Spotlight Comparison

We illuminate three top spotlights for easier navigation.

Anyone who has to be — or might be — boating after dark should have a spotlight on board. You’ll need one to pick your way through floating debris, find gear or even locate a man overboard. Lacking scientific equipment to verify manufacturer claims of light output, we stood at the end of our street and illuminated a stop sign one-eighth of a mile away. We also shot the beam into the sky, noting the resolution of the beam and the apparent reach. In pure orneriness, we also blinded our co-workers across the hall.

QBeam LED Night Vision

Made Of: Plastic, top to bottom, with high, low and red-beam settings and a trigger lock to prevent accidental battery discharge

Cordless: Yes

Waterproof: No

Light Output: 600 lumens

Battery Life: Advertised five hours, but we left it on nine hours and it still had enough light to make it useful on board

Chargers: 12-volt and 110-volt

Recharge Time: 24 hours or less

Charge Indicator: Yes

Stop Sign Test: Good reflection bounce-back will make it easy to find buoys, but it comes in third place in this test.

Squint Test: Oh, boy, it's going to be a few minutes before he can read his keyboard.

UFO Hunting Capability: They would have to be at treetop level to light them up with this one.

Likes: The red LED setting lets you illuminate the cockpit or walkway to the dock without burning night vision — very cool.

Not So Much: Care must be taken not to leave the light on the charger — the directions say charging more than 24 hours can damage the battery. Set a timer.

Price: $59.95, Brinkmann.net

Warranty: 3 years for light, none for batteries

Stanley HID Spotlight

Made Of: Rugged plastic case, rubberized lens rim, steel "roll bars" to protect the base and a trigger lock and auto-off on the high-intensity-discharge beam

Cordless: Yes

Waterproof: No

Light Output: 4,200 lumens

Battery Life: 45 minutes of continuous use

Chargers: 12-volt and 110-volt

Recharge Time: Not specified; ours took 12 hours

Charge Indicator: Yes

Stop Sign Test: Even the reflection from the stop sign made us squint — it comes in first.

Squint Test: Blinded by the light — victim is wearing eye patches and carrying a cane.

UFO Hunting Capability: ET made it home — we spotlighted him near Orion. Don't point this at planes.

Likes: It was unequivocally the brightest in our test and the most rugged in appearance. A trouble light at the top is handy. Auto shutoff prevents fire.

Not So Much: The trouble light broke; we don't know why. It's bowling-ball hefty and could have used more rubber armor to stop it from sliding around.

Price: $79.99, department/hardware stores

Warranty: 1 year

Optronics BlueEye Beam

Made Of: Tough plastic case, steel hanging ring, tough sealed-beam replaceable bulb and stretchy cord with 12-volt, water-protected switch

Cordless: No

Waterproof: No

Light Output: 400,000 candle power

Battery Life: Lasts as long as your boat battery

Chargers: N/A

Recharge Time: N/A

Charge Indicator: N/A

Stop Sign Test: Strong return and it illuminated bits of trash at the end of the road — second place.

Squint Test: Oops. The cord won't reach from the boat, but it's visually crippling.

UFO Hunting Capability: 500 yards away, a heron roosted on a radio tower — we saw him squint.

Likes: This corded 12-volt light is simple and reliable, and because a boater may store it for weeks and need it at a moment, it's very practical.

Not So Much: The cord is too short and confining — it needs to be two or three feet longer. Or, add an extension cord.

Price: $23.99, Defender.com

Warranty: 1 year