LED Boat Light Upgrades in the Off Season

The winter months can be a long and slow period for boaters. Cold weather and snow and ice make getting on the water impossible unless you’re one of those lucky souls fortunate enough to live in warmer climes. It’s during the winter months that most boaters have either stowed their vessels to wait until the beginning of boating season, or taken the opportunity to begin major upgrades and modifications that otherwise would cut into time spent on the water. It’s during this time that serious upgrades and projects are undertaken, and an ideal time to make some changes that will help make the new coming season more enjoyable as well as safer LED lighting.

One of the most noticeable and beneficial upgrades you can make to your boat while it’s out of the water is the installation of LED lighting in place of your old incandescent lights. Incandescent lighting is notoriously inefficient, and the glass bulbs and fragile wire filaments used in their construction are hardly a good fit with the demanding conditions found in the marine environment. It’s a pretty safe bet that if you’ve owned a boat for any length of time, you are very well familiar with the problems of broken or burnt out bulbs, corroded sockets and fixtures, clouded or cracked lenses, and limiting the use of your onboard lighting while at anchor. LEDs hold the potential to either solve most of these problems, or greatly reduce their occurrence. This means less time spent dealing with failed lamps and keeping batteries topped off, and more time enjoying your boat.

First and foremost, LEDs use up to 80% less energy than incandescent lamps. This sounds pretty impressive by itself, but when you also realize that they can produce just as much or more light while doing, and that this light will be of better quality, their potential really begins to become apparent. For example, a typical halogen spreader light used to illuminated deck areas produces approximately 17 lumens per watt, pulls about 4 amps at 50 watts, and produces in the neighborhood of 850 total lumens of light. Now, consider an LED spreader light producing about 80 lumens per watt. At this output level, the LED spreader needs only 12 watts at about 1 amp of current draw to produce more light than the halogen; approximately 960 lumens in total compared to the halogens 850. As if this were not enough incentive, the LED spreader light will produce light with a very white color appearance, which better renders details and contrasts, making it easier to manage tasks such as tying lines. The halogen lamp on the other hand produces light with a yellowish color, reducing its ability to render colors and producing poorer contrasts. In short, the LED is not only more efficient, but it produces higher quality light as well.

As well as being more efficient, LEDs are also far more durable than incandescent bulbs. As we noted earlier, incandescent bulbs consist of a thin wire filament housed within a glass bulb which contains a vacuum or has some trace gases added to improve performance. When this wire filament and glass bulb becomes hot during operation, all it takes is a little bit of water to potentially cause the bulb to shatter. The wire filament also becomes even more fragile during operation, and it is not uncommon for filaments to break during operation if the bulb is subjected to heavy vibrations or impacts. If you own a boat, the chances are good that you’ve had more than once occasion to experience this as within a month of installing a new bulb in a high stress location, you continually find it burned out or failed and simply cannot figure out the why of it.

LEDs on the other hand produce light in a completely different way and have no glass bulb, gases, or wire filaments in their makeup. LEDs produce light through a process called electroluminescence, and to put it in the shortest terms possible, produce light by passing electrical current through sandwiched layers of semi-conducting materials that have been treated with special compounds to produce the proper light color. This design more closely resembles the circuits in your radio or television than they do a light bulb, but the design is very robust, and as a result is much more durable than the typical light bulb. They are resistant to impacts and vibrations and the design has a much longer lifespan than a typical wire filament, oftentimes lasting for 50,000 to 100,000 hours before output drops low enough to warrant replacing. It’s this extremely long operating life coupled with the high efficiency which helps to offset the higher costs normally associated with them. Although an incandescent bulb may be quite a bit cheaper, when you consider the savings in fuel consumption from higher efficiency and that an incandescent would have to be replaced at least 50 times to match the operating life of the LED, it becomes clear that the LED is more cost effective over the long run.

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