The Popularity of LEDs in Marine Applications|
If you need any evidence of the growing popularity of LEDs in the marine industry, you only need look to the catalogues and websites of most marine lighting specialists to find your proof. Of course, if you’re the critical sort and require a little more than popularity to sell you on giving new technology a try, LEDs have plenty to back up the reasons for their popularity.
Although technically not a new technology, LEDs have been around for decades, it is only recently that they have become a practical alternative to traditional lighting. LEDs have been used effectively in low current applications since the 1970’s, but their practicality for more widespread use was limited by their low light output and limited colors and light quality. Advancements in technology over the last decade however have produced LEDs that rival or even surpass traditional forms of lighting. You may be wondering though, if they are only now becoming able to compete with traditional forms of lighting, why the great popularity? To understand why marine quality LEDs are enjoying such a large scale surge in their production and use, it helps to understand how they work and the applications they are being used in.
LEDs, or light emitting diodes, are solid state electronic devices. This means there is no heated filament, no moving parts, and all electrical energy is contained within the unit. LED’s produce light through a process called electroluminescence where energy is passed through a semi-conducting material, which then emits this energy as light. Producing light in this manner has several benefits. The most important benefits of LEDs as far as marine applications are concerned involve efficiency and durability. Since LEDs have no filament and do not rely on electrical resistance to produce light, much less energy is wasted as heat. Incandescent bulbs waste up to 90% of their electrical energy as heat while LEDs convert energy to light up to 5 times more efficiently, in effect producing more light with less energy and very little heat.
Adding to their attractiveness, the lack of a filament in LEDs means that the lamp is much more durable. Whereas an incandescent lamp can be damaged or destroyed by rough handling, an LED lamp will not suffer ill effects from vibrations or moderate impacts; a plus in marine applications. Since there is no filament heated or burned to produce light in an LED, their lifespan can average anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 hours as compared to only 2,000 for even the best incandescent bulbs. LEDs have no glass in their construction and instead have a small piece of superconducting material mounted onto an aluminum base which is then sealed, making them very rugged and well suited to environments that require extreme durability.
Their low current requirements and high durability make LEDs an exceptional choice for marine applications where electrical efficiency and resistance to damage from the elements are a must, but what about light quality and suitability for specific marine applications like navigational or cabin lighting?
LEDs are becoming a preferred choice for navigational lighting because their inherent traits suit these applications very well. Light from LEDs although powerful, is highly directional unless compensated for with special housing designs, reflectors and diffusers. The intensity of the light produced by LEDs make them a good fit for navigation lighting, as the light needs to be bright enough to be visible in marine applications from at least ½ to 2 miles. In applications like bow lighting where a green and red light must often be used opposite each other in one housing, their directional characteristics are a plus as LED lights present well separated colors that will not tend to bleed into each other like traditional stanchion mounted bow lights. Their durability also helps them to survive the harsh outdoor extremes of the marine environment and withstand the pounding and spray a boat often experiences when underway in rough seas.
LEDs are also exceptional choices for use as anchor lighting. Their intensity coupled with their low current draw allows them to be operated all night while at anchor without draining a boats electrical reserve. Several models of LED anchor lights can also be obtained which include automatic sensors making them fully automated, coming on at dusk, and turning off at dawn, eliminating the chances of forgetting to switch off the anchor light and killing batteries. LED anchor lights produce an intense white light that is highly effective in remaining visible in inclement weather, and in ideal conditions is visible well beyond the required 2 miles.
For cabin lighting several models of LEDs are available that can work as full interior lighting, reading lights, courtesy lights, and just about any other type of interior application you can find on a boat. For all around lighting LEDs are available in PAR38 designs that directly replace traditional incandescent bulbs with no special wiring or modifications necessary. LEDs like Larson Electronicss LED Strip Light - LED Rail Light are excellent choices for walkway lighting, recessed lighting, under rail lighting, and even all around cabin lighting when connected in series and hidden beneath cabinets and overhangs. Smaller LEDs in oval and round configurations make perfect courtesy lights for closets and stowage areas. All of these lights when used together to replace interior incandescent bulbs will greatly reduce the energy drain on a boats electrical systems, allowing full illumination without the need to constantly ration power.
Exterior accessory lighting can also be outfitted entirely with LEDs, and in fact many manufacturers are now including them on their new models at the factory. Spreader lights are benefitting greatly from LED technology, and light bars are available now that can produce twice as much light as the traditional halogen spreader, while using half the electrical energy. Because of the small size of the LED bulb itself these spreader lights can be had in thin low profile housings that fit unobtrusively into out of the way positions that ordinary lights cannot. High power LED spotlights are also available that can fulfill all the usual navigation and emergency requirements while creating much less heat and drawing less power than HID spotlights.Although LEDs may initially cost somewhat more in some instances than traditional marine lamps, it must be remembered that LEDs far outlast their incandescent counterparts, lasting in some cases for the life of the boat. Their low power draw means less fuel burned running engines and generators, and their durability means less maintenance costs over the life of the equipment. All of this adds up to major improvements in every aspect of marine lighting that save money, reduce work, and increase enjoyment. Taken as a whole it is then easy to see why LEDs are so popular. After all, who doesn’t want to save money and enjoy doing it?