Top 10 FAQ -> Lighthouse Volunteering/Hosting
I’ve got a BUNCH of photos to share of the gorgeous place we’re staying, but before I get to them I thought I’d follow-up our previous post with one last lighthouse-related item -> a compilation of the top 10 questions we’ve been asked about lighthouse hosting over the past 3 years. As certified “lighthouse nuts” we’ve visited a bunch of lighthouses, talked to many volunteers and inquired about hosting at a bunch more. All our “hands on” experience is West Coast, so I certainly don’t profess to know everything there is to know about this topic, but hopefully this gives the rest of you lighthouse nuts something to refer back to:
1/ Where Do I find Lighthouse Hosting Jobs? How Far Ahead Of Time Should I Apply?
Depends on the State. In OR & WA the majority of the RV friendly hosting jobs are managed by the State Parks, but a few lighthouses are managed by other agencies (BLM, NPS, or even County). Your best bets to find jobs are either through your local State Park Volunteer Program, via volunteer.gov or by contacting the lighthouse you’re interested in directly. As to time-frame, lighthouse hosting jobs are often summer-only (select lighthouses are open year-round), tend to be popular and typically book ahead (some of the most popular spots even have years of waiting lists). However every now then cancellations come in and you can get a last minute slot, so if you keep your travel plans flexible you have a good shot. We got our first job at Cape Blanco within ~2 months of starting due to a last-minute cancellation from another couple. The job here in WA I applied for 5 months ahead of time. Once you’re “in” you’ll typically get some priority for following years. People who do these jobs often fall in love with them and you’ll hear of hosts who come back year after year to the same position.
2/ Is 1 Month The Typical Time To Volunteer?
This depends entirely on where you are volunteering. WA and OR State Parks ask for a minimum of 1 month, but you are welcome to do more. For example we have co-hosts here at North Head Lighthouse, WA who’ve decided to stay for 3 months. Other State Parks might ask for more time. For example, the few inquiries we’ve made into CA have asked us for 4-6 month minimum commitments. Still other areas, such as some of the lighthouses in MI only offer limited stays of 1-2 weeks. We like hitting a variety of different spots so we typically pick-up 1-2 months at a time and move on.
3/ What Are Typical Volunteer Hours?
This also depends entirely on where you volunteer! All 3 lighthouses we’ve hosted at in WA/OR had light schedules requiring only ~14-18 hours/person/week, but we’ve looked at positions at other lighthouses which required much more time. Some were even full-time (9-5) or required flexible hours/overtime when needed. There is no single standard here. I would say that if you volunteer for either WA or OR State Parks you will never be asked for more than 20 hours/week, but other states or other agencies may require something entirely different. Always be sure to ask in detail about volunteer hours when you’re applying.
4/ Do All Lighthouse Volunteer Jobs Provide RV Sites?
NO. Most of the lighthouses in OR do, a select few in WA do (exactly two that I’ve found in fact), but other states are very, very spotty. Some lighthouses provide on-site lodging (e.g. staying at the lighthouse) but no RV sites while others only use local volunteers or only accept paid guests. In fact I’ve only found a handful of lighthouses outside of WA/OR that offer RV sites (see some of the responses below for specific details). I’m hoping to find more!
5/ Do You Need Any Special Training For Lighthouse Hosting? What About Physical Requirements?
Typically NO. The minimum requirement is simply a love of lighthouses and comfort speaking in front of groups. Most lighthouses will offer some kind of training before you start volunteering, some just a day others more. As lighthouse hosts your typical duties are to lead tours, man the interpretive center (if there is one) and sometimes handle a cash register (if there is one). Physically you do need to be able to walk to the lighthouse (some require a hike), walk up the lighthouse stairs (if you’re hosting in the lens room) and be prepared to be on your feet for the duration of your shift (all of the lighthouses we’ve hosted at on the West Coast have chairs to rest, but we don’t typically have time to use them!). Some lighthouses require more active physical work especially if you are living on-site or giving tours that require you to mount the stairs for each tour (for example Heceta Head, OR requires hosts to lead tours up the stairs as does Umpqua River, OR). Some may even require maintenance & cleaning work too (Battery Point, CA comes to mind). Always check physical requirements beforehand.
6/ Can You Volunteer As A Single?
