Lightning struck the Hillsboro Lighthouse, also known as “Big Diamond,” on Thursday night, knocking out power and exposing the perils of using the newest technology.
A temporary fix has the high-tech lighthouse, considered one of the brightest in the world, up and running again, shining its LED light into the Atlantic Ocean and Hillsboro Inlet. However, the lightning blew out two of three main breakers and a permanent fix will require replacement parts from the manufacturer in Australia.
“Thanks to a little rewiring, we’re back up and running! We still have to purchase backups for everything so the unit is powered properly, and we don’t want to go dark again,” read an update on the Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse Facebook page.
The Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse is the only one in Broward, with Jupiter Inlet in Palm Beach County the closest to the north, and Cape Florida in Miami-Dade County the nearest to the south.
In May 2021, after 115 years in operation, the lighthouse was converted to LED from incandescent bulbs, illuminating it with much more intensity.
“It’s a much different system than lightbulbs,” said Ken Herman, president of the Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society. “It’s controlled by a computer. It’s the first lighthouse with a moving lens and fixed lights that are LED.”
Raymond Coleman of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation Team, charged with maintaining the lighthouse, said the LED light is supposed to last for a million hours. “Using new tech put us at a disadvantage, he said. “It’s not supposed to get struck by lightning.”
For decades, ships and boats at sea used lighthouse lights to navigate. While the Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse still serves as a navigational aid to let boaters know where the inlet is, it’s not as crucial to safety as it was years ago. “Now boaters have GPS and are less dependent on the lighthouse,” Coleman said.
Still, he said, the Coast Guard issued a report after the lightning strike to let boaters know the lighthouse had gone temporarily dark.
On Friday night, a crew used a workaround, Herman said. “We were able to power our backup LED controller board, with the primary controller’s power supply,” he said. “Since the lighthouse’s LED only operates at 50% power, we felt that we wouldn’t blow out the power supply with too much power draw — and, it worked!”
Herman said a new unit will be ordered Monday from Sealite in Australia, which manufactures the equipment. He is unsure how long it will take to arrive.
The Hillsboro lighthouse is best known for being featured on a U.S. postage stamp. It stands tall at 142 feet high and has undergone several rounds of maintenance and upgrading. Tours are available, with the next ones scheduled for Oct. 8.