Back in the 17th century, captains relied on the stars and their sextants to navigate. Lighthouses served as a beacon of light, and for lost ships, hope. To prevent ships from hitting sharp rocks, lighthouses were built for them to navigate safely into the harbour.
Picture a lighthouse, and a large, majestic white tower standing solitary on the rocks comes to mind. It may not seem like it, but lighthouses do exist in Singapore – even till today! With numerous functioning lighthouses – some located on islands, one in Malaysia, and one even on the rooftop of a condominium – these structures serve as crucial navigational guides.
Here’s a list of 9 lighthouses in Singapore for you to appreciate our nation’s maritime history!
1. Raffles Lighthouse
Raffles lighthouse, built in memory of Sir Stamford Raffles, was constructed in 1855. Located at Singapore’s southernmost island of Pulau Satumu, which is loosely translated as ‘One Tree Island’, it is planted right at the southernmost point in Singapore. Instead of using a kerosene-based lantern, Raffles lighthouse now uses an electricity-based light, giving off three white flashes every 20 seconds.
There are two lighthouse keepers on duty at any given time, with each keeping an alternating 12 hour shift for 10 days – they spend 10 days at the lighthouse, and then 10 days off on the mainland, before the cycle repeats.
Syed Hassan, the oldest lighthouse keeper in Singapore, currently resides in Raffles lighthouse.
2. Horsburgh Lighthouse
Horsburgh Lighthouse is located on Pedra Branca, an island 54km off mainland Singapore, at the eastern entrance to the Singapore Straits. The oldest lighthouse in Singapore, it has been in operation since 15 October 1851.
Horsburgh lighthouse is named after James Horsburgh, a Scottish hydrographer from the East India Company who mapped Singapore’s seaways in the late 18th and early 19th century. For centuries before that, the waters around Pedra Branca were treacherous to navigate due to the rocks and reefs, resulting in numerous vessels running aground and falling into the hand of pirates.
Horsburgh Lighthouse was also at the centre of the Pedra Branca dispute between Singapore and Malaysia, with the International Court of Justice eventually ruling that sovereignty over Pedra Branca belonged to Singapore.
Address: Pedra Branca
Can it be Visited? No
3. Fort Canning Lighthouse
You’d probably know Fort Canning Park as ‘the place I went to for excursions’, and vaguely recall its importance to Singapore during World War Two. Fort Canning Hill, due to its strategic location overlooking Singapore Harbour, was established as a communication centre after the British arrived in 1819.
In 1903, Fort Canning Lighthouse was built on the southern side of Fort Canning Hill to help guide ships safely into Singapore Harbour. The lighthouse was the ‘occulting type’ – every 17 seconds, a metal cylinder would be lowered around the burner for 3 seconds to darken it. Even though the lighthouse survived the war, it was closed and dismantled in 1958, when tall buildings began obstructing its view of the sea.
Address: Fort Canning Hill
Can it be Visited? Yes
Directions: Walk to Fort Canning Hill from Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. The lighthouse is situated at the top of the hill.
4. Sultan Shoal Lighthouse
Built in 1895, Sultan Shoal lighthouse was intended to replace the beacon previously established there, and is located in the Western Anchorage of Singapore, about 5.46km away from mainland Singapore. The lighthouse tower itself is painted white, while the keeper’s house roof is painted red – a mixture of Oriental and Victorian designs.
The Sultan Shoal island itself also consists of man-made structures, such as a swimming lagoon with concrete sides and a natural sandy bottom. If you look closely enough at the coast, you’ll see a variety of molluscs, as well as corals growing on the sea wall.
Note: A pass from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) is required to access the island.
5. Bedok Lighthouse
As Singapore develops and buildings get taller and taller, obstructed lighthouses have now found a way to beat them – by being on top of a building itself! Bedok lighthouse, or what appears to be a red water tank on the rooftop, is located on top of a 26-storey block at Lagoon View condominium. Singapore’s first automated and unmanned lighthouse, it stands 76m above sea level, with its flash (once every five seconds) visible for 37km. Meant as a replacement for the Fullerton Lighthouse, which was obscured by buildings in the now Marina Bay area, Bedok lighthouse began operating in 1978. An anonymous source even states that this lighthouse helps pilots to land in Changi Airport.
