Neist Point

The Northern Lighthouse Board

In Salutem Omnium
For the Safety of All
Neist Point - Isle of Skye
Flag of Scotland
© Compiled by:
Bob Schrage
Update: 28-12-2022

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Lighthouse administrations - General (GLA's)

In most countries the lighthouse administration comes under a department of central government. It is usually financed out of general taxation, but it is sometimes funded from a levy on vessels and supplemented by the central government. This type of funding applies to lights intended for general navigation. Lights provided by ports, are financed for separately by port dues.

The safe guidance of vessels around the coasts of the United Kingdom is divided over three administrative bodies. These three authorities, which operate a total of 1,100 lighthouses, lightvessels, buoys, and beacons, share the user charges, known as the General Lighthouse Fund. These three authorities are:

Northern Lighthouse Board - the General Lighthouse Authority for Scotland and the Isle of Man.
The Northern Lighthouse Board's principal concern is the safety of the mariners at sea; the safety of their own people employed in or around the world's most dangerous coastline; and the safety of the environment in which they, and those who come after us, must live and work.

Trinity House - Responsible for England, Wales, Channel Islands and Gibraltar.
Trinity House is a charity dedicated to safeguarding vessels and seafarers, providing education, support and welfare to the seafaring community with a statutory duty as a General Lighthouse Authority deliver a reliable, efficient and cost-effective aids to navigation services for the benefit and safety of all mariners.

Commissioners of Irish Lights - Responsible for Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The Commissioners of Irish Lights is a maritime organisation delivering an essential safety service around the coast of Ireland, protecting the marine environment, and supporting the marine industry and coastal communities.

Because this website only deals with the Scottish lighthouses, only the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) is discussed in more detail. The other authorities, Trinity House and Commissioners of the Irish Lights can be followed via the links above.


Until 1786 the only major lighthouse in Scotland was the coal brazier placed on the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth. Together with some smaller lights on the approaches in the mouth of the rivers Tay and Clyde, None of the major passages around Scotland, which led through dangerous narrows, were marked by light.

The NLB was formed in 1786 by Act of Parliament largely at the urging of the lawyer and politician George Dempster ("Honest George"). The Commissioners of Northern Light Houses were to oversee the construction and operation of four Scottish lighthouses: Kinnaird Head, North Ronaldsay, Eilean Glas and Mull of Kintyre.

The Commissioners, with their first president, Mr. Provost of Edinburgh, Sir James Hunter-Blair, wrote a tender for making estimates for the construction of these four lighthouses. But no offers were made. However, the Commissioners did receive an offer for help from Ezekiel Walker from King's Lynn, who had developed a parabolic reflector for the Hunstanton (Norfolk - England) lighthouse. Before that he send his assistent Thomas Smith, who made earlier name in the development of street lighting in Edinburgh. Thomas returned to Scotland and commissioned an architect from Edinburgh to prepare plans for the four lighthouses.

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse
Kinnaird Head Lighthouse placed on a former Castle

A loan of £1,200 was spent before the first light at Kinnaird Head was ready and a further act of Parliament was required which allowed them to receive half their dues before all the lights were built. By the end of 1787 the first light had been installed. For the lighthouse on the Mull of Kintyre everything had to be transported by packhorse from Campbeltown, 20 kilometres away. The lighthouse was first lit by October 1788.

To get to Eilean Glas (Scalpy) in the Outer Hebrides and North Ronaldsay in the Orkney Isles boat trips were needed across rough waters. Both jobs was completed by October 1789 to great praise.

Thomas Smith was succeeded by the most famous engineer of the Northern Lighthouse Board, Robert Stevenson. His sons David, Alan, and Thomas followed their father up into the profession (and after then again, their sons) The Stevenson dynasty built the majority of all the lighthouses in Scotland for the NLB, in some very exceptionally challenging locations. The lighthouses were some of the engineering masterpieces of their time, notably those at Bell Rock, Skerryvore and Muckle Flugga.

Between 1876 and 2005 also foghorns were maintained by the NLB at a number of locations. The last (at Skerryvore) was sounded for the last time on 4 October 2005. More about the NLB Foghorns can be find in the left column tab "Foghorns".

