LED Boat Lights Hype and Reality

These days it seems that if you own a boat, you can’t help but have heard how LEDs are the miracle technology of today that promises to do everything from slash your electricity use by two thirds to ensure you’ll never change another light bulb

As is the case with most new technologies, or in the case of LEDs, technologies that only seem new, the truth is closer to a middle ground than all the hype suggests. However, this is not to say LEDs don’t hold a great deal of promise and potential, they do, only that there is more to the story than just amazing claims.

By far the largest excitement around LEDs has been revolving around their extremely high efficiency. Producing on the order of 60 to 100 lumens per watt compared to the paltry 15 lumens per watt of an incandescent, LEDs are indeed far more efficient than traditional light bulbs. One of the problems often made when suggesting expected improvements in overall efficiency however come from the failure to note that electrical savings are only associated with the power consumed by lighting, and a failure to note that in order to see serious improvements it is generally necessary to upgrade several light fixtures.

When we see a claim of “electrical consumption was cut in half”, we need to keep in mind that this only represents the total energy used by the lighting systems and not total energy use. So if your entire lighting system is pulling 50 amps, yes, it is probably realistic to say a full upgrade to LEDs can cut that down to 25 amps, and in many cases even lower. We also need to realize that if we only upgrade our spreaders, or perhaps several cabin lights, the total reduction is going to be lower. In other words, the more fixtures you upgrade, the better your results will be. The best way to determine just how much improvement and upgrade provides is to take an initial amp draw reading from lighting systems alone before performing any upgrades, and then another afterwards. This will give a much more accurate and realistic view of just how effective your upgrade efforts have been.

Another of the popular selling points behind LEDs has been their extremely long operating life. Most mid power LED fixtures carry an average operational life rating of around 50,000 hours. Many fixtures are rated even higher, and some a bit lower. Much depends on how powerful the fixture is, and how reputable the manufacturer is. Higher power fixtures tend to have a slightly shorter operational life because they produce more heat and heat is the enemy of LEDs, and unfortunately, some of the less reputable manufacturers do not provide accurate life time ratings. On the whole however, when we consider that a typical incandescent bulb has a service life measuring anywhere from 500 to 2,000 hours, and an LED an average of 50,000 hours, it is pretty easy to see why many claim you may never change a light bulb again. When you consider that the lighting on your boat really sees limited use, perhaps a couple hundred hours per season for recreational craft, and perhaps 1,200 to 2,000 for more extensively operated vessels, then yes, LEDs can indeed last for several years. On a recreational boat it is even possible that LEDs you install now will outlive your ownership of the vessel.


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