The Oak Island Lighthouse – Did You Know?

CASWELL BEACH, NC – I’ve lived here my entire life and while I’ve always loved our lighthouse, I didn’t know much about it. As I started asking around, I found out that I’m not alone. So I decided to dig in a little and learn more about our iconic and quite famous little beacon of light! If you want to see more beautiful photographs and artwork of the Oak Island Lighthouse, you can also visit our Pinterest album.


Oak Island Lighthouse Photo by Nick Noble

Oak Island Lighthouse
Photography by Nick Noble

1. The Oak Island Lighthouse was THE BRIGHTEST lighthouse in the U.S. and second brightest in the world from 1958 to 1962! It is still one of the brightest in the U.S.

  • That’s an impressive characteristic given there are roughly 700 lighthouses in the United States.
  • The brightness of a lighthouses beacon is measured in nautical miles (how far out to sea the light can be seen) or candlepower (how many candles it would take to produce light that bright).
  • The Oak Island Lighthouse shines at 24 nautical miles or 2.5 million candlepower!
  • Due to a change in bulb technology in 1962, it lost the distinction of being the brightest, but the current bulbs (four 1000 watt incandescent bulbs) still makes it one of the brightest.

2. The Oak Island Lighthouse never requires painting. 

Oak Island Lighthouse Aerial Photo

Oak Island Lighthouse Aerial Photo by High Tide Helicopters

  • The lighthouse’s first 40 feet are gray, then the second 50 feet are white, then black on top 52 feet and were mixed into the concrete so that it never requires painting.
  • Comparatively, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse must get a fresh coat of paint at least every 8-10 years to the tune of $250,000 (that’s 455 gallons of Sherwin Williams concrete coating paint)2!
  • A lighthouse’s design is very important – it is called its daymark. This a distinguishing shape and color displayed on beacons to make them readily visible and easily identifiable against background conditions. As an aid to navigation, a daymark signifies during daylight what a light or reflector signifies at night.

3. The architects of the Oak Island Lighthouse were makers of silos, which explains it’s unique shape.

  • The concrete wall is only 8 inches thick from top to bottom – making its walls the thinnest of any lighthouse.
  • The lighthouse was “poured”, using a form that raised by one foot every hour, 24-hours per day for seven days.
  • A concrete mixing plant was set up onsite during construction.
  • The Oak Island Lighthouse stands at 169 feet above sea level.
  • It cost $110,000 to construct in 1958 (this would be close to $1.0 million dollars today)

4. It is a terrifying climb to the top (for most of us anyway). 

Oak Island Lighthouse Ship Ladders

Oak Island Lighthouse Ship Ladders

  • It does NOT have the traditional spiral staircase that characterizes most lighthouses, but rather a series of ship’s ladders that take you to the top.
  • There are 131 steeply inclined steps to the top located in the middle of the open interior which is 16 feet and 4 ¾ inches in width…all the way up.
  • No more than 20 people can climb at once and they provide 3 guides to ensure safety of the climbers.
  • It takes less than 10 minutes on average to get to the top, although for most they say it seemed like well over an hour.

5. Other fun facts about the Oak Island lighthouse:

  • The light pattern is different for every lighthouse. The Oak Island lighthouse is four one-second flashes of light, followed by six seconds of darkness every 10 seconds.
  • It was the second to last lighthouse built in the United States.
  • The base is set upon 24 concrete-filled steel pilings 10 3/4 inches in diameter and 67 feet deep into the ground.
  • It is designed to sway 3 inches per every 100 miles per hour of wind.
  • In 2004, the U.S. Coast Guard sold the Oak Island lighthouse to the town of Caswell Beach for $1. The Coast Guard still maintains the beacon, but the town maintains the building and the grounds.
  • You can go to the top of the Oak Island lighthouse for free – just set up your reservation well in advance and don’t forget your camera. Click for information on setting up your tour.

1 “Oak Island Lighthouse.” Oak Island Lighthouse. Friends of the Oak Island Lighthouse, 2014. Web. 02 Sept. 2014. <>.

2 Hampton, Jeff . “Iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Getting Freshened up.” The Virginia Pilot. The Virginia Pilot, 8 May 2014. Web. 2 Sept. 2014. <>.

3 HighTideHelicopters. (2014, August 24). Oak Island Lighthouse Aerial Photograph. [Accessed 2014, September 2.]

4 “Oak Island Lighthouse by Nick Noble.” Save the Cape Online Gallery. Nick Noble Photgraphy. Web. 02 Sept. 2014. <>

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