https://insideDIO.blog.gov.uk/2016/08/22/safe-approach-to-portsmouth-navigation-lights-for-aircraft-carriers/

Safe Approach to Portsmouth: Navigation Lights for Aircraft Carriers

Hi, I’m Philip Wise, DIO’s Principal Project Manager for the work taking place at Portsmouth to ready the naval base to be home port of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers. The first, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is planned to arrive early next year and will be followed by sister ship HMS Prince of Wales in due course.

Philip Wise, DIO's Principal Project Manager for preparations for the QEC carriers at HMNB Portsmouth (Crown Copyright/MOD2015)
Philip Wise, DIO's Principal Project Manager for preparations for the QEC carriers at HMNB Portsmouth (Crown Copyright/MOD2015)

The aircraft carriers and the F-35B fighters they will carry will be a vital part of Britain’s national security and will help the Royal Navy to play their part in protecting the country and project global British influence.

We’ve been keeping you updated on progress on the project through this blog, including the substation and jetty works and it’s time for another update.

Navigation Lights

We’re installing navigation lights on the approach to Portsmouth harbour and particularly to guide the vessel through the narrow harbour entrance.

Locations of the navigation lights. [Crown Copyright/MOD2016]
Locations of the navigation lights. [Crown Copyright/MOD2016]
The navigation lights are mounted on top of 14 large steel tower structures rising up to 30 metres from the sea bed. Once operational the lights will enable the pilots to safely navigate in and out of Portsmouth harbour by providing a visual check on the vessel’s course. Earlier in the year our contractor, VolkerStevin, drove the pile foundations into the sea bed and are now putting the upper sections in place.

The lights are powered by both solar panels and batteries so they will work whatever the weather. To minimise distraction to other vessels and local people, they will only be lit when the carriers are approaching or leaving their berths.

One of the navigation aids in situ. [VolkerWessels UK, 2016]
One of the navigation aids in situ. [VolkerWessels UK, 2016]
They each weigh around 22 tonnes and we have been using a 350 tonne crane barge to lift them into position. Getting them in place has required close liaison between ourselves, VolkerStevin, the Queen’s Harbour Master, ferry operators and the like. Portsmouth is a busy harbour for both civilian and military vessels so it was important to have these discussions to make sure the work could take place safely and with the minimum disruption to other harbour users.

One of the navigation aid structures on its side on shore. [Crown Copyright/MOD2016]
One of the navigation aid structures on its side on shore. [Crown Copyright/MOD2016]
The navigation light towers are being installed as part of a £34 million package of infrastructure work being delivered on behalf of DIO by VolkerStevin. The approach channel and berth pocket in which the aircraft carriers will be moored is being dredged by Boskalis Westminster Ltd to ensure they are deep and wide enough for ships the size of HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, which are the largest ships ever operated by the Royal Navy.

32 comments

  1. Comment by David Ellis posted on

    Sorry but I have to say that the new navigation marks are incredibly ugly. Utilitarian metalwork like that would look perfectly at home in the middle of an oil refinery, but just off a tourist beach I think you should have made an effort to come up with something more elegant.

    Reply
    • Replies to David Ellis>

      Comment by Peter Mishcon posted on

      I absolutely agree, David. I am frequently in and out of Portsmouth and I am really sad no one has taken any effort at all to meet these utilitarian structures even mildly attractive. Where has the spirit of our Victorian (and earlier) engineers, such as Stevenson, Brunel and Smeaton, gone? And as David says, with a backdrop of historic Old Portsmouth. As we know, good design need not add a penny to the budget. Another lost opportunity.

      Reply
  2. Comment by Greg Young posted on

    Will there be any lights on them to help yachts and small vessels that approach the harbour outside the channel to identify their location at night?

    Reply
  3. Comment by Mike buggy posted on

    Why are they placed in this pattern. ?..are some of them transits? Why are there 2 rows of 3 for example?

