A Spotlight on Ship’s Lanterns: Aesthetic and Practical Illumination

Vintage PERKO 360 Degree Fresnel Lantern

Ship’s lanterns have a timeless appeal that combines both aesthetics and practicality. In this blog post, we will explore the captivating world of ship’s lanterns, shedding light on their rich history and modern relevance in interior and exterior lighting. In the past, these lanterns were cleverly designed to guide ships safely through the ocean, built of durable materials like galvanized steel, copper, and brass. This is why we still find so many oil burning lanterns in great condition, despite their time at sea. Throughout this blogpost, we’ll talk about different types of ship’s lanterns and what they did on ships – as well as how these ship lanterns are utilized today as unique lighting for homes, restaurants, and movies. Classic lantern styles are great for many different decoration themes – keep reading this post to learn some practical tips on where and how to use a salvaged lantern.

Historical Significance

For centuries, ship’s lanterns have played a crucial role in maritime history, serving as indispensable tools for sailors navigating the often treacherous waters of the world’s oceans. These lanterns were more than mere fixtures; they were the steadfast sentinels of the seas, guiding ships safely through the darkest of nights and the densest of fogs. With their distinctive designs and unwavering functionality, ship’s lanterns have etched themselves into the very fabric of maritime heritage, becoming iconic symbols of seafaring traditions.

In the days before advanced navigation technology, ship’s lanterns were the primary means by which sailors communicated with other vessels and signaled their presence in the vast expanse of the open sea. Masthead lanterns, perched high on a ship’s mast, would cast their luminous beams far and wide, offering critical guidance to nearby ships and alerting them to potential dangers. Anchor lanterns, on the other hand, provided a reassuring glow during the stillness of nighttime anchorage, ensuring that ships remained safely moored.

The historical significance of ship’s lanterns extends beyond their practical utility. They stand as enduring symbols of the courage and ingenuity of sailors who relied on these lanterns to navigate uncharted waters, withstand stormy seas, and make their way to distant shores. The legacy of ship’s lanterns is intertwined with tales of exploration, trade, and adventure on the high seas, reminding us of the profound impact these unassuming yet essential fixtures had on the course of maritime history.

Vintage Dressel Railroad Lantern
Salvaged Perko Lantern - Missing Bottom Oil Burner

Practical Application of Ship’s Lanterns

Double Stacked Fresnel Lens Lights

Ship’s lanterns encompass a variety of types, each meticulously designed to serve specific functions on board vessels. Among the most essential are the portside and starboard lanterns, which play a pivotal role in maritime navigation, especially in low visibility conditions. These lanterns, often fueled by oil or kerosene in the past, held a dual responsibility of safety and communication at sea.

Portside and starboard lanterns, together with masthead and anchor lights, constituted a vital part of a ship’s lighting system. Portside lanterns, characterized by their red glow, were positioned on the ship’s left side, while starboard lanterns emitted a green light and were situated on the right side. This distinction was crucial, as it enabled sailors and other vessels to determine the ship’s direction in the darkness of night or during foggy weather.

The practical importance of these lanterns was so useful that it became maritime law in the late 1800’s. They not only illuminated a ship’s path but also conveyed essential information to fellow mariners. The red light of the portside lantern indicated that a ship was approaching from the port side, while the green light on the starboard side signaled its approach from the starboard. This clear system of visual communication helped prevent collisions and ensured safe passage in busy waters.

Modern Adaptations

Ship’s lanterns have made a comeback in modern times, finding a new purpose in homes, restaurants, and other spaces. These vintage pieces have become popular for their unique and nostalgic design. Many modern ship’s lanterns now use electric lighting for convenience, making them safe and easy to use. Most of our lanterns still have the original oil burning components inside of them. When you purchase, we’ll give you the choice to leave it as is or we can wire it before it ships out! Whether used as pendant lights at home or to create a cozy atmosphere in a restaurant, ship’s lanterns bring a touch of maritime charm to contemporary settings, bridging the past and present.

Big Ship Salvage Lantern seen in Top Gun Maverick
Vintage Brass Lantern – Big Ship Salvage
as seen in Top Gun Maverick

Creative Placement Ideas

When it comes to incorporating ship’s lanterns into modern spaces, the possibilities are as diverse as your imagination. These timeless pieces can be used in a variety of creative ways to infuse maritime charm into your surroundings. You might choose to place it on a table, with a wall outlet to electrify it.. allowing for you to move it easily if you choose your décor. Or you might have some grander ideas, for instance, consider suspending ship’s lanterns as pendant lights above a dining table or kitchen island in your home. This placement not only provides functional illumination but also adds a captivating nautical touch to your interior décor. Another location that we’ve helped customers install this was an awning over top their front door!

In a restaurant setting, ship’s lanterns can work wonders in creating a cozy and inviting atmosphere. Hanging them above individual tables or along a bar area can instantly transport diners to the ambiance of a seaside eatery. Additionally, these lanterns can be used as wall sconces to cast warm, ambient light in lounges or outdoor patios, contributing to a relaxing and maritime-inspired ambiance. The key lies in thoughtful placement, allowing these vintage lanterns to serve as both functional lighting sources and captivating design elements, connecting your space with the rich maritime heritage they represent.

Vintage Onion Style Hanging Lights Exterior View
Antique Lantern and Brass Passageway Lights in Cabin Room


In conclusion, ship’s lanterns, with their timeless charm, blend beauty and usefulness. This exploration has revealed their rich history and how they remain relevant in today’s lighting. Made from strong materials like steel, copper, and brass, these lanterns have endured, even after their days at sea. They hold profound historical significance, guiding ships through treacherous waters and serving as unwavering beacons in dark and foggy nights.

These lanterns were more than practical; they were vital tools for sailors to navigate and communicate. Masthead lanterns, high on a ship’s mast, guided nearby vessels, while anchor lanterns provided comfort during nighttime anchorage. Their legacy is intertwined with maritime tales of exploration and adventure, deeply embedded in maritime history.

Today, ship’s lanterns have found new life in modern spaces, winning hearts with their unique and nostalgic designs. Many modern versions use electric lighting for convenience, seamlessly fitting into contemporary settings. Whether as pendant lights at home, creating cozy atmospheres in restaurants, or enhancing various spaces, these lanterns serve as both functional lights and captivating design pieces. Thoughtful placement, from dining tables to bar areas and even outdoor patios, connects spaces with the maritime heritage they represent. As we cherish these maritime treasures, we maintain a link between the past and present, ensuring that the timeless appeal of ship’s lanterns continues to shine brightly in our modern world.

Authentic Salvaged Navigation Lights & Lanterns in Stock

  • Nautical Brass Wall Sconce Bulkhead Light (Brass, Copper, or No Cover)

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  • Salvaged Vintage Suez Canal Searchlight

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  • 1980's Japanese Brass Flameproof Flood Light

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  • Brass 270 Degree Navigation Light-another front view

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  • Vintage Small Perko Bow Light

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  • Pair of Vintage Brass Oil Lanterns by Eli Griffith & Sons-front view

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  • Vintage Galvanized Blue Fresnel Glass Oil Lantern

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  • Vintage PERKO 360 Degree Fresnel Lantern

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