Marine LED Lighting

Learn how to choose the right LED lighting for your boat.

Marine LED Lights
Nav LEDs must meet USCG requirements.Hella Marine

Realizing huge energy savings with illumination that also lasts longer makes LED lighting tough to ignore. As a commercial lighting contractor in the real world and a charter-boat captain and outdoor writer in my other lives, I’ll make the connection ­between these benefits and your boat.

Clearly Better
LED lighting uses significantly less battery juice. Let's take the ­recent conversion to LED lighting aboard my 2006 EdgeWater 228CC, for example.

The existing lights all used the same incandescent bulb rated to consume 10 watts and 0.8 amps per hour at 12 volts. Noting the specs of a ­typical series 24 lead-acid dual-purpose battery reveals that it will run for 11.6 hours ­under a 5-amp load, and so can probably power the 3.2-amp load of these incandescent nav lights for 16 hours on a single charge.

I replaced the incandescent lights with a Hella ­Marine LED masthead light and sidelights, all of which burn less than 1 watt and 0.08 amps per hour at 12 volts; the total power consumption on the LEDs is 3 watts and 0.24 amps per hour. That means these LEDs use 92.5 percent less energy than their old-school predecessors and will run a long time on that same 24M 12V battery before the battery needs a recharge. An added benefit of the Hella LEDs is that the 1-watt LED nav lights are equal to the brightness of a 25-watt incandescent bulb and are visible for up to 2 nautical miles, which is twice the U.S. Coast Guard requirement for boats under 12 meters (39.4 feet).

Additionally, the cool LEDs don’t accelerate the degradation, and resultant cloudiness, of the plastic lenses the way hot-burning incandescent bulbs do.

See the Difference
There are quality marine LED lights, and there are others. I reached out to Hella ­Marine's Duncan Stirling for additional insights. According to Stirling, "well-constructed LED nav lights offer boaters increased vibration and shock resistance, reduced heat, and long-term reliability. When comparing LED products, be sure to select those that meet the IP67 ­waterproof standards and employ ultradurable materials, such as marine-rated wiring, to resist harsh marine conditions and UV radiation. For navigation lights specifically, make sure the lights meet U.S. Coast Guard requirements or don't buy them." Also, look for CE certification on LED products, which ensures that they will not create electromagnetic interference with electronics such as your VHF or fish-finder screen.

Make the Switch
LED lighting provides energy-efficient, longer-lasting lights that are more vibration- and water-resistant than incandescent lights. Besides navigation lights, LEDs can replace courtesy lights, reading lights, cabin lights or virtually any light aboard. They are a bright idea.

Navigation-Light Comparison (sidelights; masthead light)
Voltage | Wattage | Amps/Hour

Incandescent: 12 | 40 | 3.20
LED: 12 | 3 | 0.24

U.S. Coast Guard Regulations for Navigation Lights
Powerboats under 12 meters (39.4 feet) in length must have separate or combined red and green sidelights covering 112.5 degrees and visible for 1 nautical mile. The white masthead light must cover 225 degrees, be 1 meter above the sidelights and be visible for 2 nautical miles. The white stern light must cover 135 degrees and be visible for 2 nautical miles, or you can substitute one 360-degree all-around white light. For larger boats, the sidelights must be visible for 2 nautical miles and the masthead light for 3 nautical miles.