St. Johns River Light Station
Only a mile from the old Mayport Light (St. Johns River
Lighthouse) and directly overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is this nontraditional-looking
lighthouse. The beacon doesnt fit our conventional idea of what a lighthouse should
look like. The lantern room is so small it can hardly be called a room at all.
Theres barely enough space to walk around inside. In order for the lenses to be
fully inspected or repaired, they have to be lowered with a set of pulleys and chains to
the room below.
Today there are many beacons that are taking the role of traditional
lighthousesunrecognizable to us as we drive by themthat actually sit on top of
condominiums and high rise buildings but fill the same role. Even with the satellite
guidance systems that almost every boat owner uses to pinpoint his location within a few
feet, the sailors I know still feel a sense of security when they see that reassuring
The St. Johns River lighthouse was equipped with a radio beacon that mariners used to get a bearing on
their location in bad weather. Radio beacons were widely used, especially by pleasure
boats, into the 1980s because they were much cheaper than radar or loran. Radio beacons
worked by sending out a Morse code signal that could be read by a passing ship equipped
with a direction finder to determine its exact location. Today the GPS (Global Positioning
System) is small, inexpensive, and more accurate than anything that has come before, so
radio beacons are for the most part a thing of the past.
Situated on the Mayport Naval Station just north of Jacksonville Beach, the
St. Johns River lighthouse
is not open to the public, but if you get onto the base, you are free to park and walk
on the beach and dunes close to the light. The base may or not be open to the public
depending on military situations. It was open the day I visited, and the guard at the
entrance just waved me through without question. That may not be so easy in
The St. Johns Light Station replaced both the Mayport Lighthouse and the St. Johns
Lightship, which was in service some seven miles out in the Atlantic. In 1920, there were
forty-nine such lightships around the country, but by 1985 there were none left operating.
When the lightship was taken out of service at St. Johns River, this new lighthouse served
as a replacement.
Built in 1954, this is the newest lighthouse in Florida. It has that typical military
look and was once used to monitor the weather and maintain the radio beacon. Now it has
been fenced off, and the lower part is used mainly for storage. Everything that needs to
function insidelike the beaconis automated. Even though the lighthouse is on
the Mayport Naval Station, the Coast Guard is in charge of this and all other marine
navigation lights in the United States.