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08/04/13 Addressing Some Misconceptions of LED Boat Lighting

Article- August 2013 By Larson

High Intensity LED Flood Light

Larson Electronics High Intensity LED Flood Light

LED boat lighting has seen a huge rise in popularity as more and more boaters gravitate towards their use due to the extreme improvements in energy efficiency they are capable of providing. For most boaters, managing onboard power use is a major concern that is a source of constant headaches and issues. Increasing the amount of power that can be generated onboard, increasing the size and capacity of battery banks, , and watching as fuel costs continually rise all add up to increased operating costs all in the name of providing enough onboard power to run the necessities as well as added luxury items.

Unfortunately, in the boating world lighting is commonly lumped in with what are considered luxury items, and this is a pity as lighting in all reality is of major importance and really should be considered a critical use item. After all, a big part of boating is being able to enjoy your time on the water, and when you have to ration the use of lighting, utilize inadequate lighting, and in some cases even use dangerous candles and oil lamps, all in the name of keeping energy consumption down, you are actually reducing the enjoyment of your vessel. LED lighting promises to change this, but there remains a lot of misconception and hype that can make switching to LEDs a confusing proposition. Here we’ll simply outline a few of the myths and misconceptions, and detail what you can really expect from an upgrade to LEDs.

Misconception number one is that LED lights are simply too expensive to justify their use. While it is true that LEDs do indeed cost more at initial purchase, the problem many people make is to look at them as a consumable, much the same way they do a standard light bulb. We consider incandescent light bulbs as a consumable because we expect to replace them on a frequent basis. Since LEDs perform the same function, we may mistakenly apply this same mindset to them as well. Unlike incandescent bulbs however, the extremely long lifespan of the LED handily removes them from the realm of consumables and instead places them firmly in the camp of long term investment. When looked at in this light, LEDs take on a whole new appearance of not only affordability, but a long term source of overall savings.

For instance, a 25 watt incandescent bulb will produce about 375 lumens and last around 500 to 1,000 hours, and over the course of its lifespan will consume about 2,000 amp hours of energy. A 6 watt LED fixture on the other hand producing approximately 390 lumens will last around 50,000 to 70,000 hours, and will use about 450 total amps over the course of 1000 hours. In order to reach the performance life of an LED, you’d have to replace that incandescent bulb up to 50 times, and with typical 25 watt halogen boat bulbs costing around $5.00, this can easily add up to over $225.00. Compared to a 6 watt LED boat light which can be had for as low as 40.00 to 80.00 or so dollars, and it is clear there is no real savings with the incandescent. We also can’t forget, all those amps being used have to be replaced in the battery bank by running a generator or the engines, which in turn means burning expensive fuel. Since running the LED consumes only a ¼ the amps, we can expect to also see a matching reduction in the amount of fuel we need to burn, further increasing the cost effectiveness of the LED.

Another misconception is that LEDs don’t produce any heat. LEDs do indeed produce heat, however, because they operate so much more efficiently than incandescent lamps, they can produce the same amount of light while wasting far less as heat. A typical halogen bulb produces about 17 lumens per watt, with most of the energy put into the bulb being radiated as heat rather than light. An LED produces on average 60 to 70 lumens per watt, resulting in more light and far less radiated heat produced. The result is a lamp that looks just as bright or brighter, but feels only slightly warm to the touch even after hours of operation. LEDs though are much more sensitive to heat buildup, which is the reason for the unconventional designs you see with LED fixtures. LED fixtures commonly have designs incorporating thin fins into the housing, which act as heat radiators to dissipate heat away from the LED chip. LED fixtures also commonly include advanced circuitry which monitors voltage and heat levels, automatically varying how the voltage is supplied to the LED in order to maintain heat at acceptable levels. Regardless of how it is done though, LEDs do run far cooler than the typical incandescent lamp, which means a cooler cabin and less chance of nasty burns should you accidently touch a fixture while its operating.

Another common misconception of LEDs is that the light they produce is too cold and bluish in appearance. While this was mostly true several years ago when LED boat lights first began appearing on the market for general lighting applications, this is no longer the case. LED technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and in the last several years new materials and designs have been introduced which now allow manufacturers to produce LEDs capable of producing light across a broad range of the light spectrum as well as full spectrum versions. It is now possible to purchase LEDs in warm white, neutral white, and cool white configurations, making the light they produce almost indistinguishable from incandescent and fluorescent light sources if that is your preference. Even better, the light produced by quality LEDs tends to have better color rendering and contrasting properties than incandescent bulbs, actually resulting in improved light quality.

Although there is a lot of more accurate information now appearing due to the emergence of LEDs as the next great advance in boat lighting, the confusion and misperceptions surrounding them still continues to some extent. As LEDs become more accepted and more of the public becomes acclimated to their use, it is likely that this confusion will continue to lessen as time goes on. This is not to say that valid concerns do not still remain, but as long as the customer does their homework, and learns what they can and cannot realistically expect from LEDs, the chances are good that results of an upgrade to LEDs will better than the average boater imagined.

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