or older people doing it but do people do it for like 40 years?
In the movie The Lighthouse, the two keepers are at what is called a rotational station. There is one 1 of those in BC and I believe all of the ones on the east coast are set up this way. What that means is that you do 28 days on, 28 days off and then you continue this cycle. You are paid for both cycles but your days off cycle can be less than your on, like 60% of your wages or something. This was standard practice for lighthouses to help keep everyone sane and to provide respite in crazy dangerous situations. What you do in your off days is up to you as long as there is no conflict of interest and it does not affect your ability to be back in time for your next 28 days on.
The locations I am working in currently are not set up like that and keepers are there for the entire time and are working 7 days a week without weekends and without holidays. Keepers are given 2 weeks of vacation, as with any job, and then since you can't take your standard holiday days, they add an additional 6 days to your 2 weeks, giving you almost 3 weeks a year in vacation time. Of course the longer you are a keeper, the longer vacation time you get and some keepers can get over 2 months of vacation time a year.
Any and all vacations do need to be cleared with head office as when you are away from the station, you will need a relief keeper sent out to cover your absense so you can't just go on a whim. Office likes you to book vacations 6 months to a year ahead of time because, well you know, the government. It takes weeks just to fill out some paperwork.
How do lighthouses work properly when you factor in the curvature of the earth? It should curve at 8 inches per square mile so how does light spread across this downward curvature for a few miles?
Good question. Much of the factors of the light are considered when you need to know exactly what is going on. Many stations are set up as a chain so that you can easily place where you are by the color of the flash and the frequency of the flash.
This station is set up with the light 19 meters from the surface of the water and the light can be seen for up to 19 miles away. We are in a straight so you can see land mass on both sides pretty easily. To the north there is a station that I can actually see with my naked eye and there is also a station to the south that I can also see with the naked eye. Both of these are set up in a similar fashion and they can also see a station to the north and a station to the south. This way a ship can follow the chain of stations and since they are all very well documented on all mariner charts, you can use the lights to figure out where you are in the straight.
In other situations, such as Estavan Point on the west side of Vancouver Island, the station needs to be a lot taller because the light needs to be seen such a greater distance. This light is the first point of light for anyone doing a pacific crossing so it is very important for it to be seen great distances. A ship can't just turn when they feel like it, they need a heck of a lot of prep time for a turn so as soon as the light becomes visible, a ship will know it is time to turn north or turn south depending on where they are headed.
Find any mermaids?
Only a ton of very very smelly sea lions I am afraid. Not as exciting.
Can you have a pet? Like a cat or a dog or is that not allowed?
Yes, pets are allowed if you are a full time keeper. There is one of the other keepers who posts her cats on Instagram all the time. Her account is called kittiesofthelights and if you like lighthouses and you like cats, it is a pretty good combination.
Getting your pet to you location is where there can be issues. If you had say a mastif or a great dane, then you would need to understand that the dog MUST be kenneled at all times while on the helicopter. Up to you how you want to get it done but that is the rules. So any pet must be 100% contained when being taken out to your location.
Are you an alcoholic?
I am not, I don't drink at all except for coffee.
I am pretty sure the Coast Guard would be unlikely to hire someone with a history of alcohol or any substance abuse as you are in a potion where lives can be at stake. You need to be ready pretty much 24 hours a day to assist in an emergency situation and we all know emergencies don't happen when you are completely ready for them, they happen in bad weather, middle of the night, and in conditions that are less than stellar. You don't want someone who is drunk to try and help frightened boaters out of the water.
Have you ever work at the lighthouse when storm is happening?
The worst I have seen so far is on my YouTube channel. Had high winds up to almost 40 knots which is pretty impressive.
I have been told the winter can be exciting but nothing like up north like green island or triple island. You can do a Google search for those and see where they are. I have heard on green they have ropes between all the buildings that you have to attach yourself to so you don't get blown away. I would love to experience a storm there. I have also heard that on triple during one storm they had huge driftwood tree trunks go through the third story windows of the dwelling. That would have been exciting to be a part of.
