Marine Spotlights: Playing by the Rules|
The first impression most people have when considering nighttime cruising is that if you’re going to take a boat out at night, then bright spotlight lights would be a must for navigation. Contrary to first impressions however, the reverse is true. Boating at night presents unique requirements, and what you would normally think of as common sense isn’t always right. When choosing a high-powered spotlight for marine use, there are some very important points that must be taken into consideration.
With warmer weather upon us, many boaters will be taking to the water, and marine traffic will once again be on the upswing. During the hot days of summer, it will once again be common to see hundreds of other boaters out enjoying the water both day and night. With this increase in traffic, it’s a good idea for those new to boating, or even the seasoned boater who enjoys both day and night cruising, to reacquaint themselves with the proper rules of nighttime marine lighting and make sure that their equipment is up to par. Besides the normal regulations mandating the proper location and operation of navigational and anchor lights, there are also the rules that govern the use of high-powered spot and spreader lighting. On top of these legal regulations are the unique problems and considerations that the marine environment poses for anyone operating high-powered spotlights.
In marine applications, regulations can vary from state to state, but some basic rules are federal and nearly universal. Some of these concern the operation of high-powered spotlights, and there are very strict rules regarding their operation. Most areas have regulations stipulating that continuous operation of spotlights is prohibited. Aside from using a spotlight intermittently to locate buoys, identify potential obstacles, or for harbor entries and dockings, extended operation of a spotlight can get you ticketed. This is because it has long been realized that while being able to navigate is important, it is more important when operating a boat at night to be able to see and be seen. Sound contradictory? Not really, when you understand the special considerations of operating a boat in the darkness of night.
In darkness, it takes the human eye a few minutes to adjust to the lower levels of light. Once the eye has acclimated itself to the lower levels of light, it becomes a great deal more sensitive to any light that is available. It is in this way that Mother Nature helps us out and improves our vision at night. The drawback however, is that this same increased sensitivity makes us easily blinded if the eye is exposed to bright light too quickly once it has become acclimated to darkness. So, if you are operating a spotlight on the water at night, and another boater is flashed with the beam from your light, they could easily be temporarily blinded and put into danger. It’s because of this possibility that the use of spotlights in marine applications is limited by regulations.
By the same token, you, as the operator of your own craft, are just as vulnerable to the same effect. If you are operating your craft, and glare or reflection from your own spotlight gets into your own eyes, you can easily be blinded and unable to navigate for several minutes. When you are operating a watercraft in darkness, several minutes is more than enough time for a tragedy to occur. It’s because of this danger that selecting the proper positioning for the mounting and use of your spotlights is critical. In mounting a spotlight to your boat, you need to consider where the light will be used most, what your position relative to the light will be, and how much spotlight you are going to need. You need to avoid having the light shine on foredecks or railings, which can produce glare or reflection that can destroy your night vision and temporarily blind you, yet you also need to have the light mounted where it will be the most effective.
Most boaters choose one of two locations for the mounting of their spotlights. One of the first choices is at the bow of the boat, on the railing, or at the edge on a stanchion. This helps to avoid creating unwanted glare and reflection by placing the lamp in a position that has a wide degree of unobstructed area to throw light. Another popular mounting point is high on the bridge, usually at a location that is somewhat back or behind where the operator will be. This position is less preferable than the bow, since it can allow the spotlight to cast a beam on the deck or polished accessories and create reflection or glare. Higher bridges tend to have less issues with glare and reflection. Deciding where to mount the light depends in part on the design and size of the boat, and trial and error will probably play a large role in the final positioning of the light.
As well as placement, it is also important to choose an effective light. When you do use a spotlight, you want it to be as effective and powerful as is practical for your particular craft. Is the craft large enough that there is going to be significant distance between the operator’s position and the bow of the craft? Will the boat be taken far offshore? What kind of navigational needs does your normal cruising area present? Choosing the proper light depends on a host of factors, and it is better to go a little over your power and efficiency estimates than under. Consider a craft of about thirty-five feet in length. The bow is significantly distanced from the wheel, reducing the operator’s ability to see, and it’s likely there are several fittings and accessories along the boat’s length that could get in the way of a handheld spotlight.
For something like this, a light like the Larson Electronics Golight Stryker Remote Control Spotlight GL-3067H would be an excellent choice. This light has the power to throw a tight beam of light over 2,800 feet, yet not lose all the light as spill that will fall and glare from the deck. It has two remote controls, one for the console and one as a portable unit, allowing the operator to control the light from any location on the boat, or even off the boat, up to 250 feet away. This is a definite plus if activities requiring light are performed off the craft. The unit itself is wireless and only requires power leads to be run into the boat’s electrical system. The housing is weatherproof and resistant to the effects of salt and water, so the conditions associated with marine use are not a concern.
The Golight Stryker GL-3067H lamp uses a HID (high intensity discharge) bulb that has no filaments to break, and creates 15 million retail candlepower at half the wattage of a conventional halogen lamp. As well as being more efficient than comparable halogen lamps, the bulb is also much longer lived. The entire unit’s internals are constructed of Lexan, Stainless steel, and brass so it resists corrosion, and the housing is UV resistant as well. The lamp operates off of 12 volts, the standard voltage of most small boats, and can be had in optional 24-volt versions for larger craft. This spotlight also makes use of a stainless steel mounting plate that simplifies mounting of the entire unit, and hardware that allows more mounting options is available on the Larson Electronics website.The Golight Stryker represents an excellent option for the boater who wants to avoid the caveats of bright spotlights in marine applications, yet gain all the benefits as well. Careful placement, intelligent selection, and educated operation will add up to an improved nighttime boating experience, as well as a safer one.