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04/29/12 LED Boat Lights Improve Safety as Well as Efficiency

Article- April 2012 By Larson

220 Watt LED Boat Light - 19800 lumens

Larson Electronics 220 Watt LED Boat Light - 19800 lumens

LED boat lights have generated a great deal of interest within every facet of the boating community from commercial fishing fleet skippers to the casual sail boater. There are many very good reasons for this, and perhaps the most significant of these is the efficiency with which LED boat lights operate. Now, while the average person is usually more than willing to entertain trying any new energy efficient lighting technology that may potentially save them money, the need for energy efficient lighting is felt much more acutely by boaters.

Unlike the home or office where electrical power is available in greater quantities than most people could possibly need, onboard a boat it is a wholly different story. For the most part, any electrical power onboard a boat must be provided by battery banks and generated by burning fuel. While some power can be produced by alternative means such as solar and wind power, these technologies are to date incapable of fully meeting a marine vessels electrical demands entirely by themselves.

Since power must be produced by burning costly fuel, and fuel supplies are not limitless, power rationing and limiting the length of boating activities are common practices that at their core, are meant to keep operating costs as low as possible. There probably isn’t a skipper alive who at some time or another hasn’t had to lecture passengers about the need to shut off the lights, or deal with dead batteries because of accidentally running deck lights too long without recharging the battery banks. There are few worse feelings than being ten miles from shore and realizing you haven’t got enough juice left to turn over the engines.

There have also been more than a few fishing trips cut short because of the need to conserve fuel and the inability to run deck lighting for extended periods. For commercial boaters whose livelihood depends on round the clock operations far from shore, deck lighting can consume huge amounts of power, and as a result, a whole lot of fuel.  When you consider this facet of boating, it becomes quite clear how important energy efficient boating lighting can be.  


LEDs offer significant improvements in boat lighting efficiency due to their ability to produce a lot of light with only a little power. Whereas an incandescent bulb can at best only produce about 17 lumens of light per watt, a quality LED boat light can produce in excess of 60-80 lumens per watt, with some LED manufacturers now having exceeded 90 and 100 lumens per watt with their LED products. This is a huge improvement over incandescent boat lights, and means that boaters can produce more light using only a fraction as much power as they normally would with an incandescent bulb.

Where once a modest 35 foot cruiser might have had 7 halogen deck lights eating up 750 watts and over 35 amps to produce 5900 lumens, two LED spreader lights consuming only 240 watts and 20 amps can produce over 14,000 lumens! Yes, that means that a skipper could do away with all 7 halogen lamps, install a single 120 watt LED light bar, and still produce more light while using less than a third as much power. By now, it should be pretty clear just why LEDs have become so attractive to boaters. However, although efficiency is a major reason for initial interest, many boaters are realizing some interesting additional benefits to installing LED boat lights as well.

LEDs have advanced a great deal in the last five to ten years. When they first appeared on the boating market there were complaints with the color of the light they produce and a lack of overall output. Today, LEDs easily match or exceed the quality of light produced by fluorescent lamps, and certainly outperform incandescent lamps by every measure. One of the interesting characteristics of modern LED boat lights is their tendency to produce well focused light of high intensity that also has good color rendering and contrasting as well.

 Color rendering at the basic level refers to how accurately a light source reproduces the colors of the object it illuminates. All lamps produce white light by producing a combination of light colors. Since different light sources vary over which parts of the light spectrum they tend to produce most of their output, objects illuminated by them can appear to take on unusual hues and tints, and in some cases even appear to be a completely different color than they really are. Incandescent bulbs for instance tend to produce more of their light output over the red and yellow end of the light spectrum, thus objects they illuminated tend to have a slightly red or orange cast, hence the term “warm white” as it is commonly applied to the everyday light bulb. Making matters worse, if a lamp produces very little of one color, say blue, and an object which is normally blue is illuminated by that lamp, it will appear almost black or very dark.


Early LEDs tended to skew heavily towards the blue end of the light spectrum, thus users often complained that the light produced by LEDs was too “cold”. Today’s illumination quality LEDs however are engineered to more evenly produce their light over a wider part of the light spectrum. As a result, they more accurately reproduce the colors of objects they illuminate. They also have better contrasting, which means they make objects appear more sharply defined against their background.

And to bring us full circle back to why this benefits boaters, many skippers who have installed LED boat lights are finding that their LED lights are more effectively illuminating waterborne debris, obstacles, channel markers and buoys than their incandescent lamps ever did. Which of course means that in addition to helping to avoid dangerous collisions with waterborne debris and obstacles, LED boat lights also provide safer navigation and fewer problems with missing markers and resulting navigation errors as well.

Overall, LEDs are proving an ideal fit for boaters of all stripes. Since regardless of whether your own a sailboat or a commercial fishing fleet, the problems of power, fuel consumption, and safe navigation will always apply, improving efficiency and safety is something that every boater can appreciate.



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