Marine Engine Room Lighting: LED Upgrades for Safety and Reliability|
When we consider upgrading the lighting on a boat our first thoughts are usually directed towards finding ways to improve cabin, navigation or work space lighting. After all, it really is something of a thrill to change out all the lighting above decks and outfit everything with LEDs, then switch everything on and see just how effective these amazing little diodes really are. However, little thought seems to ever be directed towards some of the less glamorous but every bit as important utilitarian lighting found in places like cubbyholes, closets and engine rooms. These areas generally receive little attention and even when they do, that attention is short and perfunctory at best. This all changes however if you find yourself miles from shore, in the dead of night, with an engine that decides it’s time to blow a gasket. All of a sudden, that weak, yellowish little incandescent bulb mounted all by its lonesome in the engine room becomes majorly important, and worse, woefully inadequate. Yes, there’s nothing quite like trying to replace a coil pack or water passage gasket in the confines of a boat’s engine room at night with what seems to be little more than a nightlight on the brink of burning out for illumination.
If there’s one rule of thumb to follow when considering upgrading your boats lighting to LEDs, it’s to worry first about the lights you need, not the lights that are fun like the spreaders or spots. Engine room lights are probably up there at the top of the list of important lights to address first precisely because you pay so little attention to them. Since they are going to receive so little attention, it’s likely you’ll need to consider replacing what you have with something that is extremely low maintenance, highly reliable, produces a good amount of illumination and above all, is properly rated for use in areas like engine rooms where explosive gases can accumulate. LEDs fit this bill quite well and then some. Their small size makes them ideal for small cramped spaces like those found in boat engine rooms. Their low power requirements make them ideal for applications where the light will potentially need to stay on for extended periods without draining power reserves. The high lumen per watt output makes them well suited for close quarters work that requires ample lighting and their good color rendering gives them a distinct edge over halogen or incandescent lamps. If you’ve ever had to replace or repair wiring by the light of a halogen you’ll understand quite well the problems that can arise from trying to discern which wire is yellow and which is white while under the yellowish glare of a halogen lamp.
Quality LEDs are also extremely long lived and basically impervious to damage from vibrations. A typical LED lamp these days has an expected lifespan of 50,000 or more hours. Compared to the 1-2000 hour lifespan of a halogen there is quite simply, no comparison. If you install an LED fixture in your boat’s engine room, the chances are that it will be the last light you ever install in there. An LED will not be affected by the constant thrumming vibrations that can often come from close proximity to the engines, whereas over time, a halogen is prone to having its filament broken by such exposure. LED fixtures are typically a once piece affair and require little more than wiring and mounting into place. There are no metal sockets to corrode and no glass bulbs to break, which greatly reduces their maintenance needs and goes far towards ensuring that when you do need them, they will work. Overall, LEDs represent what amounts to a total departure from the usual expectations of incandescent lighting and present an entirely different lighting technology that in all respects makes the traditional light bulb obsolete.
Aside from matters of practicality, lighting for a boats engine room needs to be explosion proof. While to some this may seem almost overkill, an engine room is a prime location for the accumulation of flammable and volatile gases, vapors and materials than could potentially be ignited by the smallest spark or concentration of heat. Since LEDs produce very little heat, operate at low voltages and are solid state in construction they are well suited for use in hazardous locations like engine rooms. A small LED fixture like Larson Electronics’s LEDERL-20 Flush Mount LED Engine Room Light is an excellent example of all the properties that make up an effective and safe engine room lighting fixture. Compact size, flush mounting, completely sealed and intrinsically safe, low amp draw and of course producing copious amounts of light, this type of LED light is well suited to marine use and ideal for small spaces where room is at a premium and durability and reliability of critical importance. Engine room lights like this not only produce more than enough light to illuminate the confined spaces of an engine room, the light they produce is higher quality as well.
Consider for instance what happens when you mix two different color paints together. As most of us learned in grade school, mixing blue with yellow will produce green. Now imagine being hunched over an engine while offshore with a tangle of wires in your hand. How much more annoying would it be to have a yellowish light over your shoulder turning all the blue wires to a green or the white wires to a strange off-yellow? Sure you could probably manage, but why should you have to? With an LED, light color is highly specific. LEDs produce light that is well confined to only one part of the light spectrum and generally of a color temperature that matches or surpasses that of the warm white fluorescent lamps you commonly see used in offices or warehouses. Colors are more accurately represented, shapes more clearly defined and the human eye simply works better with light of a more natural color. This is why in most commercial applications where detail and worker proficiency is paramount, lights with good color rendering are highly preferred over cheaper halogen or HID lamps that tend to skew color temperatures too far to one end of the light spectrum.
Overall, upgrading your boat’s lighting to LEDs provides too many benefits to justify not giving them a try. Once you’ve gotten your most critical lighting systems upgraded, there is little doubt you’ll soon be following up with upgrades to all your above deck lights as well.