The distinctive flash of a beacon is impossible to ignore, making it the ideal device to convey warnings or communicate messages. This is why, around the world, beacons and flashing or rotating lights are used extensively as warning devices in various industries and applications.


Characteristics of Beacons

A beacon is designed to convey messages and warnings by using one or a combination of three main characteristics. These are:


1.    Location

Beacons are most commonly used as warning signals to ensure the safety and security of those that see them. To do this, they need to be located in places that are visible. So, they will often be high up. For example, a lighthouse is situated on the shore, and as high up as is practical for the incoming vessels to see it from a distance. The flashing lights of an ambulance or fire engine are also situated on top of the vehicle so that drivers can see them above the other cars.

2.    Colour

With light as a medium, beacons use a variety of colours to convey more specific warnings or messages. Colour can indicate urgency, type of danger, or even the action that needs to be taken. Here are some examples of the colours used in beacons:

  • Red – Not surprisingly, red is associated with dangers, hazards, and any issues that may cause harm. It is used by emergency vehicles that need other cars to move out of their way in traffic, as well as in areas in which hazardous machinery or environments present dangers to the people.
  • Yellow or amber – most commonly used in industrial and construction settings, a yellow light generally indicates to people that they need to be alert to their surrounds. When vehicles are involved, they should usually slow down in areas with amber-lit beacons.
  • White or transparent – these beacons are usually used to improve visibility. They’re most commonly used by vehicles.
  • Green – this colour focuses on safety and security. Green-coloured beacons are often used to inform people that a response team is handling an emergency.
  • Blue – these lights are only used by police officers.

3.    Flash Sequence

The sequence and frequency of the flashing light of a beacon also go a long way in communicating a message. The sequence can be:

  • Stationery – a light that is not flashing generally indicates that something is in progress, rather than that there is any threat. For example, a light may come on when a certain venue is occupied or when silence is required.
  • Revolving – rotating beacons appear to be flashing from afar because the light spins the full 360-degrees. They are used in situations that require a warning light, but are fast being replaced by strobes. A well-known example of a revolving beacon is a lighthouse’s light.
  • Strobes – this is a flashing light that demands attention. It is used a lot by emergency vehicles and is particularly successful for its intense light and rapid on-off abilities.


Light Intensity and types of Beacons

The intensity of the light being produced by beacons plays another important role in the success of that warning equipment. The more intense the light (or the faster the rate at which it is delivered), the brighter it is. This makes the beacon more visible and, therefore, effective.

There are different types of light with different levels of intensity. These include:

  • LED – used for all sorts of things – from digital watch faces to traffic lights – LED’s are very useful. They have a longer lifespan than the old incandescent light bulbs, consume less energy, don’t have a filament, and don’t get particularly hot.
  • Xenon lamps – these are flash lamps that are powered by the xenon gas inside. They’re used in photography (when a flash is necessary to light up the subject), lighthouses, movie projectors, and some vehicles’ very bright lights. They are excellent for warning devices because their light is intense.
  • Halogen – these lights have become outdated, replaced by far more efficient versions. They are inefficient compared to LED’s and fluorescent lamps.
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