Lightship # 116-538 CHESAPEAKE


The Mystery and History of Lightship Names verses Numbers, and their Hull Designations

During her 40+ years of active service this lightship was assigned both the hull numbers 116 and 538; and all of the following hull designations: LS, WAL and WAL.  The result is that this lightship was identified as all of the following during her career: LS-116, WAL-538 and WLV-538. 

The Coast Guard utilizes the "LV" designation, for Light(L) Vessel(V), as the official hull designation for all of the early lettered lightships and early numbered lightship.  All of the lightships built after 1930 were designated LS for Light (L) Ship(S).  The ships plans, all correspondence and Deck Logs for this lightship reflect LS-116 as the hull designation and number.  "L. S. No. 116" was also the stamped / engraved on one of the main cross beams in the Engine Room, see the photo at the bottom of this page.  Unfortunately, the large brass builders plate from 1930 was removed from the upper level fidley of the Engine Room sometime after 1970.  The volunteers hope that someday it will be returned by the family of the person who removed it.  

In April 1950 the Coast Guard officially changed the Hull Designation for all Lightships from LS to WAL, which stood for Coast Guard(W) Auxiliary(A) Light(L), and they also re-numbered all of its cutters and ships in service at the time, which resulted in the hull number for the Chesapeake becoming WAL-538. There seems to have been a delay implementing this hull designation change for lightships as most lightships deck logs do not show the change to WAL happening until January 1951.

Then in January 1965, the Coast Guard again changed the hull designation for all lightships from WAL to WLV, for Coast Guard(W) Light(L) Vessel(V), so her hull number became WLV-538. 

Why is it important to know the hull number for a lightship?   Well, because Lightships were very unique among sea-going ships and vessels in that they were never given a name.  The hull designation and number was the only way to accurately and historically distinguish one lightship from another.  The reason that lightships were never given a name is because it was learned early on in the lightship service that it was important for lightships at anchor to have the name of the Light Station it was currently assigned to painted on each side of the lightship as a visual aid to navigation.  This allowed ships passing near the lightship while on station to confirm their location by seeing the name of that Light Station.  So if a lightship was moved to a new Light Station, then it changed the name painted on its sides to the new Light Station name.  To have both a ship name and the Light Station name painted on the lightships was just too confusing.

Most Lighthouse Service or Coast Guard districts also had an "extra" lightship assigned to them.  These had "RELIEF" paint on its sides and were used to temporarily relieve other lightships if they had to leave their station for a short time for repairs. 


updated 14 April 2023