How to Choose the Right Spotlight

Find out which marine spotlight is right for your boat.

How to Choose the Right Spotlight
Built-In: This rugged ACR RCL-100 LED searchlight tilts and rotates.ACR/ARTEX

A spotlight is one of the handiest marine accessories to have aboard. It can help you find a navigation aid or landmark in the dark. A spotlight can also help you find things dropped in the water — if the thing floats, or the water is shallow and clear. It can also be a safety aid, used to signal for help or warn other boats of a hazard in the water. Here’s what to look for in a marine spotlight, whether for your existing boat or as an ­option aboard a boat you are buying.

Built-In
The particulars of the installation have a large impact on a permanently installed spotlight. For instance, a light mounted on a hardtop is convenient to install and may even allow the use of a light that can be aimed manually. However, a light beam shooting over the white bow of a boat often creates a bloom of hazy light that impedes the skipper's ability to see. If you are set on a top-mounted light, temporarily wire the light and have a helper hold it on your top while the boat is stationary at night so you can check whether this will be a problem for you. Mounting the light forward is preferable. Just be careful about rail mounts.

Many boat rails vibrate while the boat is underway. This vibration might not seem excessive for a rail, and mostly, it isn’t. But we have observed numerous boats aboard which a small vibration in the rail resulted in a huge vibration to the light’s beam, making it difficult to aim and keep on a target. For this reason, we suggest you favor a light mounted directly to the deck.

How to Choose the Right Spotlight
Hand-Held: This West Marine LED spotlight is waterproof and runs on a rechargeable battery.West Marine

Hand-Held
Some hand-held spotlights are wired. These connect to a cigarette-lighter receptacle. If you choose this type, consider buying a quality receptacle that locks the male plug from the light (Marinco's SeaLink comes as a kit for $20 from westmarine.com). You'll have to cut off the plug that came with the light and splice in the new locking plug, a simple DIY task. A locking plug and receptacle prevents the light's cord from pulling out ­inadvertently in use — a thing that can happen at the worst moment. Also, consider installing auxiliary receptacles at other ­places from which you might use the light. These include at the bow, on the flying bridge, and in the engine compartment.

Other hand-held spotlights are battery-operated. These provide the freedom to move around the boat without the restrictions of a cord. Of course, unlike wired lights, which have power as long as your boat’s batteries are charged or the engine is ­running, a hand-held light’s batteries tend to go dead at exactly the same time a wired light’s cord tends to get pulled out of its ­nonlocking receptacle. Charging vigilance is required for the boater who owns a battery-operated spotlight.

With either type, make sure you select a hand-held spotlight that is heavily armored with rubber or plastic because, as sure as the tide, you will drop it. I also like lights with a brow or rim that extends beyond the lens. This not only adds shock protection but also cuts down glare and helps preserve night vision.