Benefits and Drawbacks of LED Boat Lights
LED lights were first introduced over 50 years ago. For a time LEDs were low powered and available only in red colors, making them far from versatile and suitable for few applications. However, because LEDs produce light so efficiently, developers spent a great deal of time working to improve the performance of LED lighting technology. Over the last 20 years the development of LED technology has exploded as led high mast light efforts to improve energy efficiency and reduce the costs associated with lighting have intensified. With protecting the environment and the cost of fossil fuels becoming critical worldwide issues, reducing the energy used by lighting has become a focal point for LED developers around the world as they seek to reduce the amount of energy consumed by lighting.
All of this emphasis on energy efficient lighting has helped to bring LED lighting into the mainstream. We now have LEDs that produce more lumens per watt than incandescent bulbs, yet produce light of better quality. Not only that, but LED lighting is proving more versatile, more durable, and far more cost effective, which has resulted in LEDs being applied to almost every lighting application imaginable. There is probably no other area that better exemplifies the versatility and effectiveness of LED lighting than boat lighting applications. The unique characteristics of watercraft and the critical nature of onboard power, coupled with the most basic of lighting requirements, serve to provide perhaps one of the best examples of just how effective LEDs really are.
Because of their extremely high efficiency, small boats are one of the best examples of just how beneficial upgrading to LEDs from incandescent lights can be. Small boats with no onboard generator and only batteries for providing onboard power are excellent candidates for high efficiency LED boat lighting. There are many fishermen who can attest to the annoyance of having to cut short a late night fishing trip because their spotlights or navigation lights drained their boats’ batteries too quickly. If we consider that a typical halogen spotlight can easily consume 4 ½ amps of power, then compare that to an LED spotlight producing the same amount of light yet using only 1 amp, the benefits are obvious.
Small sailboats and cruisers with only small onboard generators or solar panels for power generation also benefit greatly from an upgrade to LEDs as well. It is common for sailboaters to need an all around mast or anchor light that can run all night, and it is also common for these boaters to find their battery reserves drained in the morning, or worse, their light not lasting through the entire night. With their extreme efficiency, an LED mast or anchor light can run all night, yet consume less than half the power its incandescent counterpart would, not only saving batteries, but removing the safety issues associated with being anchored at night without a mast light.
One of the lesser understood but just as important benefits of LED lighting comes with the extremely long operational life of LEDs. A typical halogen lamp will last a mere 500 to 1500 hours. This of course means frequent replacements if you spend any more than an average amount of time onboard during evening hours. This in turn means increased costs as you must frequently purchase new bulbs. An LED lamp on the other hand can last for over 50,000 hours, giving it a lifetime measured in years rather than hours. If you consider that a halogen bulb will have to be replace several times a year, and an LED perhaps once every 4-5 years, it is easy to see how money can be saved. An LED may cost more initially, but over the course of its life it will cost less than the cheaper halogen lamp.
A couple more pluses to add into the LED boat light category include cooler operation and more durable construction. Most midsized cruisers and sail boats have relatively small cabins. If you have four 40 watt halogen lamps running at the same time within the confines of a small cabin, they can potentially increase the interior temperature by a couple degrees, thus forcing your air conditioning to work harder, and in turn using up even more precious electrical power. Additionally, hot running halogens pose a potential burn and fire hazard since they are in such close proximity to occupants and flammable materials. LEDs on the other hand typically run cool enough to touch, even after a few hours of operations.
Of course, not everything is perfect with LED lighting. One of the biggest problems those new to LEDs have is figuring out which LED lamps will provide the right amount of light. LEDs and incandescent bulbs do not produce or radiate light in the same ways, and this affects the perceived output of the lamps. Boaters looking to switch to LEDs will as result have to do a little more homework to ensure they choose lamps that are capable of replacing their current incandescents without any loss in lighting effectiveness.
LEDs are also more prone to producing light that is “colder” than many people are accustomed to. This used to be a serious problem with LEDs produced up until about 5 years ago, but LEDs available now do a pretty good job of reproducing the “warm white” color we normally associate with incandescent bulbs. It is still important, however, that boaters pay attention to the color temperature rating of the LEDs they are considering for installation and look for lamps that specify a color temperature below 5000k if it is to be installed in living or recreational areas. LEDs to be used above decks, such as spreader or deck lighting, is better suited to the 6,000K or above color temperature range as this range provides a sharper and more crisp light that is ideal for good visibility.