In 2012, I delivered a presentation to my local radio club about the International Lighthouse & Lightship Weekend (ILLW).
As part of that presentation I researched the history of the ILLW. Below is what I found.
Some of the information was provided to Kevin VK2CE and then posted on the ILLW website.
Mike GM4SUC and John GM4OOU.
These two gentlemen appear to be the initial driving force behind the current day event known as the International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend (ILLW), which nowadays is held on the third weekend in August each year.
Unfortunately, Mike DALRYMPLE, GM4SUC is silent key (December 2005), so he was not able to assist in my research.
I was however, lucky enough to be able to correspond with John FORSYTH, GM4OOU per e-mail, who stated that the idea was originally his. He also stated......
‘after discussing it with members of the Ayr Radio Group Mike GM4SUC took the most interest in it. We worked together to get it off the ground’.
It was late 1992 - early 1993, following an Ayr Amateur Radio Group meeting one night, that John GM4OOU and Mike GM4SUC discussed organising an event for summer, where club members could get out into the field and 'play radio'. Various themes were discussed including ports, airports, historic Scotland sites, the Firths of Scotland, castles, etc. But it was finally decided that lighthouses of Scotland would be ideal.
‘The idea was to stimulate a bit of interest around the Scottish Clubs and allow their members to have a bit of a fun weekend away from the rigours of contest working’.
At that time the lighthouses in Scotland were under the control of the Northern Lighthouse Board. Permission was sought from them to operate from stations adjacent to the lighthouses and the event was named the 'Northern Lighthouse Activity Weekend'.
Initially John was unsure of the year the event commenced. I then found a certificate for the Northern Lighthouse Activity Weekend, dated 1993. I corresponded again with John who stated:
‘I see from the first certificate issued that the year was 1993. From this I think we can conclusively say that the event started as the Northern Lighthouse Activity Weekend and took place in 1993. The following year 1994 was the Scottish Firths’.
John stated that it was in 1994 that he moved to the East Coast and no longer had any involvement with the Ayr Amateur Radio Group, and that Mike carried on without him.
Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society.
The Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society (ARLHS) also holds an event called the International Lighthouse-Lightship Weekend, and it appears to be in a Contest format.
ARLHS is devoted to maritime communications, amateur radio, lighthouses, and lightships. Its members travel to lighthouses around the world where they operate amateur radio equipment at or near the light.
The ARLHS maintains a catalog of lighthouses called The World List of Lights (WLOL).
The following appeared in the Vol 7 Issue 3 newsletter of the ARLHS:-
‘There is a long history behind both events. I'll try to make it short. In 1976 the United States Congress, as part of our country's bi-centennial, ordained the FIRST weekend in August as National Lighthouse Weekend. It has remained so in the USA ever since, with many lights opening their doors to the public on that weekend and giving tours etc.
In 1996, following patriotic tradition, I suggested a ham radio national lighthouse weekend to coincide with the FOURTH of JULY and posted a notice to this effect on this new way of communicating -- the internet. It wasnt long before I heard a cry of objection from USA hams: "You can't do that! Lighthouse Week, by government decree and Congressional approval, is the FIRST week in August, with August 7th being National Lighthouse Day; so I posted another notice changing the date from July 4th to the FIRST weekend in August.
It wasn't long before I heard from Mike, GM4SUC, who said, "Hey, you can't do that! Lighthouse weekend is the THIRD weekend in August in Europe." I also heard from Finn Emsby, OZ4EL, and the Danish Lighthouse Society. Mike, Finn, and I got together, to lay down the plans and guidelines for a ham radio lighthouse weekend. Mike was insistent on the THIRD weekend because any other weekend conflicted with some other European events. The active USA lighthouse hams at the time (notably N2OB, "Ol' Barney," the Barnegat Lighthouse club) insisted that we follow the Congressional decree of the FIRST weekend. Neither side would budge -- mostly out of national pride and tradition.
