Lighthouse keepers were needed to trim the wicks, replenish fuel, wind clockworks and perform maintenance tasks such as cleaning lenses and windows. Electrification and other automated improvements such as remote monitoring and automatic bulb changing made paid keepers resident at the lights unnecessary. The earliest record of a named individual in a formal capacity as a lighthouse keeper was William, a member of the now famous Knott family, who was appointed to the South Foreland lighthouse near Dover, Kent, UK in 1730. In the US, periodic maintenance of the lights is now performed by visiting Coast GuardAids to Navigation teams.
The last manned lighthouse in Australia was Maatsuyker Island lighthouse where the last lighthouse keeper left in 1996.
According to the Canadian Lightkeepers Association, there are 37 staffed lighthouses in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, though the Canadian Coast Guard has plans to automate these installations.Machias Seal Island, in New Brunswick, has a lighthouse manned by the Canadian Coast Guard. It is kept manned for sovereignty purposes due to the disputed status of the island with the US.
The last manned lighthouse in Finland was deserted in 1987.
All French lighthouses are automated, though a few are still manned.
The last lighthouse keeper in Iceland was terminated in 2010.
The last Norwegian lighthouse keeper moved out of Runde Lighthouse in 2002.
The last manned lighthouse in the United Kingdom, the North Foreland Lighthouse, was automated in 1998.
The last civilian keeper in the United States, Frank Schubert, died in 2003. The last officially manned lighthouse, Boston Light, was manned by the Coast Guard until 1998. It now has volunteer "keepers" whose primary role is to serve as interpretive tour guides for visitors.
To recognize the role of Lighthouse keepers in the nation's maritime safety, the US Coast Guard named a class of 175-foot (53 m) USCG Coastal Buoy Tenders after famous US Lighthouse Keepers. Fourteen ships in the "Keeper" class were built between 1996 and 2000 and are used to maintain aids to navigation, including lighthouses. The following 175-foot (53 m) WLMs are in service as of 2006:
^David Alan Stevenson, The World's Lighthouses before 1820, Oxford University Press, 1959, p103. (Genealogical research has now shown the keeper's name as William - not Henry - Knott, as stated in the reference.