Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Aids to Navigation

Working on an aid

GRAND ISLE, La.- Aids to Navigation team members from Dulac, La., straighten a solar panel that charges the aid’s lighting system. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Thomas Atkeson.

solar panel

CAPE COD CANAL – Fifteen 35-watt solar panels power the Cape Cod Canal Breakwater Light 6, which stands at the eastern entrance to Cape Cod Canal as mariners travel from Cape Cod Bay to Buzzards Bay. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Aids to Navigation, including lighthouses, are a historic part of this nation dating back to 1716 when the first lighthouse, Boston Light, was built.

Over the years, the ATON program has worked not only to preserve and care for these iconic structures but also to implement new technologies ensuring the best return for the taxpayer and for the environment.

Solar Power

One of the first initiatives undertaken was to convert the more than 17,000 lighted aids from primary battery power to solar power.

“Using solar power on our lighted aids is one of many significant advances that I have witnessed in my 25 years of service in the ATON community,” said Lt. Dave Lewald, Aids to Navigation Specialist with the Coast Guard’s Marine Transportation Systems Directorate.

Bristol Bay AToN

LAKE ERIE – Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Reggio and Seaman Jeremy Bossinger of Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay install a new Carmanah LED on an aid to navigation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class George Degener.

Solar power not only produces less hazardous waste and saves money (hundreds of thousands annually), but it is also less resource intensive because crews are no longer maintaining heavy and burdensome batteries. The original dangerous and laborious maintenance process required crews to remove a roughly 500-pound battery rack for recharging or replacement every 24 months. Now, that same aid is powered by a 35-watt solar panel and two 60-pound secondary batteries, which only need replacing every five years.

“To date, all 4,902 lighted buoys and more than 93 percent of lighted structures have been converted to solar power,” said Lewald. “The remaining seven percent are being preserved for historical purposes in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act or are being evaluated for solarization as technological advances are made and mariner requirements change.”

LED Installation

Taking it one step further, the program is now converting the lighted aids from incandescent light bulbs to light-emitting diodes. The smaller, more durable LEDs are significantly more energy efficient and longer lasting – up to 10 times longer – easing the maintenance and labor burden on ATON crews.


The Carmanah LED (left) and the Vega VLB-44 self-contained LED, eight tier (middle) and single tier, are being used on lighted aids to navigation.

“Each commercially powered lighthouse using a modern LED could see its monthly utility cost go down by about $500 while at the same time providing mariners a more reliably lit aid and freeing valuable Coast Guard resources for mission execution rather than maintenance,” said Lewald.

Beyond these advances, the ATON program is continuing to implement environmentally-friendly and cost-saving strategies like a self-contained LED where the battery, solar panels and optic are all contained in one piece. Additionally, where the navigational need is no longer justifiable, the program is working to reduce the number of sound signals and fog detectors that may contribute to noise pollution.

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