YES, In Some Spots. Most lighthouses, especially those offering RV sites/lodging prefer couples (some even require them), but a few will accept single volunteers. For example Cape Blanco, OR accepts single volunteers and the ranger at North Head, WA told us he does on occasion too. I wouldn’t say it’s the norm, but the opportunities are definitely there. If you’re a single guy/gal looking for lighthouse or interpretive-type hosting ask around and be persistent. Outside of lighthouses there are also lots of museums, forts and historic houses that need interpretive hosts. Also last-minute cancellation almost always come up. So, just keep asking around and you’ll definitely be able to find a fit!
7/ Can You Host At Lighthouses On The East Coast? Or Midwest?
YES, there are opportunities although there seem to be far less RV friendly lighthouse volunteer positions than on the West Coast. Many of the East Coast & Midwest lighthouses use either local volunteers or rely on paid guests (i.e. people pay to stay there -> this is a very popular/growing model). But, there are exceptions. For example Bodie Island Lighthouse & Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, NC have volunteer positions with space for RVers, as does 40-Mile Lighthouse, MI. There are likely others I don’t know about.
8/ Are There Any Paid Lighthouse Hosting Positions?
Not exactly. Lighthouses are historic structures that require lots of funds to upkeep, so the vast majority of short-term positions are either volunteer-supported or guest-paying. However a select few lighthouses do hire seasonal caretakers on paid salary. There are not many of these jobs around and they’re not exactly set-up for RVers, but they are out there. I found some old job listings (from 2009) listing a few positions on the East Coast so I know they exist, but I wouldn’t be able to give you much more.
9/ Is There Anywhere I Can LIVE In A Lighthouse As A Volunteer/Keeper?
YES, actually there are several of these opportunities around. Many lighthouses require you to pay a fee to stay overnight, but there are a select number that have volunteer positions where you stay for free in the historic lighthouse (typically the old keepers house) in return for hosting tours and sometimes maintenance/cleaning/upkeep. Some of these lighthouses are on islands which are rather isolated/primitive, but also provide some of the coolest experiences. Most of these only take couples & NO pets (and obviously you can’t bring your RV). Examples of these opportunities are Battery Point in CA, the Apostle Islands, WI, Au Sable Point Light Station, MI, and Bakers Island, MA. Many more out there. These tend to be popular and are booked early (we heard Battery Point has a 2-year waiting list) so be persistent if this is what you’d like to do.
10/ Are There Any Negatives To Lighthouse Hosing?
Hmmmm….difficult one to answer this. We LOVE lighthouses so we pretty much love our jobs, but I guess there are potential drawbacks. Lighthouses are often in exposed areas with finicky weather so you may endure cold, wind, rain and even combinations of all three. Our first summer hosting at Cape Blanco we wore thermal underwear the entire time LOL. Also, you have deal with people, sometimes lots of people and that can be both very rewarding and very frustrating especially when tours get backed-up and folks are getting antsy waiting for their turn. Lastly, this is not exactly a high paid job. It’s volunteer work and the only “pay” we usually get is our RV site. If you’re looking for return on $$, volunteering is not exactly the way to go. That said, all of these negatives pale (for us) in comparison to the fun of being at a historic structure in a gorgeous location (lighthouses tend to be in the prettiest areas). We love lighthouses and we hope we encourage you to become nuts just like us!
- US Lighthouse Accomodations -> Partial list of overnight (paying) stays as well as free volunteer opportunities at Lighthouses across the US.
- Mapped List Of Lighthouses In US -> Interactive map of all lighthouses in the US
- Michigan Lighthouse Volunteer Programs -> Partial list of MI lighthouse volunteer programs. Also, another link HERE.
- Washington Lighthouse Volunteers -> Lists of contact e-mails and numbers. Note/ I’ve contacted all these and only North Head and Grey’s Harbor offer RV sites.
- Oregon State Park Volunteers -> List of open opportunities at OR State Parks (incl. lighthouses). Also Check Yaquina Head & Umqua River as these are managed by other organizations.
- Cape Hatteras Volunteer Positions -> Covers Cape Hatteras & Bodie Island Lighthouses in NC.
- Apostle Islands Volunteer Positions -> Covers the lighthouses on the Apostle Islands, WI
Other Bloggers Who’ve Written About Lighthouse Volunteering:
- Birding RVers -> These folks have volunteered at several lighthouses including Umpqua River (OR), Cape Blanco (OR) and Coquille River (OR). Just do a search on “lighthouse” on their blog HERE
- Because we can -> These guys volunteered at Umpqua River Ligthhouse (OR). Click HERE
- Technomadia -> They volunteered with us at Cape Blanco (OR) last year. Click HERE