What is the creepiest thing that has happened to you?
Well as relief, you are actually living in someone else's house for a period of time. There is a very creepy tendency to go through all the drawers and cubbards and closets and see what you can find. I have been pretty good so far and kept that all in check tho.
Do you ever get inebriated and enjoy the view from inside the cabin of the lighthouse?
I personally don't drink, and as I pointed out in the smoking weed question, it really is not a good idea to be too wasted in any form. You are essentially required to be aware of emergency channels 24 hours a day and be ready in case of an emergency.
Keeping has changed a lot from what you see in the movies. Keepers kept a lot of drink around because it was easy to carry, helped make the time go by faster, and the drinking water was usually horrifying. These conditions are no where near what things are now. We have several huge cisterns on the island and complete water purification systems so drinking water is plentiful and easy to get.
Drinking wine with dinner or having a beer in the evening is not out of the question but the job definitely does require the ability to moderate yourself and be aware of your mental awareness.
How much do you make?
Wages differ depending on what station you are on. Starting wage is around 30k a year but you can make up to double that if you are a principal and at a location that is pretty isolated.
It may not sound like much but when you are not paying rent, don't need a car and don't buy a $5 starbucks every day, it is actually pretty amazing money.
Salary? I’m assuming I could find it somewhere because it’s government job. Just lazy. You probably couldn’t pay me enough to do what you do. It is a cool job though!
Salary is not a lot. Starts around 30k when you begin but can change depending on how isolated the station is. The further from civilization, the more they pay. The principal keeper makes more than the assistant but still is never much more than 60k. Not too bad considering you don't need to pay rent or a mortgage.
Weird question, but how is your dating life?
Well, I am actually married so no dating for me.
A full time keeper who lives at a station has the ability to have their family with them. This does mean their family can't just come and go when they please unless they have other access than the provided coast guard access but there are many keepers who live on a station with their wife or husband. Some partners are also keepers so one person is the principal and the other is the assistant so you are getting two incomes for one station.
How much do you get paid?
The rate of pay will change depending on the isolation of the site. The more isolated and further you are from a port or town, the higher the pay rate. Starting wage is around 30k a year but you can double that as a principal keeper in a more isolated spot.
how diferent would th world be without lighthouses?
Lighthouses were essential in the Americas in all early development of the continent. With the technology of the time, there was no way of avoiding all those hidden rocks of the sea.
If we were out there discovering these types of areas with today's tech, it would be less needed, no question but lighthouses are a huge part of our history which is why many of the locations in Canada are designated heritage sites and so you can't actually knock them down and the government is required to keep them in decent condition.
Do you have any songs about the sky and the sea?
no songs, sorry. I have several different lighthouse movies tho...
How many times do you walk to the top of the lighthouse each month?
I will go up every few days. The view is pretty impressive, even for such a short tower and when the wind gets up there in speed it is awesome to hear and see what it does to the island. You can see that in my high winds video on my YouTube.
There is little need as you can see the rotation of the lens from below and you can also see the light when it is on from anywhere on the island. On a clear day I can look out the window from my living room chair and see the top of the tower no problem and you can see the lens turning. So ensuring everything is working is pretty easy to do. No need for oiling geers or checking mercury baths any longer.
Some stations have all their weather equipment at the top of the tower so it is needed to go up two or three times a day. My tower is short, only 37 steps and a short 8 rung ladder to the top. Some stations have over 120 steps to the top and have weather equipment up there. Hope you like stairs if you go to that one....
I do know this song. It is great.
Who wouldn't want to marry a lighthouse keeper? They are pretty awesome.
Who is your favorite fictional lighthouse keeper?
Well, I will be honest, I have not read a lot of Lighthouse fiction and have only seen a few lighthouse centered movies but if I had to choose one, I would choose Thomas from the latest The Lighthouse movie. Partly because Defoe did such an amazing job on bringing such a strange character to life. I have seen other Lighthouse movies and I honestly believe that Dafoe's character was a real to life as you can get after reading a lot of lighthouse history. Maybe not so much his decent into madness but much of his persona I can even see of lightkeepers today, protectiveness of the light, being overbearing and requiring everything done their way. Of course it is not always like this but the realism of this movie was a little unnerving.
