LED Boat Lights: Power and Performance Changing Perceptions|
When it comes to debating the value of LED lights, the boating community can be one of the most informative and critical voices there are. Boat owners tend to be very passionate and unforgiving when it comes to their investment. When you consider that this is more than just a hobby, that large amounts of money and time, not to mention a great deal of safety concerns are involved, it’s no surprise that when it comes to equipping their craft’s, compromise and guesswork get little thrift. Although LEDs have made huge strides in all aspects of the lighting industry, they are still widely considered to be a new and largely unproven technology, which doesn’t bode well among groups as demanding as boaters. While it’s true that LEDs have been around for quite some time and that the last 5 years have seen some amazing improvements, so much so that LEDs now rival or surpass most traditional forms of illumination, safety and practicality have served to keep much of the boating community skeptical.
Part of the problem lies with how quickly LEDs have advanced. While on the surface this would seem a good thing, the drawback is that when technology progresses as rapidly as the light emitting diode has, knowledge of this progress spreads much more slowly. When it comes to safety and finances, most people, let alone boaters, are only willing to give new products one chance. When a new item hits the market, its first impression tends to be a lasting one. With LEDs, many ambitious manufacturers were quick to move their products into the marine industry once it became clear that LEDs held the potential to appeal to such a broad market. So quick perhaps, that they spent little time considering whether or not their products were ready for introduction. The result was a lackluster debut and the beginning of a hit or miss success story as many cheap and underpowered LEDs ended up on various watercraft only to be pronounced useless and summarily tossed aside and sworn off. Nowadays, if you ask ten boaters their opinions of LED lighting, you’re likely to get ten widely varied opinions, many of which are rooted in the LEDs early poor first impression.
Compounding the LED’s initial problems with power and performance, their cost when first introduced was somewhat prohibitive. When you consider that a typical tried and true marine halogen lamp could set you back a mere $25 to $100 dollars and an LED version over $200, it’s no wonder there’s a lot of skepticism and jaundiced eyes out there. The good news however is that LEDs have really begun to come into their own and as more boaters install and use them, more boaters are reporting above average results that border on demonstrating extreme effectiveness if not downright amazing improvements. Above average luminosity, exceptional light color, extreme ruggedness and above all, vast improvements in power consumption rates are now beginning to become the more commonly heard results from those installing LED lighting on their watercraft. The reason for such a significant swing in perceptions is fairly easy to understand one you realize just how significant the improvements in LED technology have been.
When LEDs where first beginning to flood into the marine markets, they generally tended to produce at best 50 to 70 lumens per watt. While not altogether terrible performance, this low level light production was compounded by wide ranging problems with the quality and color of the light produced and the fact that LEDs tend to produce light that is highly directional in nature. Over time, however, reputable manufacturers were quick to address these shortcomings and now we have LED offerings that produce 90 lumens or more per watt, have higher quality color temperatures than incandescent, and offer exceptional directional control. The factor cementing the real change behind the LEDs improving reputation though has been their extreme efficiency, which by the way is the reason for the initial excitement that led to their introduction before they were truly ready for practical use. Now that they offer the performance to make that efficiency practical, they are finally beginning to earn deserved accolades instead of excited hype simply because they were efficient. In short, LEDs were ahead of their time. Not so anymore.
LEDs have come so far in fact, that not only is the average boater realizing their benefits, but the extremely demanding commercial marine industry is embracing them as well. Commercial lobster and crab fisherman have been reporting great success with using the Larson Electronics LEDLB and LEDLB-E line of LED light bars in their commercial operations. Perhaps the most interesting part of this change is that although in the past it was the extreme efficiency of the LED that was hyped above everything else, it is now their effectiveness that is grabbing the spotlight, with their efficiency serving to underscore the point. Commercial fishermen have stated that using these lights is not only saving them power and reducing the problems of managing dedicated generators and burning fuel to produce that power, but that these lights are proving better suited to their operations than the high pressure sodium lamps they used to use. No longer is it a matter of compromising on power or effectiveness and letting the LEDs efficiency make up the difference. Now it is about getting high power and effectiveness with efficiency thrown in for good measure. When you consider that LEDs can now produce the same amount of light as a high powered halogen, with better light quality, using a quarter the amount of electrical power, even a poor first impression isn’t going to last for very long. Boaters may be critical and demanding, but they also know a good thing when they see it.
Like all new technology that carries with it grand promises, the LED has had its share of fits and starts. Although an early weak showing created something of a jaded view of their potential, the improvements over the last several years are quickly making that initial first impression as obsolete as the lights they are quickly replacing.