LED Boat Lighting: Upgrade to Sensible Power Management|
Although it may not seem like it in many parts of the country right now, spring is here and all along the nation’s coasts boaters are busy dusting off cruisers, tuning up the engines and getting things ready for the beginning of boating season. It’s right about this time that many boaters begin to feel some excitement at the prospect of installing and testing out new equipment and making upgrades to their current accessories and systems. Warmer days bring out visions of long cruises, late night fishing jaunts and generally spending days and night out on the water away from the cares and bustle of the average workday monotony. With every tweak and upgrade the anticipation builds until that perfect day arrives and the hull finally hits water.
Of the many areas commonly addressed during this time, improving the electrical systems remains a perennial favorite. Particularly if you have an older boat, most of your below decks lighting is probably made up of traditional and energy hungry incandescent bulbs. As almost every boater has experienced, flooding below decks with light results in an alarmingly steep drop in 12 volt power reserves, usually requiring the use of an onboard generator or periodic operation of the engines to keep them at a reasonable safe level if the lights are run for any length of time. This is a common problem considering the need to illuminate galleys, engine rooms and the navigation area with enough light to reduce the strain on the eyes that comes with working in poor light, especially for those of us who’ve been around for awhile.
With this in mind, it only makes sense to consider some of the new technology that is now available which can greatly reduce the power needed to provide the necessary lighting for operating your craft comfortably. Those who spend prolonged periods out in open water and make overnight cruises a regular part of their cruising itinerary are particularly good candidates for a major lighting upgrade and today’s technology has just the item to fit the bill. A lot of excitement has been generated lately around the fast growing role of LEDs in the marine lighting industry. Low power consumption, good light quality, high durability and extreme longevity have all combined to produce a source of electrical light that is not only efficient, but affordable and sensible as well.
You might be thinking right about now that LEDs can’t be all that affordable considering they cost upwards of two to three times as much as an ordinary light bulb. At first glance, this thinking would be right. However, it is when you consider the longevity of the LED and its extreme low power requirements that this first assumption clearly becomes a mistake. When you consider the fuel needed to maintain energy reserves and the amount of replacement incandescent bulbs necessary to equal the lifespan of a single LED lamp, it quickly becomes apparent that LEDs are by far the wiser investment. Consider for instance that the typical boat usually has a number of halogen lamps interspersed around the living and working areas. Consider then that each of the lamps will only have a lifespan of around 1,500 to 2,000 hours at the most and that during this time they will each consume upwards of 4 to 6 amps each while operating. If you need ten of these halogen lamps to illuminate your cabin, that can be over 40 amps of power going to lights alone. If you consider all the other lighting as well, such as spreader lights, nav lights, spotlights and general deck lighting, it becomes clear there is a great deal of room for improvement.
Consider now the LED. An LED lamp can easily produce the same amount of light as a comparable halogen lamp, yet it will consume only a quarter the amount of electrical power. Where you might need a couple 50 watt halogen lamps consuming 6-8 amps to illuminate an engine room, a single 20 watt led consuming perhaps 1 1/2 amps can do the same job, with better quality light thrown in to the bargain. Also consider that these same LEDs will have a lifespan lasting over 50,000 hours, meaning it will be several years before they need replacing and it becomes easy to see just how affordable and sensible upgrading your boat to LEDs really is. You’d have to replace your halogen lamps 25 times to equal that kind of lifespan and even then the halogen would still produce less light while consuming a great deal more power. Now, should you make the big change and replace all of your onboard lighting with LEDs, imagine just how much you could really save. This would mean less money spent on fuel, less money on replacement lamps and an improvement in light quality as well to top it all off.
Many boaters have already made such a change and the result has been stories of incredulous boat owners who suddenly realize that even with every cabin light in operation, their amp meters barely register the load. One of the quickest and easiest ways to judge the benefits for yourself is probably to replace a couple of your largest and most power hungry lamps with an LED equivalent. Spreader lights are good candidates and switching out an old 150 watt halogen unit with an LED light bar light the Larson Electronics LEDLB-12ET-M LED Light Emitter which uses only 36 watts at 3 amps is almost guaranteed to demonstrate just how extreme and easy an improvement can be simply by switching to LEDs. A 150 watt halogen will produce approximately 2,500 lumens at 8 amps while the LED light emitter will produce 2,100 at only three with only a fraction of the wattage as well. While the light produced by the halogen will be yellowish and somewhat irregularly focused depending on how well the optical reflectors and lenses are made, LEDs will produce white light that is well focused and more tightly contained. Above all, however, the LED will consume much less power and can be run many hours longer than the halogen before an appreciable drain on 12 volt power reserves occurs.
Considered in this light if you will pardon the pun, it’s clear that switching your boats lighting to LEDs is not only a great way to upgrade your boat in preparation for the boating season, it’s just plain affordable and sensible.