When a ship is observed from certain English light-houses (Bishop Rock, Caldy, Casquets, Chapman, Coquet, Eddystone, Flatholme, Godrevy, Hanois, Holyhead, Longships, Needles, Outer Farn, Round Island, Skerries, Smalls, South Bishop, South Stack, and St. Tudnall) making signals of distress or to require assistance, the lifeboat or other aid is summoned by the use of the following signals – by day, an explosive rocket fired every 10 minutes ; by night, an explosive rocket followed after 10 seconds by a rocket giving a white light. The answering signal is a red flag by day and two red star rockets by night.

Only the following Scottish lighthouses signal for aid and the day and night signals are the same, viz., two explosive rockets in quick succession every 5 minutes until the answering signal of a red flag by day or two red star rockets by night is given, (Barns Nest, Bass Rock, Buchan Ness, Cantick Head, Covesea Skerries, Davarr, Douglas Head, Fidra, Halburn, Hoy, Killantringan, Kinnaird Head, Lang Ness, Little Ross, May, Noss Head, Pentland, Pladda, St. Abbs, Sanda, Scurdy Ness, Stornoway, Stroma, and Turnberry). 

From English and Scottish light-vessels the day signal D B is hoisted and two guns are fired … Read the rest


Having served at sea for a period of forty-two years, I began to have thoughts of retiring, and in 1885 I finally resolved to come ashore for good. I had been master of sailing vessels for fourteen years and in command of steamships for a dozen years, and never lost a ship. I had minor mishaps no doubt, but I never had a serious accident or lost a life at sea. I had not been very long ashore when I received an appointment from the Home Secretary to act as Nautical Assessor in Board of Trade Investigations throughout the United Kingdom. The appointment did not carry very large remuneration, but it was very gratifying to me, as I was the first Scottish sailor who had up to that time been appointed. work was very congenial, and I had now the opportunity of investigating the facts and circumstances of many a tale of the sea. The attitude of mind I brought to bear in these cases was that of friendliness to the shipmaster. I never could forget the innumerable perils with which the course of the most careful navigator is constantly beset, and if an error in judgement only had been … Read the rest

The Lifeboat & its Work – Part 14

Filey, Yorkshire – On the 10th of Feb., 1871 a very severe gale was experienced here, accompanied by a tremendous sea. About noon a vessel, which proved to be the schooner Mary, of North Shields, was seen inside the buoy off the Filey Brigg. She was dismasted and altogether in a disabled state, having been overtaken by the storm when off Flamborough Head. It was thought she must go down immediately, with all hands, as no Life- boat, it was considered, could get to her. Nevertheless it was at once resolved to make a strenuous effort to prevent such a sacrifice of human life. Accordingly, without loss of time, the Life- boat, which was all ready mounted on her carriage, was quickly drawn by six horses to the northward about half a mile, and was then launched, There was no difficulty in getting a crew from amongst the fishermen, for the brave fellows almost fought in their anxiety to get the life-belts and take part in the work of saving life. Meantime the vessel was drifting on through a frightful sea ; the Life-boat followed, and after a very severe pull gained her, just as she was going ashore, took … Read the rest

The Lifeboat & its Work – Part 13

There is another article which is of the utmost importance to the efficient and safe manning of the Life-boat, and that is the Life-belt. Each coxswain is held responsible that every man who goes into his Life-boat, whether on service or exercise, shall have on a Life-belt.

One of the causes of the great loss of life which attended most Life-boat accidents in former times, independently of the boats not possessing the self-righting property, was undoubtedly that their crews were not provided with efficient life-belts. 

The cases of accident already referred to under the head of Self-righting, are equally illustrative of the value of good life-belts, for in each case the men were supported by their belts, which were of the greatest service to them for it must be remembered that the majority of our coast boatmen cannot swim, and that even the best swimmers often forfeit their lives, when upset in heavy surfs, through losing their presence of mind. Many cases could be cited, but none more conclusive than that of the Southwold boat before referred to, when three gentlemen without belts were drowned, although one of them was known to be a good swimmer ; whilst fifteen men … Read the rest