LEDs and Boats: The Advantages Dont Stop at Efficiency and Power|
With all the enthusiasm being generated by LEDs within the boating community, it’s understandable that there is a great deal of scrutiny and questioning that has followed. “Will LEDs work with my existing fixtures?” “Are they expensive?” “What are the best LEDs to use?” These are some of the most common questions asked and more so than the answers, the questions themselves reveal something of a shortcoming in understanding just how far reaching the implications of installing LEDs on a boat can be. Certainly there are great benefits to be had. Huge reductions in maintenance, greatly reduced amperage loads, extreme light fixture longevity and improved lighting color quality are just a few of the very real benefits that can be realized when switching your boats lighting to LEDs. There are, however, other areas where LEDs can have an equally substantial and beneficial impact but are rarely mentioned or even thought of.
One area where LEDs can have a significant impact on a boater’s efforts to improve the quality of his craft’s electrical systems is wiring. Traditional lighting, particularly with exterior lighting equipment, is highly inefficient and usually requires significant amperage loads if the equipment is intended for anything more important than reading a book. Managing amperage of this magnitude necessitates wiring and electrical systems capable of withstanding heavy and sudden spikes in amperage without overheating or limiting the current reaching the lighting equipment in question. Even High Intensity Discharge lighting with its lower than average running amperage poses serious issues as it still creates a significant amperage spike at startup that can wreak havoc if wiring is not up to the task of handling such loads. Consider for example one boater’s dilemma. Although technically he installed a couple of Xenon HID units properly, he still found himself with a vexing problem; every time he switched on his new lights they would run for a few minutes, then they would shut down. Turning the units off and then back on resulted in both lights then staying on. With everything connected properly and the lights appearing to have no defects, you can imagine the frustration he felt as searched for the problem in vain.
The problem this gentleman encountered is all too common in the boating world and here is why. One of the things every boater wants is a boat that has a clean and tight appearance, with no loose fittings, gear exposed to the open or of course, exposed wiring. To that end wiring is typically hidden away and protected by running it between hulls and supports, through hollow railing tubes, under railings along the gunwale and other areas where wiring can be hidden from sight. The problem this poses is that many boats require literally miles of wiring to connect all of the electrical systems throughout the boat. Not only that, but each individual piece of equipment requires its own wiring, resulting in oftentimes very large bundles of wiring running from one end of the boat to the other that must be somehow protected and hidden. One of the ways boaters and manufacturers often try to reduce the size of these bundles so they will more easily fit within conduits, railings or under edges is to use the smallest wires possible. This is where boaters begin to run afoul of electrical basics and find themselves plagued with gremlins when they try adding additional lighting.
At the basic level, larger wire can conduct more electrical current. Thus, a common 16 gauge wire will be able to generally handle about 3.7 amps of current while a 14 gauge wire can handle 4.9 amps. As you guessed, the smaller the wire gauge number, the larger the wire and the larger the current it will handle. Then of course, other variables such as the increase in resistance as wire length increases adds to the problems boaters face when installing new lighting equipment. So, if a boater has a couple of main power leads running the length of his boat and wants to install additional or higher powered lighting by tapping into these mains, he’ll need to take into account how much current these mains can handle and how much load they are already carrying. In our earlier mentioned example, our boater friend knew his wiring could handle an additional 3 amps, so he felt safe adding his HID lighting which had a running amperage of just over 2 amps. The problem, however, is that these HID units pull up to 5 amps when they first start and do not drop down to 2.5 until they have warmed up sufficiently. So, when our friend turned his lights on, the initial amp draw exceeded his wirings capacity, leading to the HID units shutting down since they could not pull enough power to remain on.
In situations like this, boaters used to have two main options; they could either run larger wiring and higher rated breakers, which can be a very complex, time consuming and difficult job, or use weaker lighting which obviously reduces the value of the adding the lights in the first place. With LEDs like Larson Electronics LED Boat Lights, however, there is no initial spike in amperage draw as the unit powers on. LEDs simply turn on instantly, much like an incandescent and reach full intensity immediately. Additionally, LEDs have a much higher lumen per watt ratio than standard halogen boat lights and use up to only a quarter as much amperage, so you can install LEDs in place of halogens and get more light, yet actually reduce the amperage draw on your wiring. With LEDs, the power to lumen ratio is not quite as high as with HID’s, however, LEDs produce up to three times more light per watt than halogen lamps and last longer than both halogens and HID’s, without any warm up periods or spikes in amperage. This means that for many boaters, installing LEDs is simply a matter of figuring out how much load your wiring can handle and wiring in a set of suitable LED light bars and nothing more. As you can see, LEDs can do more than just look good and use less power. LEDs can also save you a lot of headache and work as well as cash.