Lightship WLV 604 was the last lightship to
mark the Columbia River. This floating lighthouse
stood five miles off the mouth of the river.
Three lightships preceded the 604. No. 50 was built
in San Francisco and served from 1892-1909.
The light was a set of oil lamps hoisted to the top
of the wooden ship's mast.
The ship had no propulsion engine, and had to be
towed to its station. The ship's service
was briefly interrupted from 1899-1901 when an 1899 storm beached
the ship near McKenzie Head, between
North Head and
After two attempts to refloat the ship by sea failed, the Lighthouse
Service contracted house-movers to move the lightship overland
on rails. The house-movers succeeded in moving the ship to
Baker's Bay, where she was towed to Portland for repairs. The ship
returned to service in 1901.
In 1909 No. 50 was replaced by No. 88, which served until 1939.
The new ship's light was a 375 mm lens. The ship had a steel
hull and a steam engine. No. 93 occupied the station from
WLV 604 occupied the station from 1951-1979. The ship was built
by Rice Brothers in East Boothbay, Maine, along with her sister
The steel ship had a displacement of 617 tons, was 128 feet long, had
a beam of 30 feet, and a draft of 11 feet. She was powered by
a 550-horsepower Atlas Imperial direct reversible diesel engine
built in Oakland, CA. The 375 mm lens was visible for 13 miles.
(The lens was later replaced by a set of rotating
There were two diaphone fog signals and two anchors -
one mushroom anchor weighing approximately 7000 pounds and
a smaller fluke anchor as a backup. (Note: for more details on the 600-class
lightship, see the 605.)
The ship's crew consisted of 17 enlisted men and one warrant officer
who served as captain. Three groups rotated four weeks on and
two weeks off. Ten men were on duty at all times.
Lightship duty could be monotonous. Crews passed the time as
best they could - fishing, reading, playing cards, or
watching a daily movie. A radio, and eventually a television,
were also installed on board.
The lightship served not only as a navigational aid,
but as a reference point for ships sailing up the Columbia
River. Large commercial vessels would wait near the
lightship for the bar pilot to come aboard and navigate
the vessel past the hazardous bar.
The Columbia River lightship station was the last of the
five lightship stations on the West Coast. In later years, the
ship was relieved by the 605.
After the 605
was removed from service in 1975, the 604 was relieved by a large
navigational buoy (LNB). Finally, the 604 was retired and
was permanently replaced by the LNB in 1979.
The 604 became part of the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria.
replacing the No. 88 which had previously been displayed at
the museum. Ironically, the LNB that replaced the 604 was
itself eventually retired. Today it sits alongside the
604 at the museum dock.
Oregon's Seacoast Lighthouses, Gibbs pp. 234-236, 242-243
Umbrella Guide to Oregon Lighthouses, Nelson pp. 98, 100
Columbia River Maritime Museum brochure