LEDs: Giving Boaters the Upper Hand in Power Management|
Ever since electrical equipment was first installed on a boat, managing onboard electrical power has been a major concern on everything from small sailboats to large yachts. Although electrical lighting was a major leap forward for marine lighting which at the time consisted of actual lanterns that housed a flame, it immediately created the problem of producing enough electricity to make its use practical. Over time electrical systems improved, but the need to manage power onboard a marine vessel never diminished. As more and more electrical equipments was introduced aboard ships, the needs for power increased as well. Critical equipment like radios, navigation lighting, and eventually radar and sonar relegated interior illumination to the status of a luxury only to be indulged in with careful moderation. Providing onboard electrical power has until very recently been a matter of balancing resources like fuel against the needs for illumination.
As technology advanced, improvements in the way interior and exterior boat lighting was produced provided a small measure of relief. The introduction of fluorescent lighting and more powerful and efficient incandescent lights like the halogen bulb into marine applications helped to offset some of the costs incurred by running a vessel’s lights for extended periods. Skippers were able to reduce their fuel consumption by running engines and generators for shorter periods, but the necessity to monitor power consumption and burn extra fuel to maintain electrical reserves still held sway. Even though more efficient than the incandescent bulb, fluorescents still created a substantial drain on a boats reserves if operated for too long.
The usual answer to the increased demands that electrical equipment poses in marine applications is to install more batteries to increase reserve capacities, add generators dedicated to providing electrical power to replenish reserves, and increase the energy output of a vessels engine produced electrical energy. Although effective to an extent, these upgrades represent a great deal of added expense and still require the use of additional fuel which further adds to their cost. It has been clear for some time that marine applications are prime candidates for improvements in electrical power management, and enterprising boat manufacturers have been extremely creative in looking for ways to achieve these improvements. Everything from solar power to generating power from the motion of the sea has been utilized in the quest to liberate marine vessels from the constraints imposed by the need to conserve power, with varying results.
Modern vessels now consume more power than ever before as more and more equipment is added that further taxes the electricity generating capabilities of marine vessels. Auto pilots, refrigeration systems, microwaves, entertainment systems and more have contributed to the dilemma of how to provide sufficient power economically and still retain enough left over for critical systems. In the last ten years, major improvements in lighting technology have produced promising results, and nowhere were these improvements more promising than in the development of powerful LEDs. LEDs have been in production for decades, but they have been typically best suited to applications that require low levels of light. Up until 5 years ago LEDs were still outside the realm of practical application for effective utility lighting and were unable to compete with the light created by standard incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. The last five years though have seen the development of LEDs grow by leaps and bounds, and new LEDs are now not only producing light comparable to traditional bulbs, but surpassing them in both quality and efficiency.
The initial optimism regarding LEDs grew out of their inherently efficient operation. LEDs produce light in a wholly different manner than traditional bulbs, and their efficiency is many times higher. They produce very little heat, and a great deal more of the energy consumed by an LED is emitted as light as compared to an incandescent bulb. Modern LEDs can now produce the same amount of light as an incandescent, but with only a fraction the amount of electrical energy. Where a halogen lamp may have once operated at 50 watts and consumed approximately 5 amps, an LED producing the same amount of light will only draw 14 watts and consume less than 1/2 of an amp. Consider that the average cabin in a 40-50ft boat may contain several halogen lamps and it becomes clear that there is a lot of potential for saving energy. Replacing seven halogens with a combined total of 35 amps of electrical draw with seven comparable LED fixtures can reduce that draw to less than 4 amps. It’s plain to see; LEDs hold a distinct advantage when it comes to marine applications.
Even more promising are the new possibilities that LEDs present in how illumination is installed on boats. Because of their unique properties, LEDs can be designed and assembled into very low profile units that can be mounted almost invisibly in places that traditional bulbs cannot. Led lights like the Larson Electronics LED Strip Lights- LED Rail Lights can be mounted under cabinets, beneath railings, along walkways, and just about anywhere else that bright illumination is needed. Strip lights like these are ideal for marine applications and several strategically placed in unobtrusive locations can easily illuminate a large cabin while consuming only a fraction of the energy used by traditional bulbs. Adding to their already attractive features, LEDs are also extremely durable and are not affected by impacts or vibrations. They have a lifespan that averages over 50,000 hours making them extremely long lived and far more economical in the long haul than the common incandescent.
As more and more boaters and boat manufacturers begin switching all of their marine lighting over to LEDs, the list of positive reviews continues to grow. Several prominent magazines have reported dramatic improvements in power consumption rates with the upgrade to all LED lighting, noting that in some cases, even after illuminating the entire cabin with every LED switched on, the amp meter of their vessels barely registered the draw. The implications of such improvements are inescapable. Where once a boater needed to carefully ration the use of his interior illumination during long trips or excursions to maintain electrical reserves, it is now possible to fully illuminate his entire cabin all night without worry. This also means that he will consume less fuel as the need to run engines or generators to replenish batteries is diminished or eliminated altogether. All of this adds up to savings in fuel costs, less time spent managing power, and more time spent enjoying his boat.