The Obstinate Lighthouse
Old maritime legend describes an aircraft carrier that unknowingly attempted to bully a lighthouse into moving out of its way.
- PUBLISHED 10 SEPTEMBER 1999
An aircraft carrier unknowingly attempted to bully a lighthouse into moving out of its way.
A tale of the self-important aircraft carrier captain getting his well-earned comeuppance at the hands of a plain-speaking lighthouse has been making the rounds on the Internet since early 1996. Most write-ups purport to be transcripts of a 1995 conversation between a ship and a lighthouse as documented by Chief of Naval Operations:
ACTUAL transcript of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995. This radio conversation was released by the Chief of Naval Operations on 10-10-95.
Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”
Canadians: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”
Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”
Canadians: “No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.”
Americans: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.”
Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”
It’s not true. Not only does the Navy disclaim it, but the anecdote appears in a 1992 collection of jokes and tall tales. Worse, it appears in Stephen Covey’s 1989 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and he got it from a 1987 issue of Proceedings, a publication of the U.S. Naval Institute.
It’s far older than that, as this excerpt from a 1939 book shows:
The fog was very thick, and the Chief Officer of the tramp steamer was peering over the side of the bridge. Suddenly, to his intense surprise, he saw a man leaning over a rail, only a few yards away.
“You confounded fool!” he roared. “Where the devil do you think your ship’s going? Don’t you know I’ve got the right of way?”
Out of the gloom came a sardonic voice:
“This ain’t no blinkin’ ship, guv’nor. This ‘ere’s a light’ouse!”
Lighthouse and naval vessel urban legend – Wikipedia…
The lighthouse and naval vessel urban legend describes an encounter between a large naval ship and what at first appears to be another vessel, with which the ship is on a collision course. The naval vessel, usually identified as of the United States Navy or Royal Navy and generally described as a battleship or aircraft carrier, requests that the other ship change course. The other party (generally identified as Canadian or often Irish and occasionally Spanish) responds that the naval vessel should change course, whereupon the captain of the naval vessel reiterates the demand, identifying himself and the ship he commands and sometimes making threats. This elicits a response worded as “I’m a lighthouse. Your call” (or similarly), a punchline which has become shorthand for the entire anecdote.
It has circulated on the Internet and elsewhere in particular since a 1995 iteration that was represented as an actual transcript of such a communication released by the office of the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations. There appears to be no evidence that the event actually took place, and the account is implausible for several reasons. It is thus considered an urban legend, a variation on a joke that dates to at least the 1930s, sometimes referred to as “the lighthouse vs. the carrier” or “the lighthouse vs. the battleship“. The U.S. Navy has a webpage debunking it, although this did not stop the former U.S. Director of National IntelligenceMike McConnell using it as a joke in a 2008 speech. Other speakers have often used it simply as a parable teaching the dangers of inflexibility and self-importance, or the need for situational awareness. In 2004 a Swedish company dramatized it in an award-winning television advertisement.
British fail to see the light
A full scale naval confrontation is just avoided off the Kerry coast.
This is the transcript of the ACTUAL radio conversation of a British Naval Ship and the Irish, off the coast of Kerry, Oct 95. Radio conversation released by the Chief of Naval Operations 10-03-02:
Irish: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the South, to avoid a collision.
British: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the North, to avoid a collision.
Irish: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
British: This is the captain of a British navy ship. I say again, divert your course.
Irish: Negative. I say again, You will have to divert your course.
British: This is the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible. The second largest ship in the British atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, two missile cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course, 15 degrees north, I say again, that is 15 degrees north, or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure that safety of this ship.
Irish: We are a lighthouse. Your call.