    Reply
    • Replies to Mike buggy>

      Comment by helenpickering posted on

      Mike, sorry for the delay - your comment was missed unfortunately.

      The three towers (triple transit lights) align with the vessel's port, centre and starboard lines so it can be aligned with the entry channel.

      DIO Communications Team

      Reply
  4. Comment by Miles Stuart posted on

    Where can I find out how these new nav lights work? I'm a retired Master Mariner and would love to know more.

    Reply
  5. Comment by Harry posted on

    Why are there 3 lights in each group? How will th lights be used ?

    Reply
    • Replies to Harry>

      Comment by helenpickering posted on

      Harry, sorry for the delay - your comment was missed unfortunately.

      The three towers (triple transit lights) align with the vessel's port, centre and starboard lines so it can be aligned with the entry channel.

      DIO Communications Team

      Reply
  6. Comment by David Cummings posted on

    Why are they in rows of three, ? do they need to line the three up If its for indicting safe route, singles could do it. Please inform, thanks

    Reply
    • Replies to David Cummings>

      Comment by helenpickering posted on

      David, sorry for the delay - your comment was missed unfortunately.

      The three towers (triple transit lights) align with the vessel's port, centre and starboard lines so it can be aligned with the entry channel.

      DIO Communications Team

      Reply
  7. Comment by Sean Gage posted on

    I have gazed at these structures from across the water at Puckpool on the Island and wondered what they were. At last I've found the answer,
    Many Thanks
    Sean Gage

    Reply
  8. Comment by Joseph Wyatt posted on

    Why do they need to be in a row of 3 ?

    Surly they'd just be lining the outer ones up for the approach or leave

    Reply
    • Replies to Joseph Wyatt>

      Comment by helenpickering posted on

      Joseph, sorry for the delay - your comment was missed unfortunately.

      The three towers (triple transit lights) align with the vessel's port, centre and starboard lines so it can be aligned with the entry channel.

      DIO Communications Team

      Reply
    • Replies to Joseph Wyatt>

      Comment by helenpickering posted on

      To provide navigational certainty the vessel’s navigator visually aligns one set of three up with the other (i.e. they act as a pair) and because each of the three lights is a different colour the navigator can be certain he’s lining up the correct lights.

      The most critical element of the navigation into Portsmouth is passing through the narrow harbour entrance. We have pairs of triple transits in both the outer and inner harbour to guide the carrier either way through the entrance.

      Reply
  9. Comment by kh posted on

    Could you explain why some of the marks occur in threes?

    Reply
    • Replies to kh>

      Comment by helenpickering posted on

      Sorry for the delay - your comment was missed unfortunately.

      The three towers (triple transit lights) align with the vessel's port, centre and starboard lines so it can be aligned with the entry channel.

      DIO Communications Team

      Reply
  10. Comment by A Skynner posted on

    How about a diagram?

    Reply
  11. Comment by Chris Sprules posted on

    Hi Helen
    Thanks i understand the 12 lights - do the other 2 navigation marks have a role as well?
    "the navigation lights are mounted on top of 14 large steel tower structures rising up to 30 metres from the sea bed"

    Reply
    • Replies to Chris Sprules>

      Comment by helenpickering posted on

      Hi Chris, The 12 lights are divided into four sets of three (hence triple transits). To provide navigational certainty the vessel’s navigator visually aligns one set of three up with the other (i.e. they act as a pair) and because each of the three lights is a different colour the navigator can be certain he’s lining up the correct lights.

      The most critical element of the navigation into Portsmouth is passing through the narrow harbour entrance. We have pairs of triple transits in both the outer and inner harbour to guide the carrier either way through the entrance.

      The other two lights on piles provide visual control for directional changes either before or after passing through the harbour entrance, dependent on direction of travel. These are single lights rather than triple transits.

