One of the most effective ways of improving a boats maintenance, durability, safety and operational costs is through the upgrading of existing lighting equipment to LEDs. Almost any person who spends more than a weekend or two onboard their boat knows quite well just how important effective lighting can be. Everything from operator alertness, to safety, to just plain aesthetic appeal can be directly affected by onboard lighting, and whether that effect is negative or positive depends greatly on the quality of the illumination being provided.
Of all the ways lighting can impact a boats performance, how it affects safety is the most important. Decks and walkways that are well illuminated provide less chance for slips and falls that could cause an injury. Many boats are also outfitted with lines, rigging, fishing gear and equipment that has a tendency to come loose and end up on decks or jutting out into walkway areas. Good illumination allows boaters to more easily move about the decks and avoid the potential hazards such equipment can pose. Good cockpit lighting reduces eyestrain and overall operator fatigue, thus helping to maintain a higher state of alertness. Even more important are the navigation lights, and if they are not up to snuff, it can be difficult for other boaters to see your craft and collisions could occur as a result.
For most older vessels, the onboard lighting installed by the boat manufacturer is of minimal effectiveness. This is not to say it is not “good”, but only that it meets the minimum requirements posed by safety and operating concerns. This lighting usually consists entirely of incandescent bulbs, and in order to better illuminate some areas, manufacturers often simply added more bulbs. Would this improve lighting? Certainly, however, on a boat where available power is limited, it is simply not practical to run a lot of lighting without having to burn excessive amounts of fuel to run generators and replenish onboard batteries.
By now you have probably already heard abut LEDs and how great using them on your boat can be. You’ve also probably heard a few conflicting opinions on just where to use LEDS onboard and just how effective they are. Let’s a take a few moments then to mention a bit about where installing LEDs onboard your boat can be effective and what you can expect from such an installations. First and foremost, modern LED lamps are pretty much capable of being installed just about anywhere a traditional incandescent lamp can. However, for many skeptical boaters who are new to LEDs, it is more sensible to try LEDs in a few select locations first in order to determine for themselves just how effective and practical LEDs really are.
Exterior lighting such as deck, spreader and spotlights onboard a boat are exposed to harsh weather conditions. Outfitting exterior lighting with LEDs is a good place to start your trial of LED lighting because not only does it allow you to gauge an LED lamps’ performance under the most demanding conditions, but exterior lighting is typically easier to access and install as well. When installing LED lighting on deck areas or attaching them to railings or canopy frames, keep in mind that these fixtures are going to be exposed to frequent salt water spray, rain, intense sunlight, and lots of windy conditions. Choose LED fixtures that are rated IP65 or better for wet conditions, and look for lamp housings finished with a tough powder or heavy paint coating. Mounting hardware should be stainless steel as well for added corrosion resistance. Also be certain to utilize waterproof wiring connectors and sealants to avoid any problems with power supply to the fixtures.
Bridge, cockpit and cabin lighting are more locations where trying out a few LEDs before a complete upgrade to LED lighting can be educational. Most boat owners are quite familiar with rationing the use of cabin lighting in order to reduce the drain on power reserves, and LEDs installed in these locations can demonstrate just how effectively you can reduce power consumption while increasing the usefulness of your interior lighting. Imagine being able to illuminate your entire cabin effectively for hours, well enough to read or simply entertain passengers, without the need to frequently run the generator or engine to maintain power levels. Since LEDs can use up to 80% less power than traditional halogen cabin lights, you can operate several LED lamps using the same amount of power it would take to operate one or two halogen lamps.
On the bridge or in the cockpit are still a couple more areas where trying out LEDs can be quite productive. For cockpit and cabin lighting, red colored light is popular due to the prevailing wisdom that red lighting interferes less with the eyes’ natural acclimation to dark conditions. led projector light are available which natively produce red illumination without the need for lenses or filters, thereby improving efficiency and reliability. Additionally, many interior LED boat light fixtures are designed to allow operators to choose from a variety of colors simply by moving a switch. This means operators can run white, red, blue, green, or any of several other colors inside their cockpit according to their preferences. Yet again, efficiency is a big plus and operators will be able to run their lights far longer, with less power consumption as well.
Navigational lighting is somewhat less ideal for trying out LEDs for a couple of reasons. Navigation lighting is regulated by law and although there are plenty of LED nav lights available that meet all requirements and specifications, it is still possible to run into problems with proper installation, or occasionally even improperly designed lights. If you go this route, make sure the LED nav lights you choose carry Coast Guard approval, and pay close attention to the proper installation of these lights.