Strolling the docks after dark you can see an increasing number of new boats glowing in the night thanks to bright and colorful LED lighting. These lights have come along way in the past few years and are becoming commonplace. Recent advances, improved technology and the cost to adopt them have brought LED lighting into the realm of your average boater. Switching to LED doesn’t just mean your boat will be lit up to look good; it also has some valuable advantages over traditional lighting. Advantages aside, not all LED lights are created equal and there are some factors to consider before ripping out those old bulbs and fixtures.
For boaters an important advantage of this lighting is its power savings. Some light manufacturers claim that these can be as much as 75-90% over traditional lighting. The reason for this is LED light elements are far more efficient at producing light than tungsten, halogen or even fluorescent bulbs. A traditional incandescent bulb typically can produce light only from about 5% of the energy it consumes, with the rest being turned into unwanted heat. LEDs, because of the science behind how they work, are far more efficient and as a result run cooler. A typical bulb found onboard in an overhead light might pull 15 watts, whereas a comparable LED outputting similar light would draw only 2 watts. Multiply over multiple fixtures throughout the boat’s lighting system and you save a substantial amount of power. Also the unwanted heat generated by traditional lighting can be uncomfortable. With heat from multiple light sources the ambient temperature increase can be noticeable. Switching to LED light sources will lower inside temperatures and lessen the energy required to cool those spaces.
LED lights also enjoy longevity over traditional lighting. LED lights can last as long as 50,000 hours and will rarely if ever need changing. Incandescent lights can expect a life of no longer than 3,000 hours. That can be a major bonus if the bulb that needs replacing is on a masthead anchor light or another difficult location. LEDs do not contain delicate filaments that are easily damaged and do not contain components that wear out. They are, however, electronic components that need clean voltage and careful installation.
With all the benefits LED lights have there are still things to consider before rushing out and buying replacements. They are made up of an LED element that has circuitry attached to regulate the electrical current and control the light emitting process. This circuitry must be kept dry or the light will fail and will in turn need to be replaced. If you are replacing a fixture with a new LED then make sure, if it is going to be in an area where moisture is an issue, that it has some kind of weather or waterproof rating. Also, check to determine if the fixture is internal or external. External lights will have the circuitry in a protective housing, coated or possibly sealed in an epoxy-like substance. Because the draw of these lights is less than the ones they are replacing the good news is the wiring running to the light will not need to be changed as it will be more than sufficient to deliver power to the lights. This is not true with the fuses, however. If you do change out to LED make sure you adjust the fuse to a more appropriate (lower) rating so as not to suffer a damaged fixture from a power spike or fluctuating current.
Other factors to consider when buying LED lights are the color of the light they emit and their brightness. While most early LED lights tended to have a very blue tint to them more recent ones can have a warmer white light, more like an incandescent light. Check the Kelvin rating. Warmer lights will be in the 1500 to 4000 range, with blue-tinted light being in the 5000 plus range. The brightness is also a factor, with some LEDs being brighter than others. Be careful when comparing, as there is no industry standard in measuring brightness and measurements in lumens alone may not give an accurate representation between manufacturers. A good non-scientific rule of thumb is dividing by 10. For example, if you want the equivalent of a 100 watt bulb then find an LED or LED cluster that draws 10 watts; 60 watts = 6 watts; 20 watts = 2 watts and so on. Keep in mind this is not a foolproof accurate comparison but rather a guide.
Remember brightness and efficiency increase as time and technology progress and, as prices continue to fall and quality of LED lighting improves, there is little to stand in the way for your boat to also shine brightly and efficiently.
Glenn Hayes is a freelance photographer and writer living in West Central Florida,specializing in marine and location photography. His work covers commercial, editorial and fine art work. www.HayesStudios.com