      Reply
  12. Comment by Terry posted on

    So, are you saying that The three towers (triple transit lights) align with the vessel's port, centre and starboard lines so it can be aligned with the entry channel? 🙂

    Reply
    • Replies to Terry>

      Comment by helenpickering posted on

      Hi Terry, The 12 lights are divided into four sets of three (hence triple transits). To provide navigational certainty the vessel’s navigator visually aligns one set of three up with the other (i.e. they act as a pair) and because each of the three lights is a different colour the navigator can be certain he’s lining up the correct lights.

      The most critical element of the navigation into Portsmouth is passing through the narrow harbour entrance. We have pairs of triple transits in both the outer and inner harbour to guide the carrier either way through the entrance.

      The other two lights on piles provide visual control for directional changes either before or after passing through the harbour entrance, dependent on direction of travel. These are single lights rather than triple transits.

      Reply
  13. Comment by jeremy posted on

    I am sure no potential enemy would provide such facilities. If the ship cannot be safely navigated by her crew anywhere and in any situation and circumstances then somebody has erred - - -

    Reply
  14. Comment by dave posted on

    waiting to see how these carriers turn in the harbour (without huge lights on towers) - maybe employ a few brittany ferry pilots..

    Reply
  15. Comment by Simon Arnold posted on

    hi there....looking at the picture with the tower on the pier next to the transit van, the base doesn't look too long ( could be perspective). I've seen these in the Solent and the water comes half way up the base. I was wondering how deep the water is where these have been installed? I thought the Solent was deeper than that.

    Reply
  16. Comment by SimonJ posted on

    So there is the Queen Elizabeth, next Thursday perhaps, with the port light lined up with the port line, the centre light with the centre line, and the starboard light lined up with the starboard line. After the Queen Elizabeth has run down the centre light, how is it going to leave port safely with only sets of 2 lights remaining?
    Your explanation might be self-explanatory to you, because you know the system, but it doesn't mean anything useful (in spite of many repetitions) to a landlubber. As Mr/Ms Skynner suggest, how about a diagram?

    Reply
    • Replies to SimonJ>

      Comment by helenpickering posted on

      The 12 lights are divided into four sets of three (hence triple transits). To provide navigational certainty the vessel’s navigator visually aligns one set of three up with the other (i.e. they act as a pair) and because each of the three lights is a different colour the navigator can be certain he or she is lining up the correct lights.

      The most critical element of the navigation into Portsmouth is passing through the narrow harbour entrance. We have pairs of triple transits in both the outer and inner harbour to guide the carrier either way through the entrance.

      The other two lights on piles provide visual control for directional changes either before or after passing through the harbour entrance, dependent on direction of travel. These are single lights rather than triple transits.

      Reply
    • Replies to SimonJ>

      Comment by Keith W posted on

      Hi Simon. Helen Pickering's explanation is clear but I wondered the same thing initially - how the ships would use the transits without running them down. Then the answer came to me. The Carrier's Commander would line up the transits in the inner harbour when entering and those outside the harbour when leaving - I think ? Helen, please let us know if this is correct.

      Reply
      • Replies to Keith W>

        Comment by helenpickering posted on

        Hi Keith

        That sounds right - they use the pair in the inner harbour for entry, and the pair in the outer harbour when leaving, and align them with the lights on the ship.

        Reply
        • Replies to helenpickering>

          Comment by Keith W posted on

          Thanks Helen. I often come in and out of Portsmouth (in my little sail boat). It is now clearer to me how these new marks will be used by the big boys.

          Reply
    • Replies to SimonJ>

      Comment by Keith W posted on

      Giving this further thought, the outer ones could be kept in transit astern when entering, with the inner ones in transit ahead thus giving even more certainty to the Commander that he is in the centre of the channel. The opposite when leaving of course.

      Reply
  17. Comment by Tony Clatworthy posted on

    Surely a simple red- white- green beamed light system, as I installed at the entrance to the Hamble would work equally well and perhaps not cost millions for some defence company to profit from, let alone the ongoing maintenance cost. They look awful stuck out in the Solent. Turned a lovely view into an industrial estate scene.

    Reply

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