It was at this point that Finn wrote me a note suggesting that I create a national NLLW in the USA and allow the ILLW for an international weekend later in the month. He also suggested joining forces with the Danish Lighthouse Society to create a worldwide ham radio lighthouse organization. It was out of this idea and suggestion from Finn OZ4EL that the ARLHS was born, and the ARLHS and DLS have remained "sister societies" ever since.
So we all agreed to disagree on the dates. Two weekends were born, and in the next few years both events grew in popularity. In 1997 the ARLHS was born and in 2000 was officially recorded and trademarked.
Mike had wanted the ILLW to be an EVENT whereas the ARLHS Board of Directors was under growing pressure from its membership to make the NLLW and the ILLW contests. In 2001 the ARLHS took over the ILLW and kept the ILLW weekend in the beginning of August, the first weekend, making the event a QSO Party and contest.
Shortly thereafter, Mike became a silent key, whereupon an ARLHS member defected and seized the opportunity to "hi-jack" the ARLHS membership and e-mail lists, claiming them for himself. He convinced Mike's Ayr Radio Club that since he had been on the ARLHS staff (as the Austral-Asian Rep) and had been co-ordinating the ILLW for the ARLHS that he should continue to do so. The Ayr Group agreed, and this individual insisted on the third weekend again. Thus, as it now stands there are two "rival" ILLW groups: an original "official" ILLW under the sponsorship of the ARLHS, meeting the first weekend in August and adhering to the USA Congressional declaration of August 7th as National Lighthouse Day; and the upstart "hi-jacked" group, consisting largely of European followers of the Ayr Group, holding forth on the third weekend.
Hope that explains it to all those history buffs who wanna know why!”
The event in summary.
The following is a summary of events based on research from a variety of sources including e-mails provided by Kevin VK2CE the ILLW Co-Ordinator & webmaster; John GM4OOU; and various websites including illw.net, illw.org, and arlhs.com.
In early 1993, John FORSYTH, GM4OOU, came up with the idea to hold a lighthouse weekend. Discussions took place between John and members of the Ayr Amateur Radio Group, and Mike, GM4SUC appears to have taken the most interest in the idea.
The first such lighthouse weekend, known as the Northern Lighthouse Activity Weekend, took place on the 28th and the 29th of August, 1993.
Documentary proof of the name and date of this weekend exists in the form of a certificate signed by Mike DALRYMPLE, GM4SUC (Awards Manager), dated 24th September, 1993. On the bottom of the certificate appears the following:
“The Northern Lighthouse Activity Weekend was conceived and co-ordinated by Ayr Amateur Radio Group”.
The certificate indicates that ten (10) clubs participated in the event and that these clubs were from Scotland and the Isle of Man. These stations all operated with special GB2 prefixes (excluding Isle of Man who used GT3 prefix). It shows that the Ayr Amateur Radio Group operated from the Turnberry lighthouse, with the call sign of GB2LT.
The certificate also indicates (by its very nature) that it was issued to amateurs who successfully contacted or heard the requisite special events stations that participated.
This particular weekend has been incorrectly referred to by a number of names, including the Northern Lights Weekend, and the Scottish Northern Lighthouses Award Weekend. To add to the confusion, even the certificate itself has two different names: Northern Lighthouse Activity Weekend, and Northern Lighthouse Activity Event.
This event was limited to Scottish & Isle of Man stations. There was no international participation.
In 1994, the Scottish clubs were involved with activites centering on the Firths of Scotland (river estuaries), and no lighthouse weekend took place that year.
Due to a move to the East Coast, John FORSYTH, GM4OOU, ceased connections / involvement with the event.
At some point, it was conceived that the lighthouse event would be held every two years. An archived document dated 1999, from the illw.net website entitled ‘Northern Lighthouse Weekend Award’, which was complied by DALRYMPLE, states:
‘Every two years is the Northern Lighthouse Weekend, an event which has developed into the International Lighthouse/Lightship Weekend, for which an award is available. 1999 the 5th year for the award and conditions are detailed below.’