Come the third quarter of 2015, a new lighthouse will begin operating atop the 25-storey Block 3 in Marine Terrace to replace Bedok lighthouse – and that will be Singapore’s very first lighthouse atop a HDB block!
Address: Lagoon View Block 5000L Singapore 449293, Marine Parade Road
Can it be Visited? Yes, if you’re a resident of Lagoon View condominium
6. Pulau Pisang Lighthouse
Pulau Pisang lighthouse is Singapore’s only lighthouse which is, very uniquely, located in Malaysian waters, and yet run by Singapore’s MPA. Pulau Pisang is an island in the Straits of Malacca, 15 km from Pontian Kechil, Johor, Malaysia.
The unique territorial agreements date back to 1900, when Sultan Ibrahim of Johor granted the British government of Singapore rights to the plot of land in which the lighthouse stands and the roadway leading to it, so long as Singapore operated the lighthouse. Built in 1914, the lighthouse still remains functional for navigational purposes into the western entrance of the Singapore Strait.
Address: Pulau Pisang
Can it be Visited? No
7. Johor Straits Lighthouse
Johor Straits lighthouse, or otherwise known as Raffles Marina lighthouse, sits at the tip of Raffles Marina and overlooks the Tuas Second Link, Singapore’s second causeway to Malaysia. It acts as a guide for yachts navigating into and out of the marina – and given the pricy yachts docked there, it certainly is crucial!
Interestingly, what sets the Johor Straits lighthouse apart from Singapore’s other operating lighthouses is that it is not operated by MPA but by Raffles Marina. Standing 12m high and flashing once every 10 seconds with a beam that reaches 15m, this lighthouse is one of the most picturesque in Singapore.
Address: 10 Tuas West Drive, Singapore 638404
Can it be Visited? Yes
Directions: From Joo Koon MRT station, board bus 192 towards Tuas Ter and take 18 stops, alighting at Raffles Marina. The lighthouse is located at the end of the promenade.
8. Berlayer Point Lighthouse
If you’re a nature junkie, try visiting the Berlayer Creek Boardwalk at Labrador Nature Reserve, where you’ll see numerous sights along the way – including the striking, brick-red Berlayer Point Lighthouse.
Built in 1930, this lighthouse acts as the port (left-hand) side navigation guide for ships approaching the channel, and also doubles up as a marker for the shortest distance between Sentosa and mainland Singapore. The lighthouse is still active, flashing a red light once every 5 seconds.
Address: Labrador Nature Reserve, Labrador Villa Road, 119187
Can it be Visited? Yes
Directions: From Labrador Park MRT station, head to the starting point of Berlayer Creek boardwalk, which is just beside the MRT station. Walk along the boardwalk till you reach the lighthouse.
9. Fullerton Lighthouse
Every Singaporean knows Fullerton Hotel as the posh, high-class hotel, but few know that it also used to be a lighthouse. In 1958, a revolving beacon of 540 kilocandelas (equivalent to 540,000 candles’ light) was mounted on the roof to guide ships into Singapore’s harbour, visible to ships up to 29km away.
The beacon has now been moved as an artefact to a new location near HarbourFront Tower, and the former location on the rooftop of Fullerton Hotel is now a fine-dining Italian restaurant called The Lighthouse.
Address: Near 1 Harbourfront Place, Singapore 098633
Can it be Visited? Yes
Hope You Were Wowed!
Many of these lighthouses are located offshore (at this point, I hope you’re not thinking of swimming there, like the frogmen in Ah Boys to Men 3) and require a permit from the MPA to visit.
The MPA holds a few guided tours a year, so if you’re one of the first few to hop on board (pun intended), lucky you! If not, the other lighthouses located on mainland Singapore make for good weekend outings with your friends. The next time you’re in the Bedok area, and you spot a conspicuously-looking red ‘tank’ on the rooftop of a block, you know what it is!
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