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ATEX and IEC Ex Flame-proof Explosion Proof Lighting & Equipment
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07/26/12 If LED Boats Lights Cost More, Why are They a Better Choice?

Article- July 2012 By Larson

Mganalight LED Light Bar

Larson Electronics LED Light Bar

One of the first complaints you’ll hear when suggesting LED lighting to fellow boaters is that the cost is just too prohibitive. While it’s true that LED equipped boat lighting costs substantially more than traditional incandescent boat lights initially, a fair comparison of their cost effectiveness cannot be based on purchase price alone. The differences between LEDs and incandescent bulbs are profound, and how they perform no less different as well. While an incandescent light provides most of its value through its cheap initial cost and thus cheap replacement costs, measuring the cost effectiveness of LEDs requires you consider a much larger number of factors. In fact, when compared head to head, it becomes quite clear that although LED lighting costs substantially more up front, over the life of the light they provide a far better value.

Incandescent boat lights are cheap and effective. They can meet most onboard lighting needs and require little skill to install and maintain. Their primary drawbacks when used onboard watercraft are their poor efficiency, short operating life, and high heat output. More secondary drawbacks include fragile construction, poor durability, and average light quality. Aside from their affordable purchase price, the prime motivation behind using the incandescent bulb onboard boats has been the lack of an effective alternative. Although boaters have long been familiar with rationing the use of lighting onboard in order to conserve power for more important systems and thus plenty of motivation to improve lighting efficiency, the choices in lighting systems has been very limited. This has changed however with the introduction of the LED and the incorporation of them into marine lighting applications. Now boaters have a practical alternative to the incandescent boat light, and if the explosive growth of the marine LED market is any indicator, many boaters have found this alternative not only acceptable, but effective.

In 2001 LEDs made up only a small portion of the boat lighting market. Most of these offerings were of fairly poor quality and suitable only for low powered applications where light quality and output were not critical concerns. Used as indicator lights or occasionally retrofitted to act as reading lights, most boaters complained of the cold bluish light color produced by LEDs and their poor overall lumen output. However, these first small applications demonstrated quite well the efficiency aspects of LEDs, which in turn helped to fuel interest and increased development of LEDs which could produce high quality illumination of output sufficient for general lighting tasks. The result has been nothing less than an incredible demonstration of just how quickly a technology with strong potential can be developed and improved when there is sufficient interest. In less than ten years LED development has advanced to the point where LEDs not only match incandescent bulbs for output and light quality, but in a majority of cases now exceeds them as well.

By 2002 LEDs were appearing that matched incandescent lamps in lumen per watt output. Philips Lumileds™ produced white LEDs with a luminous efficacy of 18 to 22 lumens per watt, exceeding the 15-17 lumens per watt of the average incandescent bulb. To give an idea of how quickly LED lighting has advanced, by 2006 Cree had introduced a white LED capable of producing 130 lumens per watt. It should be noted that most of these exceptionally high numbers represent prototypes and are not reflective of practical LED output. However, LEDs with slightly lower but no less impressive lumen per watt ratings have grown out of development of these prototypes and are now commonly available. Cree's XLamp XM-L LED’s which became available in 2011 for example, used in higher end lighting equipment like Larson Electronics’s Extreme Series of LED light bars, produce a real world average of 100 lumens per watt. The upshot of all this is that whereas a boater was once faced with using a halogen incandescent inside of his cabin at a cost of producing only 850 lumens, he can now install a 12 watt LED in its place and produce more lumen output using only a fraction the amount of electrical energy.

Of course, the color quality of the lighting a boater installs is also of great concern. Most people are acclimated to the slightly yellowish “warm white” color of incandescent lighting and prefer it to the sometimes cold and bluish color light that LEDs were once plagued with. As developers improved the efficiency of LEDs, they also sought to improve the perceived color of the light they produced as well. The result has been the development of efficient LEDs than now closely match the soft warm glow of the incandescent without giving up anything in terms of efficiency. Manufacturers of boat lighting have been quick to adopt these high grade LEDs into their fixture designs, and the result has been the explosive growth the LED boat light market.  

LEDs do however remain more expensive than incandescent bulbs. While a typical 50 watt halogen boat light may run around 40.00 to 50.00 dollars to purchase, an LED boat light can cost over 150.00 dollars. At first glance this would seem a prohibitive cost increase, but as we mentioned earlier, there are more factors to consider. A halogen boat light will require fairly frequent replacements to maintain operation. While the fixture itself may be reused, the lamp will typically only provide around 2,000 hours of use before needing replacement. An LED light in comparison can be expected to operate in excess of 50,000 hours before it reaches 70% lumen output. You would have to replace the halogen bulb 25 times to achieve the amount of operating life of the LED. Assuming an average of 5.00 per replacement bulb, that adds up to over 600.00 dollars in bulb replacements, a far larger cost than the initial price of the LED.

We cannot however simply measure such direct costs when considering LED boat lights. Since LEDs produce so much more light using less power, boaters can reduce by 75% the amount of electricity onboard lighting consumes, which translates in to lowered fuel consumption and costs. We should also consider the much more durable nature of the LED as well as the reduction in maintenance needs they provide as well. What we end up with is a light that is cheaper to operate in the long run, that reduces the amount of time we spend maintaining our boats’ lighting systems, and thus greater enjoyment of our watercraft.

As can be seen, LEDs offer great potential for savings and improved enjoyment over the life of the fixture that far offset their initially higher price. This is where the true value of LEDs lies for boaters.

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