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The incredible beauty and ingenuity of deck prisms

PortandTerminal.com, January 6, 2020

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – Before electricity, sailors had to use candles, oil and kerosene lamps to provide light below deck on a ship.

As you can imagine, having open flames as light sources on wooden ships at sea was dangerous which, after a number of major ship fires, eventually gave rise to the invention of the beautiful deck prism in 1840.

Deck prisms are glass fixtures that are used to re-direct sunlight from above to those areas in the vessel where sunlight never penetrates, generally below deck areas.  

Deck prism at work

The deck prism would be laid flush into the deck, the glass prism refracted and dispersed natural light into the space below from a small deck opening without weakening the planks.

In 1861 a patented threaded light that could be screwed into a metal frame was invented, so prisms lost favor. But reproductions in colored glass still are made and used, and original old ones are collected.

The concept of a deck prism lives on

It turns out that if you take a plastic half-gallon soda bottle, fill it with a mixture of water and bleach and fit it into a roof like a deck prism, it can create the equivalent of 55 watts of light.

That insight is incredibly helpful when it comes to providing light in poor communities where an estimated 1 billion people have no means of illumination.

Installing a Moser Light

The discovery was made by a Brazilian mechanic named Alfredo Moser in 2002 and it is already changing the lives of millions in the world. Moser has said that he came up with the idea, the ‘Moser Light’, during one of the frequent blackouts in Brazil.

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