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The International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend

Each year, the national association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) also known as “ham radio” operators, conducts the International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend (ILLW). Basically, ILLW is a designated weekend where participants set up portable radio communication stations at or near lighthouses as a way to connect lighthouses all over the world. The group’s objective is to “encourage lighthouse managers, keepers and owners to open their lighthouses or light stations and related visitor centers to the public with a view to raising the profile of lighthouses, lightvessels and other navigational aids, and preserving maritime heritage.”


ILLW attracts over 500 lighthouse entries located in more than 40 countries. It was started in 1993 by the AYR Amateur Radio Group in Scotland, whose members John GM4OOU and the late Mike GM4SUC, were looking for something fun to do in the dog days of summer. Held the third weekend in August, an invitation was sent to all Scottish radio clubs to join the event they dubbed: The Northern Lighthouse Activity Weekend. The first event saw 11 stations established at lighthouses. Since that time, it has become one of the most popular international amateur radio events in existence.


David Spondike, a local NE Ohio radio operator, first approached me about using Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse as a location for ILLW earlier in the year. Unsure about what it would entail, I did some research and read up on the event. Since David and his fellow “hams” insisted that they would bring all they own equipment, power, food and water, I decided it might be a fun opportunity for the lighthouse to connect with other lighthouses around the world. David might say that it was a huge amount of work hauling all the necessary supplies through the park and down the break wall to the lighthouse, but I also believe they enjoyed the experience.


Arriving on Friday evening, David and his team made several trips back and forth with equipment and staples before setting in for the evening. Not being involved in their radio conversations, I’m not sure what they talked about, but I’m guessing it had something to do with lighthouses. When the weekend was over, they packed up again and headed home only leaving a whopping supply of unused pre-packaged foods and toilet paper. Perhaps that's an ILLW tradition?


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