Marine LED Light Bars: The Highest Performance in the Worst Conditions|
Marine environments are tough. The humidity, salt water, pounding waves and intense sun and weather all conspire to make short work of any electronics and metals not protected from their effects. Salt water in particular is highly corrosive to most metals and any electronics allowed to come into contact with it will be destroyed in an very short amount of time. Electronics used aboard boats are at an extremely high risk of damage from corrosion and the more time a craft spends on the water the greater the chances become that they will eventually fail. Exterior electronics are directly exposed to salt water and as a result, failures of this equipment are all too commonplace. Exterior lighting receives particularly severe exposure as its necessary placement quite often puts it directly in the path of constant spray and splashing when a boat is underway.
Corrosion in the marine environment is the result of an electrochemical process. The better a material conducts electricity, the greater and more severe its rate of corrosion will be. Lighting fixtures fair particularly poorly at sea because the electricity that powers them serves to act as a sort of accelerant, speeding up the process of corrosion and making protecting them more difficult. As a general rule of thumb, anything made out of metal when exposed to the marine environment is going to eventually corrode if not constantly protected. Naked electronics are much more sensitive and should they receive a dousing of salt water are rarely useable afterwards. Because of these simple facts, planning for and protecting against corrosion in the marine environment is right there at the top of the list of things to practice religiously for boaters.
Most electronics designed for marine use are specifically designed to withstand a salt water environment and incorporate into their construction corrosion resistant materials, protective coatings, heavy duty seals and water tight wiring and connecting hardware. Although these protective measures are generally useful, their quality and the diligence of their application plays a large role in how effective they are. Many light fixtures designed for marine use are touted as weather or waterproof and that may be true. However, unless they are conform to standards certified by a credible regulating body such as U.L. or NEMA, there is little way of knowing for certain how effective their protection really is. A manufacturer may claim a light is waterproof, but their idea of waterproof might be a light that can withstand a light sprinkling of rain and nothing more. Reputable manufacturers will include clear explanations with their lighting equipment that details which agencies and standards their equipment is in compliance with. For instance, an LED unit like the Larson Electronics LEDP10W-240E LED Light Bar carries clear documentation showing it is rated IP68 in accordance with NEMA certification. This tells a boat owner that this particular light is waterproof beyond at least 1 meter and sealed against intrusion by particles such as dust as specified by “IP” standards.
IP represents what is known as the International Protection Code and the numbers following these two letters correspond to different levels of protection against intrusion into the units housing by various materials or objects. The first number, for example, represents the housings resistance to intrusion by solid objects such as fingers, tools or dust. The second number represents resistance to intrusion by liquids such as water. If the first number is only 2 for instance, this tells us that the housing will not allow objects such as fingers to be inserted into the housing. 6 is the highest number and represents dusts, the smallest objects on the scale. If the second number is a 1, this means the housing is sealed against intrusion by dripping water. 8 is the highest number on the liquids scale and represents full and prolonged immersion beyond 1 meter. Thus, IP68 tells us that this unit meets the highest standards for dust-proofing and waterproofing according to the International Protection Code. Marine lighting equipment carrying an IP rating of at least IP67 then means that the units interior electronics and metallic components are sealed against contact with salt water, thus making them impervious to possible corrosion damage.
While protection against corrosion is critical to the longevity of lighting equipment in marine environments, this equipment must also be able to withstand the heavy vibrations, shocks and impacts associated with boat operation. Heavy waves, high speeds and rough seas all contribute to sometimes jarring and prolonged impacts and vibrations that can potentially damage or ruin the oftentimes fragile components used in marine lighting fixtures. This is a particularly serious problem with traditional lamps such as incandescents which rely on fragile filaments and glass for their construction. Newer LED lighting provides much greater protection against physical damage from impacts because there are no filaments and no brittle glass used in their construction. LEDs are solid state and resemble the diodes you find inside a radio more than they do a traditional light bulb. Although they are not indestructible, they can withstand shocks and impacts far beyond anything a traditional light bulb could be expected to endure. This makes them ideal for use in heavy duty and high abuse applications like boat lighting and when paired with IP68 rated housing provide serious performance that can be expected to continue regardless of the operating conditions they are exposed to.
Rounding out protection are the coatings and materials used to protect light fixture housing and mounting hardware against corrosion and damage from rough use. Although stainless steel is oftentimes used in marine lighting construction due to its ruggedness and resistance to corrosion, it is expensive and heavy. LED light bar manufacturers typically take advantage of the light weight and strength of aluminum for constructing housings and use stainless steel for mounting hardware. Aluminum, however, is susceptible to corrosion and so is normally given a heavy coating, usually a polymer or epoxy that is highly resistant to damage and effective for sealing any bare metal against contact with salt water.
Combined together, LEDs, corrosion resistant materials, internationally accepted standards and quality design and construction create a marine grade light bar that can operate for years in the harmful conditions of outdoor salt water environments without failing or requiring heavy maintenance. It’s for this very reason that LED light bars are quickly becoming the lighting of choice for above decks lighting in marine environments, military applications, industrial operations and anywhere else a high grade lighting solution is needed.