Marine Lighting Applications and LEDs|
The marine industry is one of the first and largest commercial sectors to capitalize on the revolution in electrical illumination that LED lighting technology represents. Since electrical lighting was first introduced into boating applications designers in the boating industry have grappled with the need to provide adequate power for electrical systems while maintaining a practical rate of energy consumption on board a ship. Although electrical lighting represented a major advancement in how boating illumination was produced and utilized, it also introduced the need to produce electrical energy independent of any land based power sources. The most effective method of producing this power is based on harnessing electrical energy produce by generating systems integrated into the boats engines and storing that energy in batteries for use when the engines are not running. While this method has been effective, it is very inefficient and the need to maintain a minimum electrical power reserve has resulted in the need to burn extra fuel to maintain those reserves and rationing of available power.
This rationing and extra fuel consumption has been in large part responsible for limiting the range and effective endurance of many small boats and private watercraft. The need to conserve fuel and energy reduces the amount of time a boat can effectively remain offshore without the need to replenish supplies and significantly increases the costs of operation. Owners and operators of pleasure craft and small commercial ships have expended substantial resources in attempts to improve on the efficiency and reliability of marine base electrical systems with limited success. New technologies such as solar power and improved electrical generation and storage capabilities have resulted in limited success, with balancing the use of electrical energy against the costs of producing it remaining a serious concern.
Compounding the problems of electrical energy consumption aboard ships, technological advancements and modernization of watercraft have led to the addition of still more energy hungry equipment as manufacturers seek to improve on the comfort and safety provided by new vessels. Refrigeration units, air conditioning, navigational equipment and luxury amenities have further added to the burden placed on the electrical systems of modern boats and contributed to continuing the problems of energy consumption and rationing. It has been clear for some time that there is a great deal of room for improvement and the lighting equipment used on board watercraft has long been a subject of experimentation and development.
Up until the last decade, the traditional incandescent bulb has been the dominant source of lighting in the marine environment. Little changed since its original design; the incandescent bulb is greatly inefficient and has since its addition to the marine environment been a significant source of electrical drain on a boat's energy reserves. While regulations make navigational lighting mandatory, boaters have also found that interior and auxiliary lighting cannot be entirely compromised in the name of energy conservation and so rationing has become inevitable. All of the lighting on a boat when based on the incandescent bulb represents a large and steady drain on the crafts electrical system when in use. Boaters are forced to monitor closely the usage of all lighting and restrict the allowable amount of time that certain lighting can be operated in order to maintain enough electrical reserves and fuel for later return to shore. Because of this, any major improvements in how electrical lighting is produced are quick to be incorporated into marine applications if possible and have resulted in fluorescent lighting and the improved efficiency incandescent being added as fast as they appeared.
These improved lighting sources still have yet to produce significant improvements in the efficiency of marine lighting. While fluorescent bulbs are a great deal more efficient than the incandescent, they are limited by their design and cannot be used for anything besides general illumination. The improvements in incandescent designs represented by the introduction of the halogen bulb brought about only minor improvements in efficiency and fall well short of producing substantial improvements in practicality. There has been a clear need for lighting that can not only be used in every aspect of marine lighting, but is also highly energy efficient and durable. LEDs represent that improvement.
Since their inception decades ago LEDs have been well recognized as being highly efficient emitters of light energy. Compact in size and requiring very little energy to produce light, LEDs were quickly adopted into many applications with great success. Most of these applications, however, had very low lighting requirements and did not need a strong source of illumination. LEDs were incorporated into portable electronics and automobile dashboards and the like, but were ill suited to applications that required a strong source of primary illumination and so found little use in marine applications. As of ten years ago, however, LED technology has advanced greatly and within the last five LEDs have been produced which can easily rival incandescent bulbs in both the amount of light produced as well as light quality. Even more importantly, these LEDs retain their incredibly efficient natures as well and far surpass the efficiency of any of the other types of lights available. Lights like the Larson Electronics LED Engine Room Light - Deck Light - Flood Configuration - IP67 represent the next major advancement in marine lighting and already are making a substantial impact on the marine lighting industry. These LEDs are extremely efficient and produce as much light as comparable incandescent lamps, yet draw only a fraction the amount of electrical power. While a typical 35 watt halogen incandescent will draw up to 4 amps of electrical power from a boats power reserves, an LED creating the same amount of light can use only a quarter of that amount of energy.
With the advent of powerful LEDs that rival the incandescent in both quality and total illumination produced, the trend has now been to retrofit existing marine lighting equipment with all LED bulbs. Already boaters are reporting great improvements in both the longevity of their power reserves and fuel economy as they change their entire lighting systems over to LED powered equipment. Even as this article is written, LED manufacturers continue to produce even more powerful versions that guarantee to further revolutionize how marine lighting is produced. If there is one thing that is certain about LED lighting in the marine industry, it is that they are destined to become the new dominant form of lighting for all marine applications, now, and well into the future.