The lightship No. 83 Swiftsure is a heritage vessel and museum ship, and in 1989 the vessel was declared a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. Today, Lake Union Park visitors enjoy viewing her from the Historic Ships Wharf (open 24 hours/day), MOHAI’s maritime gallery or the lake.
The lightship once served as a floating lighthouse. The lightship was stationed in the open ocean a few miles off the mouth of a bay or inlet, a beacon to ships entering or leaving the waterways.
The Lightship No. 83 has made its home in many ports, and has had many names — first “Blunts Reef,” then “San Francisco,” then “Relief,” and finally “Swiftsure,” in the tradition of assuming the name of the nearest lightship station.
Blunts Reef: Built in 1904 in Camden, New Jersey, the Lightship No. 83 was one of hundreds of floating lighthouses that guided ships and boats safely along American Coasts. After making the journey around South America to California, the No. 83 took her position at the Blunts Reef lightship station off Cape Mendicino.
San Francisco: After almost 30 years at Blunts Reef, she was transferred to the San Francisco lightship station outside the Golden Gate Bridge. During World War II, the Coast Guard recalled lightships to protect American coastlines from submarine attack. The No. 83 was painted grey, was fitted with new deck guns and fold-out bunks for up to 50 crewmen, and patrolled the San Francisco Bay for the Navy.
Relief: Following the war, the No. 83 returned to lightship duty as the “San Francisco,” then was transferred to the Coast Guard District 13 in the Pacific Northwest. Serving the Columbia River, Umatilla Reef, and Swiftsure Banks stations, the No. 83 was a relief vessel at these posts for regular vessels during their yearly maintenance and resupply.
Swiftsure: In 1961, the Coast Guard retired and decommissioned the L.V. No. 83. Northwest Seaport (then Save Our Ships), purchased the vessel in 1968. In 1996, she was named the “Swiftsure” after Seattle’s closest lightship station and to commerate her status as the last remaining lightship to serve at the Swiftsure Banks station.
Northwest Seaport is in the process of a restoration project that includes replacing the wooden deck and restoring the electrical system. Program plans are to open the ship’s upper deck to the public while restoration is underway, creating a unique opportuity to view, visit with and work side-by-side with shipwrights. The lightship is open to viewing from Historic Ships Wharf in Lake Union Park.
Today, Swiftsure serves as an important link with the history of American aids to navigation. Do wish to become involved with her restoration? Please contact Northwest Seaport.