Don't misinterpret that many lightkeepers are total assholes and make life a tormented hell for their assistants. It is not really like that at all but I have seen and heard stories where some long time keepers have .....quirks......about how they do and run things.
Have you watched The Lighthouse? How realistic is it?
The lighthouse is an amazing movie and it is 100% realistic if you were considering keeping 100 years ago. Everything they did and much of what happened has been documented at various lighthouses on the west coast in the last 100 years. People going crazy, suicide, deaths, it did happen and is a big part of lighthouse history.
Keepers were kept in terrible conditions and it was rough work and with dangerous materials. The huge lenses that were used were kept on a bed of mercury so eliminate the friction of them turning all the time and it is considered that working with this very dangerous metal could have driven many keepers to madness.
Most of the keeper stations were set up as 28 days on and 28 days off so when you went to your spot you only bring a months worth of provisions with you, maybe 5 weeks in case there was a storm and the relief boat could not get out to where you were stationed. Lighthouses are not placed in sunny calm places that have amazing weather conditions so lots of the time, extended stays happened and when you ran out of drink, things can get ugly.
I'm not sure if you've been asked this already, but how long have you been doing this and how did you get started? Like you seen an add in the paper or knew a guy who knew a guy?
I am still a new keeper, as a matter of fact, I am still in my first posting so I have not had the opportunity to see a lot of the other stations first hand yet. I have been involved with Keeping for many years tho and know a few people who have been doing it for many years so I went through them to get involved in the hiring process.
Hiring is not done too often and is done through the jobs Canada site so you kind of need to know where to go and how to go about it if you want to become a keeper. I plan on keeping an eye on this and when the next posting goes up I will be fulling documenting it on my YouTube so that people have a chance to apply if they so desire.
How much time are you required to spend pretending to be a ghost to scare away those meddling kids?
Also, do you have to speak with a super strong pirate accent that literally nobody can understand?
I think we are a little too far off shore to get a lot of meddling kids, thank goodness but I do keep my sheets and phosphorescent paint in the closet just in case.
As for the accent, I did my best to practice in the mirror at least twice a day but when I found I constantly had to repeat myself once I went back to the mainland, I decided to drop it. It was just too much effort.
What's the weirdest thing you have seen?
Nothing too weird yet which may be a blessing or it could be a little disappointing.
new for me was the sea lions. There are hundreds of them here and they just all laze around the place and smell everything up. They are huge and make a ton of noise. Not something you see every day I am sure.
Have you read "Annihilation" by Jeff Vandermeer?
I have not and have not even heard of it. What is it about? I am currently reading The Expanse series and am on the second book.
Do you have a family or relationship or some group of friends outside of the lighthouse? I apologize if this is too personal. Is it possible to start or/and maintain some relations like this while working as a lighthouse keeper?
Yes indeed, I do have relationships other than other keepers.
My wife is currently not living with me while I am doing this. That may change in the future but for the time being, I work here and she is staying in Vancouver while I am away.
I do have many other friends who are all over the globe. We keep in touch through traditional means like email, facebook, texts and more.
As for people I need to see on a regular basis, it is not fully necessary. I know not everyone is like this but for myself, I don't mind no seeing anyone for days and days on end. Even while on the island with the other keeper, if I don't want to see him or he does not want to see me, then it does not need to happen.
This lifestyle is not for everyone, no question about that. Physical presence is important to many people but for those who can deal with being away from people for any length of time, this is the perfect setting for them.
Are you off the coast of Vancouver Island? I live there and have probably sailed by you!
Currently I am stationed right outside of Nanaimo so if you have ever taken the ferry from West Van or from Tssawwassen to Nanaimo then you have indeed gone right by me.
I had a friend go by on the ferry the other night. He waved at me with the light from his phone and I could see him on deck with my binoculars. He could see my residence but was not able to pick me out on my porch with his naked eye. Maybe during the day if it was clear.