The next known lighthouse weekend event co-ordinated by the AARG was the Northern Lighthouse Weekend, which took place on Saturday the 26th August, 1995. It appears that the event was sponsored by the Royal National Lifeboat Association, a charity that operates lifeboats around the coasts of Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
It appears that the event may have just taken place over the one day (Saturday 26th) and not a full weekend. Again, this was the fourth weekend of August.
A total of ten stations from Scotland participated in the event, including the AARG who operated from the Turnberry lighthouse using the call sign of GB2LT. These stations all operated with special GB2 prefixes.
It appears that a certificate was also issued to those stations that participated in the event.
In 1996, 11 Scottish special event stations, operated from different historic sites around Scotland. An award associated with this event was offered by the Ayr Amateur Radio Group. No lighthouse activity associated with the AARG took place this year.
In December, 1996, Anne-Grete ERIKSEN wrote a letter to 'Club Spotlight' at Practical Wireless magazine with regards to:
‘a plea to explore the possibility of making a joint European Lightship (& Lighthouse) Award’.
In the letter, ERIKSEN stated that about three years earlier in March 1994:
‘a group of Danish amateurs had got together to make an amateur radio station in the radio room of the museum lightship FYRSKIB XXI, which is lying in a newly built museum harbour for wooden ships that were formerly in public service.’
They operated as OZ7DAL ‘Danish Amateur Lightship’. ERIKSEN advised that following an article about FYRSKIB XXI in CQ DL, they received a request from the Awards Manager of the German Feuerschiff Diploma, asking if they wanted to join. ERIKSEN stated:
‘The German Dipolma is OK, but, with known activities in Portuguese lighthouses, British lighthouses (national lighthouse weekend), North Carr Lightship GB2NCL, Le Port Musee in France – there simply had to be activities that we did not yet know of’.
As a result, enquiries were undertaken to determine the interest in making a Joint European Lighthouse & Lightship Award. Despite sending letters to almost all national amateur radio societies in Europe, ERIKSEN advised that she had not received a single response. Thus her reason for writing to Practical Wireless.
Jim WEIDNER, K2JXW, states that in 1996, he suggested a ham radio national lighthouse weekend to coincide with the USA fourth of July celebrations. He received some objections from some USA amateur operators who stated that the USA’s National Lighthouse Weekend was held in the first week of August.
As a result, WEIDNER changed the proposed date for the proposed event to the first weekend in August. Mike DALRYMPLE, GM4SUC then opposed this and stated that the Lighthouse weekend was the third weekend in August Europe.
At about this time, WEIDNER was also contacted by Finn EMSBY, OZ4EL. WEIDNER claims that he, DALRYMPLE, and EMSBY liaised with each other, however a mutual agreement could not be reached on the date of the event, nor the name of the event. DALRYMPLE wanted the event to be just that, an event, whereas the ARLHS Board of Directors wanted the event/s to be Contests.
WEIDNER states he was then contacted by EMSBY, OZ4EL who suggested WEIDNER establish a National Lighthouse Weekend in the USA in the first week of August and allow the European based event to take place later in the month of August.
WEIDNER claims that in c. 1997 / 1998 he began drafting plans for an ARLHS, ‘largely at the suggestion of GM4SUC and OZ4EL’. It was originally to be called the American Radio Lighthouse Society. However WEIDNER states:
“but at the urging of GM4SUC we decided on the Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society (ARLHS) to better reflect the worldwide interest in the ILLW, which Mr. Weidner and the new group were promoting”.
During the weekend of 23rd and 24th August, 1997, two events associated with lighthouses and lightships took place. This was again, over the fourth weekend in August.
The first event was The Northern Lighthouse Weekend. Records show that a total of ten Scottish stations were established at lighthouses around Scotland. These stations all operated with special GB2 prefixes. Records show that GB2LT participated in the event at the Turnberry lighthouse. The Northern Lighthouse Weekend Award was again offered by GM4SUC during this event.
Running concurrent with this event was the Lighthouse/Lightship Activity Weekend, when amateur radio stations were established at lighthouses and lightships around the world. Records show that a total of 23 lighthouses from a total of 10 countries (Portugal, Germany, France, England, Norway-Svalbard Island, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, Brazil, Sweden, and Greece) participated in the event.
