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LED Boat Lights, Changing How We Illuminate Our Watercraft

Boat lighting has changed a great deal over the last decade. In the past onboard lighting was very much purpose specific and played little if any role in the overall aesthetic appearance of watercraft. Deck lights did just that, illuminate the decks. Cockpit lights were just for illuminating charts and work areas. Cabin lighting was sparse and used very little due to the need to conserve power. And in most cases lighting was very much relegated to use with traditional fixtures mounted in a limited number of locations. Modern lighting technology has changed all of this, and in the process also provided some great added benefits as well.

LED lights are changing completely the way we illuminate our boats. Whereas we once put most of our emphasis on some decent navigation lights and maybe a couple effective spreader lights, and the rest like cabin or below decks got at best some perfunctory dome lights, now we can full out customize our boats with lighting. LEDs have allowed us to drastically cut power use, meaning we can illuminate every open space onboard and still not worry we are going to drain our batteries in an hour. With LEDs using only a ¼ the amount of electricity as our trusty old incandescent, we can illuminate our cabins, engine rooms, cockpits, decks and anywhere else we can fit a light and still use less power than our old incandescent lights used.

LEDs are compact, long lived, extremely versatile and run cooler than incandescent boat lights. The small size of LEDs allows them to be used in some pretty innovative ways which can greatly improve the appearance of our boats as well as how well they are illuminated. There are LED lights which can be installed in strips, making them ideal for mounting under gunwales or railings, providing a lighting system that is almost invisible until it is actually turned on. They can also be mounted under cabinets, shelving and along stairs to produce highly unobtrusive illumination while providing great coverage. LEDs can also be had in fixtures with rectangular housings, square housings, oval housings, recessed housings, and even wall washer configurations no larger than a common bottle cap. This great variety of styles and sizes means we can mount an LED fixture in just about any spot imaginable onboard, without bulky or unsightly fixtures.

Another great aspect of LEDs is their availability in a wide range of colors. LEDs don’t need colored lenses or filters to produce colored light, and instead produce colored light natively. This means those same strip lights, small recessed lights and the like we mentioned earlier can be had in a variety of colors as well and used to create some interesting lighting contrasts. In fact, one of the more popular ways LEDs are being used onboard these days is to create an entire above decks illuminated in a single brilliant color such as blue or green. Some LED fixtures are available in a multi-color configuration, which allows boaters to install them strategically to provide excellent above decks illumination while fishing or just relaxing while at anchor, then simply by pushing a switch the entire above decks area can be bathed in a brilliant blue hue for parties or just plain fun.

LEDs are also being used extensively for underwater and hull lighting applications. Underwater hull lights have been popular for some time, but have been difficult to install and problematic to maintain. Halogen lamps have been the dominant lighting choice for hull lights, and have several drawbacks plaguing them including the fact that they can only be operated while not underway, they require rather large holes to be drilled in the hull, and they are difficult to replace when it comes time to replace bulbs. LED hull lights on the other hand can be operated while the boat is underway, are much smaller and so require less drilling and hardware to install, and will last for several years before they need replacing. LEDs also offer the ability to provide colored illumination just as can be done with above decks LED lighting. Colored hull lights are extremely popular and really make a boat stand out from the crowd, add ambience to offshore get togethers, and as a bonus making excellent offshore fishing lights for attracting gamefish.

LEDs offer a whole host of practical benefits as well. We’ve already mentioned how much more efficient LEDs lights are, which of course means less fuel burned keeping generators running and batteries topped off. LEDs also last far longer than incandescent lamps. While an incandescent bulb might only last for 1,500 to 2500 hours, and LED lamp will last upwards of 50,000 hours, meaning it will be years before you change another onboard light once you make the switch to LEDs. LEDs also produce a whole lot less heat. A simple cabin with several 25 watt halogen lamps can experience an increase in ambient temperature of 3-4 degrees with all of those lights running. Additionally, anyone who accidentally touches one of those halogen fixtures while they’re running can expect to get a nasty burn. LEDs on the other hand run so much cooler that they have little or no effect on cabin temperature, which means air conditioning runs less, and there is no chance of getting burned if you touch the fixture.

Finally, LED boat lights are much more durable than traditional incandescent lights. They have no filament, no glass bulbs, and as a result will not shatter if accidentally hit or dropped. LEDs are highly resistant to damage from vibrations as well, so the life of an LED light fixture is not going to be shortened by frequent trips in rough seas.

Overall, LEDs are driving a drastic change in how we approach boat lighting. We can improve our onboard energy efficiency, make our decks safer, reduce the time we spend on maintenance, and even customize our boats appearance, all from simply upgrading our onboard lighting systems to LEDs. With LEDs becoming cheaper in price and new improvements appearing almost monthly, the chances are that you can upgrade your own watercraft affordably and effectively and begin reaping the benefits of modern boat lighting as well.


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