Do you have a youtube vlog channel?
I never even thought of ever being that when I grew up.
Did you have that as a dream job as a kid or did you just fall into this profession?
I do have a youtube channel, it is here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7Q-MmY8Kxlbz66CcIPDx-Q/
When I was younger my grandparents lived on an island in lake of the woods. My father grew up there and eventually hated it because it was difficult for things like going to school, friends and all kind of other issues but when I was younger we went back many times for visits. I always was enchanted by the concept of living on an island with no real connection with the mainland.
As I got older, the idea just passed as a fantasy. Who can afford to buy an island and live on it so you do what you have do and continue with the mundane.
I did eventually know someone who was a keeper and once he told me more about it I was just enthralled. I wanted it so bad and he helped me apply. I was accepted and I promptly moved to Hong Kong to follow a completely different carrier......kinda dumb.
Eventually all of that other stuff petered out and I ended up back in BC and I reached out to the Lighthouse thing again and it all went through. And here I am.
It is for sure something I always wanted or a cabin in the woods that is insane far from civilization but making it happen was pretty hard to find the leads. That and the idea of living without internet kind scared me to be honest so I never pursued it until the position kinda presented itself to me.
I do not. If I had to listen to only one song and hear it every single day it may end up driving me mad. I am not sure I want to take that risk.
I've probably missed the boat here, but hopefully you get a chance to reply at some point...
How do the food supply logistics (monthly groceries deliveries) affect your diet? Particularly in regard to access to fresh vegetables? Do you have a veggie patch on the island? Or do you have to make do with frozen veg for half the month?
Reading your replies here has made some aspects of your job look very appealing, but knowing what unused veggies look like in my inaptly names 'crisper' after even 10 days or so, I don't know if I could handle not having good access to fresh veg...
First off, I take a multivitamin every day so I ensure I have all the vitamins and minerals that I need regularly.
There are gardens here and on most stations but there is not too much available right now in the colder months. There is a big head of cabbage that I am likely going to cut in a day or so.
I do like salad, I try to buy several of the complete salad in a bag type stuff and they are good for a week to a week and a half in the fridge but yeah, after that you tend to do a lot of frozen stuff.
Once I am set up full time somewhere I will for sure convert a room to have lights and try to grow food indoors so that I can have veggies year round.
Have you seen The Lighthouse and if so do you see any similarities with it to your job?
I have seen and it is currently one of my favorite all time movies.
There are many similarities but it must be understood that The Lighthouse takes place 100 years ago. Things have changed a lot since then. We don't have a coal engine so no need to shove coal but we do have 2 big diesels that always need to be fueled and in good order or there will be no power to the island. We do have 3 big cisterns that need to be cleaned out once a year or they get all scummy and gross and not what you want for your drinking water. Thankfully there is pretty much no way gulls can get into there and live.....eww.
There are plenty of other tasks that need doing on a daily, weekly or monthly basis that can get tedious and the principal keeper a lot of times gives the more .... unpleasant tasks to the assistant.
Since technology is so much better now, entertainment is easy to get a hold of. Internet is pretty available to most stations and I bring my xbox with me wherever I go so I always some thing to do and plenty of books to read.
Have you seen The Lighthouse? Ever heard any of those stories such as seagulls being the souls of dead sailors?
The Lighthouse is currently in my top 3 of all time favorite movies.
I have not heard about gulls being dead sailors but have been told it is very bad luck to kill a gull. They are not too bad around this island but they do bring their fair share of issues. Since we use the buildings as our water supply, if they sit on the roof and crap all over the place, it gets into our water so we need to take extra caution to be sure safeguards are in place.
I am not sure I could handle it if there were thousands upon thousands of seagulls here. I am lucky to see a dozen, maybe 2 dozen at a time.
How many mermaids have you seen? And how many have you tried to bang?
no mermaids unfortunately. Just lots and lots of sea lions, and I am not about to try and bang one of those.
Do you have pet seaguls? I always wanted to raise a chick from egg.
No seagull pets for me. I can't even keep plants alive let alone an animal of some kind.