This event most likely took place with international competitors, as a direct result of interest from persons outside of Scotland, such as Anne-Grete ERIKSEN.
A number of awards were offered for this event and they included the following:
• FYRSKIB XX1 Diploma, Denmark
• Feuerschiff Diploma, Germany
• Diploma Dos Farois De Portugal
• Spanish Lighthouse Diploma
In 1998, the name of the event was changed to the InternationalLighthouse Activity Weekend and was held on Saturday the 22nd August and Sunday 23rd August. The name of this event, the International Lighthouse Activity Weekend came from: (archived report of the 1998 event on GM3ZDH’s qsl.net site) (DALRYMPLE’s e-mail to Ohio/Penn DX Bulletin in 1999). This weekend was also referred to by DALRYMPLE, as the Lighthouse/lightship Activity Weekend (his 1998 Entrants List) (e-mail to DX News from DALRYMPLE).
It appears that the Northern Lighthouse Weekend also ran in parallel with this event, and that the Ayr Amateur Radio Group participated in the 1998 event under the call of GB2LAY from the ‘Ayr Lighthouse’. QSL was via GM0JHF. Although referred to as the ‘Ayr Lighthouse’ on the entrants list, it is believed this is the Turnberry lighthouse, near Ayr.
This event was again held over the fourth weekend in August, and not the third weekend as is greatly emphasised in modern day documentation. And despite current emphasis being placed on the ILLW event not being a contest, and offering no prizes, certificates or other enticements, documentation clearly shows that the Northern Lighthouse Weekend Award was available for this particular weekend.
A participants certificate was also issued.
In 1999 the event was held on Saturday 21st August and Sunday 22nd August, 1999 (for the first time on the third weekend in August). It is believed to have gone under the name of the International Lighthouse/Lightship Weekend (List of participating stations prepared by WEIDNER) (e-mail sent to DX News from DALRYMPLE) (1999 Award document prepared by DALRYMPLE).
The event was also known as the International Lighthouse Activity Weekend. The name of the event appears on the participants list which appears on the qsl.net site of GM3ZDH.
The event ran in parallel again with the Northern Lighthouse Weekend. Stations were established at lighthouses in Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Again the Northern Lighthouse Weekend Award was available.
An archived webpage from illw.net shows that the Award was available from the Ayr Amateur Radio Group, for stations who:
‘can confirm contacts or SWL reports with Scottish lighthouse stations during the Northern Lighthouse Weekend 21/22nd August 1999….’
The page has DALRYMPLE’s details at the bottom and states:
‘Every two years is the Northern Lighthouse Weekend, an event which has developed into the International Lighthouse/Lightship Weekend, for which an award is available. 1999 the 5th year for the award and conditions are detailed below…..’
From this statement it appears that the Northern Lighthouse Weekend was first held in 1991. However, we know this to be incorrect. The first year of the event was in fact 1993. It was then held in 1995, and again 2 years later in 1997. It was then held in consecutive years in 1998 and 1999.
In a 1998 e-mail from DALRYMPLE to GI4LKG, DALRYMPLE stated:
‘There is not an award associated with the Lighthouse/Lightship Activity Weekend. Every alternate year is the Northern Lighthouse Weekend which started this whole thing off and there is an award associated specifically with that years event….’
It appears the AARG entered the 1999 event under the call of GB2LT at the Turnberry lighthouse. QSL was via GM0JHF.
It appears that in 2000, the name of the event changed and was known officially for the first time as the International Lighthouse & Lightship Weekend. It is believed that this was the first year that no award system was in place for the event, and this trend has continued until today.
The event was held for the second time, over the third weekend of August, on Saturday 19th & Sunday 20th August, 2000.
The following appeared in the ARLHS newsletter in June, 2001:
‘For several years as a participant in the ILLW (International Lighthouse/Lightship Weekend), along with Mike, GM4SUC, I was constantly being bombarded by requests to turn the event into a contest. Both Mike and I steadfastly avoided doing so. We were adamant in maintaining the event as a “fun” time – fun for the whole family – and not a contest. I often stated in the event guidelines that hams ought to take their families to the beach that day and have a picnic at a lighthouse. Working the event would be an added bonus. After the August 2000 ILLW, I responded to the interest shown by many hams around the world and created the ARLHS….’