Her Royal Highness
HRH Princess Royal Anne (2015)

The Commissioners

Most of the Commissioners have always been ex officio appointments. The first in 1786 appointed Commissioners were representatives of the Crown, such as the Sheriffs of coastal counties of Scotland, and the Provosts and Lord Provosts of Scottish cities and towns with strong mercantile interests. Reform of local government and sheriffdoms have since resulted in changes in the Board.

The current Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses, as provided by Schedule 8 to the Merchant vessel Act 1995, are the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland; the Lords Provost of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, the conveners of the Highland Council and the Argyll and Bute Council; the Sheriffs Principal of all the sheriffdoms in Scotland; a Manx representative nominated by the Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man and appointed by the Secretary of State; and up to five co-opted Commissioners.

Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal (Anne) has been Patroness to the Northern Lighthouse Board since 1993 and takes an active interest in work carried out by the Board.

Area of Responsibility

Covering half the waters and coastline of the United Kingdom, together with the majority of offshore manned oil installations the area is subject to severe weather conditions for many months of the year. The approximate length of the coastline is 10.000km, a land area of 77.700 sq. km and 790 islands. (* Source: Scottish Statistics)

Most of the significant lighthouses and other aids to navigation for general navigation outside harbour limits are provided directly by the Northern Lighthouse Board. Harbour authorities and other third parties under the supervision of NLB provide Aids to Navigation in harbour areas and outside harbour areas on structures such as outfalls, renewable energy sites and oil & gas installations.

NLB Headquaters
NLB HQ at 84 Goerge Street, Edinburgh
With myself in front


The board is based at its Georgian headquarters building in 84 George Street in Edinburgh, from where it remotely monitors its network. Technical operations are carried out from a base in Oban, Argyll and Bute, where there are maintenance workshops and facilities for the construction of buoys and beacons. The NLB's vessels are also based here.

Under the terms of the Scotland Act 1998, the NLB is not a devolved body and thus remains directly accountable to the UK Secretary of State for Transport. In practice, close co-operation is made with both the Scottish Government and the Isle of Man Government. The NLB is funded by pooled light dues administered by the UK's Department for Transport, and distributed to the NLB, Trinity House, and the Commissioners of Irish Lights.


The NLB operates two lighthouse tenders, known by the prefix Northern Lighthouse Vessel, or NLV. NLV Pole Star has been in service since 2000 and NLV Pharos was delivered on 31 March 2007 to the Oban depot. This is the tenth Pharos, replacing the ninth Pharos which was sold in September 2006 for use as a Fishery Protection vessel for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. (South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) is a British Overseas Territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean).

The "Vessels" tab can be selected in the left column. An overview is given per period of all vessels used by the NLB and its predecessors with their background.

NLB Flags

The Northern Lighthouse Board uses two flags, an ensign and a Commissioners' Flag. The ensign is a blue ensign defaced with a white lighthouse in the fly, and is for general use.

The Commissioners' flag is a plain white ensign with a in the top left corner the pre-1801 Union Flag, with in the fly a dark blue lighthouse. This is the only British flag still in use which incorporates the pre-1801 Union Flag. This flag only flowns from the Headquaters of the NLB in Edinburgh and on vessels with Commissioners aboard.

NLB Lighthouses

NLB has responsibility as a General Lighthouse
Authority at 31 March 2021 for:

# 66 with a range of 15 NM ~ 27.8 km or more
# 142 with a range of 15 NM ~ 27.8 km or less
174Buoys - Lit
29RACON (Radar Beacons)
# 22 on Lighthouses
# 7 on Buoys
49AIS (Automatic Indentification System)
# 20 on Lights
# 26 on Buoys
3Virtual AIS
2Lighthouse Tenders

The Board maintains - Contract: (31/03/2021)

2Lighthouses (+2 in Norwegian waters)
3RACON stations (+2 in Norwegian waters)

The Board's Mission Statement is:

"In Salutem Omnium"
For the Safety of All

NLB Crest
NLB crest

The Board's Aim Statement is:

To deliver a reliable, efficient and cost-effective Aids to Navigation service for the benefit and safety of all Mariners

NLB Flags

Ensign of the NLB
Ensign of the NLB (general use)

Commisioners Flag of the NLB
Commisioners Flag of the NLB

Pre-1801 Union Flag- Wikipedia
NLB Video- TNTfimstudios