From what I understand, they don't nest here on this island. We do have hummingbirds and swallows around and we have 2 large eagles who hunt on this island but not too much nesting. It is a pretty small island and there are a lot....i mean A LOT of sealions and seals around, especially in the spring. Not sure it would be safe here.
I absolutely love this video. It is brilliant.
What's your favorite burger joint?
Brown Social House does an amazing Avocado burger that I just adore.
Ever listen to the Tragically Hip's live version of New Orleans Is Sinking, and Gord is a Lighthouse Keeper, and his lighthouse is equipped with anti-submarine missles? I'd imagine every lighthouse keeper listens to that one... ;)
uh....nope sorry. not heard that one. I will check it out tho.
Don't listen to much music myself and the other keepers I know mostly listen to easy listening stuff, or Jack FM. Kind of a Depeche Mode, Smiths, OMD type myself, but I don't listen to anything that often any longer.
Maybe too late for an answer, but I am interested in that thing you said in an answer about watching the ocean wave forms when reporting weather conditions.
Where is an easy place to learn about ocean wave forms?
I actually really wish there was more info out there. I did a big youtube search and several google searches and really did not come up with much that was actually helpful. For me a lot of it was actually seeing the differences in person and having someone point to it and say, 'see! that is what I am talking about' before it actually sunk in. Even now there is still many things I am learning about seas and swells that change as the season progresses more into winter.
I think this is an area that someone could really expand on if they had the time and the effort to do so. I would LOVE some good youtube videos out there explaining the difference between a 5 foot moderate wave and a 6 foot swell when they are both going on the same direction. when you get waves and swells heading in different directions it is pretty easy to pick up but when the winds have been blowing in the same direction for most of the day, it can get tricky to tell the difference.
How has digitization changed the nature of lighthouse work? What kind of technological skills do you need in order to qualify, and ultimately, get hired?
I think digitization has changed mainly how we communicate and how we entertain. Most other parts of lighthouse life are still quite mechanical or basic power related.
This station is being set up for both solar and wind power so the use of generators will be cut down tremendously and the savings to the CCG will be huge once that happens but there are so far only 10 of the 27 stations that I know of that are scheduled for this change over. Most of the actual lights are set up on an independent power grid using solar power so that if there is a problem anywhere else on the station it does not effect the light itself.
We still work with big diesels, lawn mowers and other gas operated machinery and basic household electrical so those skills are helpful to have and they do go over it quite extensively in the interview process. When it comes to anything more complex, the CCG has their own team of experts they will send out to fix whatever is needed.
Here’s the real question. How do I get on the list to do that job!! Do you have relief hosts like some lighthouses?
There is a huge application process to get into the position. I will be keeping an eye out for when they will be setting up the next hiring process and be sure to update people on my YouTube when that happens. The position gets listed on the Jobs Canada site in the government section but it can be pretty hard to find.
Every keeper starts out as relief. This is their way of testing you to see if you are a fit for the job as much as the job is fit for you. Many times a new keeper is sent to a location and then 2 weeks later they are calling and demanding someone come and get them. It really is not the life for everyone and some go into this with the glazed over eyes of stories and movies making people think it is some huge romantic job.
Honestly, there are a lot of times I just don't have the time to do the things I want to do. Since I need to be sitting by my radio every 3 hours without fail, it means I can't get too into a task or job without being able to leave and prepare my weather in at least 2 hours, let alone schedule meals and what not around it.
If you are good at compartmentalizing your day and love structure then it is perfect as each day is pretty much exactly the same.
What about pets, dairy products, too sick in bed to get up for your shifts?
Pets I have addressed a few times here already. Check out some of my other answers there if you can.
Dairy is not too big a deal other than you can only buy once a month. I usually buy a 4L milk jug and have no problems drinking that within the time restraints before it goes bad. After that, if I need milk, I have make some with powdered milk or use evaporated or condensed milk. There are full working refridgerators and freezers in each dwelling so that is not an issue. Really, I could buy 2 4L jugs of milk and freeze one of them and thaw it when I need it.
