Helsinki (Zapasniy) Lightship

Плавучий маяк "Ирбенский"

Helsinki Lightship, ex-Zapasniy

The last surviving lightship made in Russia


In the old harbour of Hamina, South-Eastern Finland, one may see a red steamship with a name painted in big letters that reads HELSINKI. This is a typical Russian-made lightship, one of those built in early XX century.

She was delivered in 1912 by the Putilovskaya shipyard in Saint-Petersburg. The lightship was equipped with a wireless telegraph, an electric lantern and a pneumatic fog horn. She was supposed to serve as a reserve lightship by the newly-reconstructed port of Libava (now Liepaja, Latvia) on the border with the German Empire. Once this lightship was commissioned, she swapped her role of a reserve with the former principal lightship of Libava built in 1983 in Finland. Consequently, the former reserve lightship of Libava was converted into a scow to store the fuel.

In autumn 1914 the World War One broke out, and one year later the Germans approached Libava. The lightships were evacuated to Reval (now Tallinn, Estonia), to the headquaters of the Russian Navy on the Baltics. During the turmoil of Revolutions and military conflicts that followed the lightship appeared in Helsinki where Finland claimed her a prize of war.

Until 1921 it served on Relandersgrund shoal, later on Aransgrund, on approach to Helsinki. In 1934 she was renamed to Helsinki, in 1940 armed with a ground-to-air artillery. In 1941 she was damaged when two German naval transports moored next to lightship were hit and exploded. This lightship was maintained at her position until 1959, when a reinforced concrete lighthouse was erected on the shoal and the lightship was retired.

In 1961 she was renovated and converted into hydrographic vessel Hyoky. In 1983 she was decommissioned and offered to the Maritime Museum un Kotka, but the museum posessed no means to handle such a showpiece. So the vessel went to Hamina Steamship Ltd that started long-lasting repairs and arrangement of an on-board maritime exhibition. Yet still its engine, steering and other vital mechanisms are in good order: in the XXI century the ship carried out journeys between Hamina and Helsinki on its own. Quality manufacturing and good maintennance are really able to beat the time!

In 2012 the lightship celebrated its 100-year anniversary. We have visited the lightship, seen her captain and presented a souvenir from Mayachny Foundation - a memorial plate with an image of Irbensky and gratitude for preserving the last existing lightship that was built in Russia.

Old port of Hamina is a popular stage for different cultural and public events in Eastern Finland. The lightship Helsinki (a.k.a. Hyoky a.k.a. Zapasniy a.k.a. Libavsky) is the port's greatest attraction that is always there and open daily, offering an interesting thematic exposition and a cosy cafe.

See their homepage here -


Lightship photo gallery