The year 2000, also saw the commencement of the National Lighthouse Weekend (N.L.W.) held on the 5th August & 6th August, 2000, under the sponsorship/control of the ARLHS.
The origins of the N.L.W. are as follows:
On the 7th day of August, 1789, the United States Congress approved an Act for the establishment and support of lighthouse, beacons, buoys and public piers. In 1988, in celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the signing of the Act and the commissioning of the first Federal lighthouse, Congress passed a resolution which designated the 7th day of August, 1989, as National Lighthouse Day (American Lighthouse Foundation).
The 2001 ILLW event was held on Saturday the 18th and Sunday 19th August, 2012 (the third weekend in August).
In 2001, Kevin MULCAHY, VK2CE, commenced compiling the ILLW entrants lists.
In 2002, the ILLW event was held on Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th, August, 2002 (the third weekend in August).
In 2002, the Association of Lighthouse Keepers commenced their International Lighthouse Day, which was initiated to ‘raise the profile of Lighthouses, Lightvessels and other Navigational Aids, promoting this rich aspect of our maritime heritage.’
An archived webpage from 2002 for the Association of Lighthouse Keepers, states:
In 2003 the ILLW event was held on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th, August, 2003 (the third weekend in August).
In 2003, the name of the N.L.W. changed to the Pan-American Lighthouse Lightship Weekend (P.A.L.L.W.).
The ILLW event took place on the 21st & 22nd August 2004 (the third weekend in August).
In 2004, the name of the P.A.L.L.W. reverted back to the National Lighthouse Lightship Weekend (N.L.L.W.).
The ILLW event took place on the 20th & 21st August, 2005 (the third weekend in August).
The NLLW took place in the USA.
On 21st December 2005, Mike DALRYMPLE, GM4SUC passed away, and according to MULCAHY, with the approval of the Ayr Group, he continued in his role as the ILLW organiser & webmaster.
The ILLW took place on the 19th & 20th August, 2006 (the third weekend in August).
The NLLW event took place in the USA.
The ILLW took place on the 18th & 19th August, 2007 (the third weekend in August).
The NLLW event took place in the USA.
The ILLW event took place on the 16th & 17th August, 2008 (third weekend in August).
The ILLW event was held on the 15th & 16th day of August, 2009 (the third weekend in August).
In 2009, the ARLHS held for the first time an event called the International Lighthouse Lightship Week (ILLW). The event was held from 1st August to 9th August, 2000.
The following appeared on the website:
“This highly popular annual event, now in its 15th year, has been extended to a full week’.
‘The ILLW was started in the 1990’s by Mike Dalrymple (GM4SUC) and K2JXW’s Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society. It originated from the Scottish Northern Lighthouses award weekend. In the past the event was held on the 3rd weekend in August; but in response to its popularity, the duration of the event has now been extended to a full week….’
The ILLW event was held on the 21st & 22nd August, 2010 (the third weekend in August).
The ARLHS held the same event as in 1999, and was called the International Lighthouse Lighthship Week (ILLW).
The following appeared in Vol 9/Issue 2-Spring 2010 and also Vol 10/Issue 1 – Summer 2001 of the Lighthouse Lens magazine:
‘The Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society has assumed sponsorship and management of the International Lighthouse-Lightship Week Organization. According to Dave Bergstrom, ILLW organizer and leader of the ILLW Organization, “We are indeed fortunate to have the ARLHS, the largest ham lighthouse society in the world, contribute its expertise, leadsership, and financial support to the ILLW Organization. The considerable resources of the ARLHS will aid the ILLWO in its plants for future expansion and activities”’.
The ILLW event was held on the 20th & 21st August, 2011.
In 2011, the ARLHS held an event called the International Lighthouse & Lightship Weekend (ILLW), which was held on the 6th August & 7th August, 2011.