As for being too sick, I don't think I have ever been too sick to work in my life. I know much of that is a personal thing but I have never let a cold or flu or aches and pains stop me from doing what I need to do. Not everyone is as lucky and I have never had anything so serious it completely leaves me bedridden. If it came down to an emergency and you absolutely could not do your job, you would contact the other person at your station and have them fill in for you as needed. If it was so series it was going to render you unable to work for a length of time, they would have someone sent to cover your position and then return you to the mainland for medical attention.
Do you live on an island with other people? If not, don't you get lonely?
There is another keeper on the island as most of the stations in BC are mandated to have 2 keepers at all times for emergency purposes.
I never find it lonely personally but I have never been one to really require the need for someone to be there. I enjoy spending time on my own and honestly, even with the other keeper on the station, I can go a week without seeing him or talking to him in person.
What does a logbook look like and what do you record in it?
For actual books that we write in, they are just standard legal size account books with standard lined paper in them like what you can get at any regular office supply store. Nothing too fancy. That is our weather book and that is used for noting all the weathers including wind speeds, sea wave sizes and swells and how far visibility is. One account book will be good for about 2 to 3 years depending on how well it is kept so by the end the book is pretty ratty and the papers are all worn thin.
Most of the other reports and things we submit are done on forms that are provided. Weekly productivity logs are just pieces of paper we print out and then fill in duplicate and then send the papers directly to head office each month.
We are patiently waiting for the full digital systems to be put in place where all of our logs and correspondence can be done online and through the CCG intranet. I hear that should happen sometime in 2020 which will be nice as there will be no longer need for printed and hand written forms and we can do everything and submit on the station's computers.
How much do you get paid? Do you get any vacations?
Pay will vary depending on the station you are on and how isolated it is. The further from civilization, the more you get paid. Starting is about 30k but you can double that as a principal and at a good location. Does not sound like much but when you are not paying rent and have very little expenses, it ends up being pretty good.
Vacations are set up as standard as any government job. 2 weeks a year plus an additional 6 days for the holidays you are required to work. This grows as you stay with the job over the years.
Do you feel your profession is at risk in any way?
This does get talked about a lot in the Lighthouse community and there are many who feel we are all on borrowed time but there has been a lot of support for keepers from communities all over the province. When it was talked about destaffing before there was a huge support from the public for not destaffing, so much so that there was a rally organized by local kayakers who spend a day completely surrounding Entrance Island in protest of destaffing. It did get a lot of press and the talk of destaffing went away.
Currently there are many things that tell me it is not currently being considered. Most of the Lighthouse sites in Canada are Heritage sites and so are required to be kept and maintained in certain condition by whomever is responsible for the site, which in Canada is the Coast Guard. They will continue to require someone on site for maintenance and safety and just to keep the site secure.
Recently there has been a lot of talk about what is needed to keep everything up to date with keepers and what can be done to make the job more viable for people in the profession. There are many parts of the job that tend to be overlooked because of remote locations and they are not being visited by higher ups personally on a daily basis so things tend to fall between the cracks. This is being addressed and the desire to be sure stations are being kept up to date is being looked at.
You can see that stations that have been set as completely automated have also suffered. Unmanned spots tend to deteriorate quickly and are a lot of times subject to vandalism and graffiti, which is a huge shame.
All of these things tell me that there is no plan to unman stations any time soon in Canada. It is a shame these things are not considered in other countries as you can see if you do a YouTube search for abandoned lighthouse, you can see how bad a station can deteriorate when no one is there to look after it. In another 50 years many of these structures will be ruined and destroyed.
Do you get any holidays?
Holidays are set up like any government type of job. You get 2 weeks once you reach full time but get an additional 6 days for all the holidays you are required to work during the rest of the time. The longer you stay with the job, the more holiday time you can get. Some keepers get over 2 months of paid holidays. That is pretty awesome.
Holidays must be cleared with head office first and can be changed last minute at times so if you are planning on going somewhere then you need to be sure everything is in place and cleared before you make arrangements.