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Some may question why we use the “visual sight rule” in determining valid lighthouse/lightship operations. Some maintain that this makes it “too easy” to work
or activate a light and a cinch to acquire awards. Here is our reasoning:

First, when I founded this organization, only a few months ago, I did so with the firm commitment and belief that this was to be a service organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of lights, and in every way possible to give recognition to the service that they and their keepers have given to maritime safety. NOWHERE in our statement of purposes does it state that one of the functions of this society is to grant awards. The fact that we do so is more to gain the attention of the non-ham public and to serve as an incentive to hams to participate in their local lighthouse restoration projects. It is NOT the function of this Society to serve as an award-granting agency.

Next, for several years, as a sponsor of the International Lighthouse/Lightship Weekend, Mike, GM4SUC, 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 our event guidelines that hams ought to take their families to the beach that day and have a picnic at the lighthouse. Working the event would be an added bonus.

As the popularity and membership of the ARLHS began to grow by leaps and bounds, so did the requests for more and more activities; thus I created the “Lighthouse Christmas Lights” event in December, still maintaining that it was to be a “Special Event” and NOT a contest. We got many requests for certificates from those working that event; and that inevitably led to a type of award, with a demand for more. I relented and an awards committee was created, but I stipulated that any awards must be easy enough for the average ham to participate in and achieve. I even added, half humorously, that semaphore flags could be used to communicate with lights, as well as smoke signals, repeaters, satellites, and any means or mode! Again, the purpose was to draw attention and give recognition to the lights and their keepers, NOT to give awards to hams. Eventually, again based on the unprecedented popularity of the Christmas event, I bowed to the contest idea and created the “Lighthouse Spring Lites QSO Party.” Ever insistent on the “fun” aspect of our hobby, I particularly liked calling it a PARTY, rather than a contest.

Now, to the point of “visual sightings”: A group of us considered the fact that the “service area” of a light was its effective range and its dedication to the mariners that it serves; we concluded that the service area is the range of the beacon’s light during the night and its visual appearance on the horizon or its sight during the day. In January of 2002, a survey opinion poll of members was taken and the results were almost evenly divided between those in favor of the Visual Sight Rule and those in favor of a distance rule. After some deliberation, a compromise was reached and a new definition of “Activating a Light” was added to the Rules and Regs of the Awards Program.

For the sake of completeness, here is a quote from the Rules and Regulations for the ARLHS Awards Program with regard to Activating a light:

“To be recognized as a valid lighthouse activation, physical presence on the property or within the light structure itself is preferred; however, the ARLHS recognizes any light activation that meets the “1000-Meter Rule.” Briefly stated, this means that any operation within a 1000 meter distance (1100 yards or 3300 feet) of a light is valid.

There may, however, be extenuating circumstances where this is not possible. Consequently, the “1000 Meter Rule” has an exception where we additionally recognize stations operating under the “Visual Sight Rule.” The “Visual Sight Rule” may be invoked under the following conditions:

Visual Sight Rule: If, in the opinion of the operator, operation within the “1000-Meter Rule” would be (a) illegal, (b) ill-advised, (c) impossible, or (d) impractical, then the distance rule is suspended and the “Visual Sight Rule” can be invoked and shall apply. Under the terms of the “Visual Sight Rule,” an operation is valid if the station is within visual sight of the physical structure of the light during the day or the “reach” of its light beacon at night. We find this to be consistent with our stated purpose of recognizing a light according to the geographic area served by it for mariners.
Here is a quote from our official policy:
“Although the ARLHS grants awards and recognizes ‘visual’ lighthouse/lightship operation, this does NOT mean that other awards or organizations and events must adhere to the same criteria.

As of June 2010, the ARLHS “official events” are as follows:
“Spring Lites QSO Party” (in spring, March-April),
“Summer solstice SweepStakes” (on the day of the Summer solstice — usually June 21)
“ILLW — Interational Lighthouse-Lightship Week” (first week [8 days] in August)
“Christmas Lights QSO Party” (December-January).”

For these events, our rules are the determining criteria.

However, there is a popular event in Europe, promoted by VK2CE and others as “ILLW” in August, which is NOT an official ARLHS-sponsored event. They have their own set of rules. When participating in NON-ARLHS events, operators should abide by the criteria set down by the organizing body for those speciific events.

Thus, though the ARLHS may grant an award for ILLW participation, the ILLW European event may not. Just be sure to cite your ARLHS member number and/or ARLHS lighthouse number in your QSOs and on your QSLs.

***** NOTE 1: Since the European version of the ILLW (as hyped by VK2CE and held the third weekend in August) is NOT an official ARLHS event and is NOT sponsored by the official ILLW organization (, and since that faux ILLW event is NOT a contest and does NOT grant awards, the whole matter is immaterial — it makes no difference whether they recognize an operation or not. If your operation meets our standards, we still grant the awards and recognize it as valid.

***** NOTE 2: ANYONE can operate in ANY event, whether ILLW or not, and still qualify for ARLHS contacts and awards. We encourage all hams interested in lighthouse events to participate in ALL events, to be active throughout the year, and to submit logs to us for any claimed certificates and awards. If these submissions meet our guidelines, we will issue the awards. To qualify for awards and certificates, contacts can be made at any time throughout the year: they do NOT have to have been made during a scheduled event.