Frying Pan Shoals Light Tower is a decommissioned lighthouse located on the Frying Pan Shoals approximately 39 miles southeast of Southport, North Carolina and 32 miles from Bald Head Island, North Carolina. The tower is currently a privately owned bed and breakfast retreat, and is noted for its survival through several significant tropical storms.
The light tower is modeled after a steel oil drilling platform, known as a "Texas tower", on top of four steel legs that was engineered to be used as a lighthouse housing several Coast Guard members. The 80-foot light tower marks the shoals at the confluence of the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean.
The shoals have been patrolled by a lightboat since 1854 by the United States Coast Guard. In 1966, the light tower was built, and was manned year-round by a four person crew until the operation of the light was automated in 1979. The station was ultimately decommissioned in 2004, owing to the advent of GPS systems on ships making the facility obsolete.
The Coast Guard considered demolishing the light for use as an artificial reef, but instead held an online auction where the winning bid was by a South Carolina diving and research firm Shipwrecks, Inc. in 2009 for $515,000. However, the company failed to make the down-payment, and subsequently the tower returned to government hands and was sold again in August 2010 for $85,000 to a private individual, Richard Neal of Charlotte, North Carolina. Neal, with the aid of volunteers, has refurbished the light, converting it into a "bed-and-breakfast for the adventurous", with accommodation for up to eight. The facility has seen hundreds of guests since opening in 2012.
In August 2011, the Frying Pan Tower was directly hit by Hurricane Irene with measured winds of 67 mph and waves of 28 ft . An observational flight the day after the storm, August 28, 2011, showed that the tower had no visible damage from the impact. It was listed in an article in Time Magazine on light houses that have been restored to bed and breakfast facilities.
In November 2012, Hurricane Sandy went within a few dozen miles of the Frying Pan Tower but due to its being a low-category storm at the time, the only issue was a few disturbed ceiling tiles due to a window being left open.
In September 2018, the Shoals were in the path of Hurricane Florence. Media coverage in the hours before the storms landfall noted the American flag on Frying Pan Tower being torn to shreds by the extreme conditions as the hurricane approached. This could be seen live from an Explore.org camera on the tower. Coverage of the flag was widely viewed online, and the flag was eventually given the name 'Kevin' by livestream viewers. After the storm passed, the flag was recovered and sold at an auction to raise money for the Wilmington Red Cross.
The light tower is accessible by helicopter and by boat. A January 2010 onsite inspection by an engineering firm that was contracted by the Coast Guard determined that the helipad platform can indeed support a helicopter and that the entire structure, while in need of repair, was structurally sound. The lower stairs to the light tower were destroyed by a hurricane and the mid to upper section stairs have experienced significant deterioration due to the salt environment.
The platform on the tower consists of two floors.The subfloor is a living area of approximately 5,000 square feet that includes seven bedrooms, kitchen, office, storage area, recreation area and toilet facilities.