LED Boat Lights: Changing Power Conservation Habits|
A typical high efficiency halogen light bulb puts out about 900-1000 lumens of slightly yellowish light. Amp draw for such a light is approximately 4 to 4 ½ amps.
If you’re the average person, these facts probably aren’t going to do much to shake your world. Most people long ago set themselves on using a simple 60 watt lamp bulb for just about everything that plugs in and makes light and that is the end of the story. Certainly, with today’s increasing worries about the cost of energy and rising utility bills, the average homeowner is becoming more knowledgeable and choosy when it comes to things that eat money, otherwise known as electricity, but for the most part light bulbs simply don’t merit a great deal of attention until they burn out.
Now if you own a boat, particularly now that spring has arrived with summer not far behind, you are probably something of a light bulb and electricity guru compared to the Jones’s next door. You probably know quite a bit about amp hours and current draw, reserve capacities and lumens per watt. You also probably know quite a bit about generated power totals and amp draw loads and using all of this information to determine the capacity and efficiency of a complete stand alone electrical system like the one on your craft. Since the first battery and light bulb was installed on a watercraft, managing power and conserving reserves has been a major issue. While electrical power onboard brought with it all the niceties of electrically assisted communication, navigation, lighting and luxuries, it also created a whole new avenue of concern and let’s face it, expense. So it’s no wonder that boat owners tend to be the sort who hold just a bit more than common knowledge when it comes to most things electrical.
Most boat owners are intimately familiar with power rationing. They know what equipment they can afford to run sparingly, what equipment is a luxury and what items they simply cannot do without. Obviously, being able to start engines, navigate and maintain communications are tops on the must haves list. Things like television sets, air conditioners and general area lighting typically tend to fall into that category of “run it only as long as I can spare the power”. Fortunately, the usual acute concern with power rationing most skippers have is finally beginning to be alleviated as advances in power generation and energy efficiency begin to make their way into the boating industry. Perhaps nowhere are these advances more pronounced than in the marine lighting industry.
One of the first areas a skipper is willing to address when considering conserving power is luxury lighting. Aside from mandatory navigation and work lighting; cabin lights, walkway lighting and effect lighting all get put at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to deciding where power is most effectively used. Of course, this has lead to most regular passengers on smaller, private craft, becoming all too familiar with finding their way around with a flashlight when the skipper cuts the engines. Considering that only 5 halogen lamps can by themselves easily pull over 20 amps of power from a vessels’ electrical system and that five of these lights is basically a minimum for a fully illuminated cabin of any decent size, it’s hard to blame any skipper for ordering use of the lights to be kept to a minimum. If you start factoring in walkway lights, spreader lights and deck lighting, it’s easy to see how quickly the overall power drain can start to add up. New lighting technology however is turning conventional power conservation habits inside out as LEDs make an increasingly larger appearance in the marine lighting market. Remember that opening sentence about a 50 watt halogen using 4 amps to produce 900 lumens of yellowish light? Well, how about 1,700 lumens of clean white light from only 20 watts and less than two amps of power? That’s enough light to illuminate a 250 square foot area quite effectively, while drawing less power than the two halogen lamps that would be needed to perform the same feat.
A Larson Electronics LEDP10W-20E 20 watt LED light emitter for instance provides this kind of performance and more without the need to worry if your reserves are draining faster than you care to accept. This kind of performance is quite effective for lighting decks, producing interesting mast and sail lighting effects and filling the usual roles of the classic incandescent spreader light, all at a small fraction of the cost in energy reserves. There are plenty of stories popping up in the boating community for example, of boaters outfitting their craft with LED strip lights that pull less than a quarter of an amp yet produce over 120 lumens of light, then realizing they can run these lights all night without finding themselves dead in the water. Some boaters have fully embraced the LED and done complete retrofits of their craft, removing every single incandescent light onboard and replacing them with LEDs. The result has been more than one expression of disbelief as fellow boaters watch them turn on every single light onboard and their amp meters barely register the drain.
No serious promotion of the LED is complete, however, without mentioning the other benefits they bring to the table. Although the power savings they offer are substantial, their higher cost still tends to put some boaters off of trying them, “till they become more affordable.” If you’re one of those people, consider this; an LED spreader light will use a quarter the power your old halogen did and it will last ten times as long! That is correct and you read it right, a quality LED spreader light can last for over 50,000 hours of use while your halogen will be lucky to last 2,500. This means you would have to replace your halogen spreader light 9 times to equal the lifetime of an LED spreader. How about what the saltwater marine environment does to your halogen lamps and fixtures? Ever drop a halogen spotlight on the deck and had to do without it until you could install a new bulb? Suddenly, the LED doesn’t seem quite so expensive does it? If you’re serious about power management on your boat, LEDs are an almost guaranteed way to put a smile on your face. More light with substantially less power used, years of useful service and extreme durability. What’s not to like?