Marine LEDs: Improved Light Quality and Efficiency|
Still relatively new although gaining in popularity quickly, LEDs are the current growing trend in marine lighting. Although they have been present for decades in everything from remote controls to stereos, it is only the last 5 years that have seen LEDs begin making the transition into applications that were traditionally the realm of the common incandescent light bulb. LEDs represent an entirely different way to produce light and thanks to the semi-conductor technology behind their design represent huge advantages and improvements over the incandescent lamps they are now beginning to replace in growing numbers.
Ask any boater what some of the biggest challenges they face are when it comes to running their craft and you’ll invariably hear them put energy management at the top of the list. Since LEDs require only a fraction the amount of electrical energy to produce light as comparable incandescent lamps, it’s only natural then that LEDs would become an attractive lighting alternative for boaters. LEDs also have a life expectancy that far exceeds any found with traditional incandescent bulbs, which adds an even greater allure to the cost conscious skipper interested in keeping his vessels operating expenses as low as possible. Where an incandescent may last 700-1000 hours, LEDs can easily surpass 25,000 and commonly hold life expectancy ratings has high as 50,000. This kind of longevity means it is entirely possible than an LED may last longer than a skipper owns his boat.
LEDs are also well suited to the marine environment. They are designed with solid state circuitry and are generally resistant to damage from the elements as well as extremely tolerant of vibration and general rough handling. LED fixtures designed for marine use are even more durable as they have rubberized seals, salt water resistant housings, and marine grade connectors incorporated into their construction. The biggest benefit is realized however with the LED’s efficiency. Where an incandescent lamp of 50 watts may have drawn over 4 amps from a boats electrical system, an LED equipped lamp can produce an equivalent amount of light from less than one amp. Because of this high efficiency LEDs produce very little heat as compared to an incandescent lamp, so concerns with proximity to heat sensitive materials and the safety of mounting positions are almost completely removed.
For a clearer picture of the LEDs benefits consider the fact that one of the biggest areas of electrical drain for the general cruiser is the lighting used throughout the vessel. Cabin lighting and general illumination often end up being severely rationed in their use because of the large and steady drain they place on a boat’s electrical reserves and the need to use fuel to maintain those reserves when this lighting is used for any length of time. Typical cabin lighting, walkway illumination, engine room lighting, and utility lighting all usually rely on outdated and highly inefficient incandescent technology. This incandescent lighting is notorious among skippers for its ability to deplete a boat’s electrical reserves if it is used for prolonged periods without replenishing those reserves by running engines or onboard generators. For a comparison, consider that a common 20 watt marine halogen incandescent will draw almost 2 amps of power while a 3-5 watt LED fixture producing the same amount of light can draw only .174 amps. So if you have 5 Halogen lamps running, they are consuming 120 watts at 10 amps while 5 LED fixtures draw only 15 watts and less than 2 amps yet produce the same amount of light. It is easy then to see how big the savings in energy consumption can be just by upgrading from incandescent bulbs to LEDs.
LEDs are also highly versatile. In almost every marine application conceivable, LEDs are capable of replacing the original incandescent lamp. Even better, LEDs are very compact which allows many types to be mounted much less obtrusively, sometimes being all but invisible until they are switched on and even then only visible because of the light they are producing. It is here that many boaters are beginning to realize just how many ways the LED can provide immense benefits.
Combined with their efficiency, the versatility of LEDs makes them a natural choice for upgrading just about any lighting fixture that can be found on a boat. Where typical lighting in a cabin consists of various dedicated fixtures and integral recesses, LEDs can be easily mounted in much less obtrusive locations. LED strip lights like Larson Electronics’s LED Strip Light - LED Rail Light can be mounted under railings, beneath cabinet spaces, along moldings, into stairs, and just about any other out of the way space that will accommodate its small size. Several LED strip lights connected in series throughout a cabin can easily produce all the illumination necessary, remove the need for dedicated fixtures, and produce a uniquely well lit environment that uses less than a quarter the amount of power of traditional incandescent lamps.
LED strip lights are proving very effective for exterior lighting applications as well. Standard exterior marine lighting typically presents a compromise that limits its effectiveness. It is difficult to mount and position exterior lighting so that although it illuminates an area properly, it will not interfere with the night vision of the boats skipper or those performing a watch. Many bright exterior lights cannot be used while underway simply due to the fact that their brilliance can severely affect vision when the eye has become acclimated to the dark. By mounting LED strip lights under railings along the gunwale and other accessible yet shielded positions, effective exterior illumination can be produced that will have minimal effect on night vision yet illuminate walkways and leisure areas quite well.
Many boaters have already performed just such upgrades and accounts are building in magazines and websites of the successes they are experiencing in reduced power usage, greatly improved lighting quality, and reductions in the need for maintenance. These are improvements that standard lighting like incandescent bulbs simply cannot duplicate, much less match in efficiency. Such lighting is already being incorporated into new boat models as manufacturers also realize the attractiveness of LED lighting technology. These improvements are possible right now however for just about any boat regardless of its size or its age. The only thing necessary is the desire to save power while improving the quality of your boats lighting at the same time.