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Three Most common LED Boat Light Questions and Answers

With the arrival of LED boating lighting has also come a good deal of confusion and misinformation. Because LEDs are such a radical departure technology wise from the traditional incandescent bulb, there are different operating aspects and performance parameters that can come into play. Although boaters have been fairly enthusiastic in their acceptance of LEDs, there has been a great deal of misunderstanding as well which has led to some issues with safety and effective operation. Many boaters make the mistake of thinking they can simply modify existing fixtures with their own LEDs and find the results less than stellar, and others try modifying navigation light housing to accept LEDs without realizing the effects this has on their regulatory compliance. Such issues are fairly commonplace, and in order to help clear the air a bit we'll address a couple of the more common questions regarding LED boat lights here.

This one is a common question and   custom neon signs   we've place it at the top because of the importance this type of lighting carries. Navigation lighting is critical to the safety of not only your own vessel, but the safety of other boaters passing nearby. The most important function navigation lighting serves is to make it possible for other boaters to see your vessel in the dark, identify its size and type, and ascertain your position and heading relative to their own. Navigation lights make all of this possible because of their color, mounting positions, and visibility. Depending on the color of the lights visible and their position, another boater can determine if you are heading towards them or away, parallel to their course or angled off, and the general size of the craft you are operating, and thus they can make their own navigation decisions in order to maintain safe travel.

In order for navigation lights to do all of this effectively, they must be visible for the minimum required distance, and they must display the proper colors over a specific range of viewing angles. A red and green bow light for instance must have the red illumination visible on the left side of the craft, and the green visible on the right. Additionally, this light must show an unbroken arc of the horizon of 112. 5 degrees, from dead ahead to 22. 5 degrees abaft the beam on each side. In order to produce the correct arc of visibility an incandescent combination red and green sidelight has built in reflectors and a lens designed to produce the proper visibility range.

The problem arises when boaters try to retrofit basic LEDs into a navigation light housing without understanding how LEDs can affect the arc of visibility. Unlike incandescent bulbs which radiate light in a 360 degree pattern, and thus the housing is designed to work with this pattern, LEDs are highly directional. If you install LEDs into a nav light fixture designed for incandescent bulbs, you can severely alter the viewing arc the light produces, making it difficult for other boaters to correctly determine your course and position, and thus creating a potential situation where a collision could occur. Additionally, it is possible the colors could even blend together, making the light entirely useless for navigation purposes. Perhaps most importantly of all, replacing the bulb in an incandescent unit will most likely void the lights USCG approval, opening you up to possible citations and fines if it fails to pass an impromptu inspection. The best bet here is to avoid trying to retrofit LEDs into existing navigation light fixtures, and instead install new dedicated LED fixtures that carry the proper USCG approvals.

Some boaters are wary of using existing wiring harness and lines when switching to LEDs. They've heard of the LEDs' sensitivity to current changes and low voltage conditions and worry that their existing harnesses won't be up to the job. This is rarely if ever a cause for concern though when replacing existing incandescent fixtures with LED units. Because LED fixtures can produce so much more light, but do it using less power, the actual load capacity of the wire feeding the lights can be lower as well. This is not to say you need to use smaller wire, but that your existing wiring is probably already more than capable of supplying LEDs. Most incandescent light fixtures on boats pull at least 1 to 5 amps depending on their size and wattage. If your current lighting is not displaying any issues associated with a low current condition, replacing them with LEDs of comparable output will be quite safe using the existing wiring. Since the LED will likely draw around a third or half as much current as the incandescent it replaces, the existing wiring will actually be able to supply more current than the LED will ever pull.

Unlike incandescent bulbs, LEDs are very specific in their voltage requirements. The current supplied to an LED must have the polarity correctly oriented, and the current must be kept as steady as possible and not allowed to spike past the LEDs rated current requirements in order to ensure maximum LED operating life. While current lower than the LEDs rated requirements will generally cause little trouble beyond dim or erratic operation, current higher than the LEDs ratings can cause it to quickly fail. Before LEDs were available in boat specific configurations, boaters were attempting to do their own retrofits. They soon found that there must be some sort of circuitry added in order to protect the LED from erratic voltages. Without the proper current regulation, these homemade conversions proved to be unreliable and prone to poor performance.

New LED boat lights however, are designed specifically for use on watercraft. They have the regulating circuitry built in, which usually allows them to be used with a variety of voltages, often ranging anywhere from 9 to 32 VDC without any issues. Boaters do not need to install any additional controls, and can instead install these fixtures much the same as they would a normal incandescent light fixture. Generally speaking, if you are trying to do your own LED conversion of existing fixtures, you will probably have to also include additional circuitry to protect the LEDs. If you are installing LEDs designed specifically for boat applications, they will already contain just about everything they need for direct installation.

The bottom line when converting to LED boat lights is that it is up to you the purchaser to ensure the LEDs you choose are correct for your particular needs. Don't be afraid to ask detailed questions of the manufacturer, and be sure to fully understand all of the literature and installation instructions that come with your new LED fixtures. LEDs have come a long way in the last 10 years, and with a little knowledge it is now easier than ever to reap all the benefits of LEDs without compromising the effectiveness of your onboard lighting systems.

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