From the ethereal glow of underwater lights to cabin cosiness, new LED lighting is bringing boating out of the dark age.
As roughly 50% of a boating day is actually night time, onboard lighting really deserves at least half our attention, not total disregard.
Someone once opined that since 70% of the world’s surface is covered with water we should go boating seven-tenths of the time. By the same logic, roughly 50% of a boating day is actually night time, so onboard lighting really deserves at least half our attention, not total disregard.
In recent years, with the rise of energy-efficient and attractive LED cabin and navigation lighting as well as those glorious underwater lights, the marine industry has emerged from the dark.
With specialised lights being available to suit all needs, occasions and budgets, just about every boat can – and should – be made of the 'bright stuff'.
Why? Because it pays to both see and be seen, and at the same time maximise your finite 12-volt battery life.
The only thing worse than watching an anchor light slowly fade from white to a pathetic amber is to barely detect navigation lights at all on a busy harbour. Or when you’re inside a warm, woody cabin, trying to read and eat beneath the sterile doctors-surgery glow of a cheap fluoro tube.
Underwater lighting: Wealthy folk in the posher suburbs have long appreciated the security and beauty of outdoor lighting at home and, not surprisingly, they were fairly quick to extend these benefits to their boats.
Just as landscape lighting enhances a beautiful house, underwater illumination gives boats an ethereal, almost mystical, glow. They don’t just catch the eye either, but have been proven to attract bait fish.
There’s also a school of thought that underwater lights help reduce marine growth, so many boat owners leave them running 24/7 when hooked into marina shorepower.
When it comes to underwater lighting, Australia’s Aqualuma is a leading light. The Gold Coast company, founded in 2005, has risen rapidly in the heady world of motoryachts, superyachts, sportsfishers and marinas, being sold and patented in 127 countries.
Aqualuma’s products use LED technology, which is shock and vibration resistant and has a life expectancy of more than 50,000 hours.
Installation of their transom lights is as simple as drilling a hole, applying sealant, hand tightening the nut and connecting two wires. Having a one-piece housing that has no lenses or seals means they can be serviced and upgraded without the need for haul out.
Alternatively, there are trim tab lights designed as a non-intrusive option, with no drilling. The trim tab light is factory sealed and self-contained, and therefore Aqualuma recommends it for vessels not permanently kept in the water (ie, trailable or dry-store).
Each colour apparently has different benefits, as the way light travels through the water is dependent on its colour temperature.
Aqualuma’s Ultra Blue penetrates further than any other colour, making it the most popular, followed by Ultra Green which looks good in fresh water. Their Brilliant White is just that – a cold white light as opposed to the yellow hue of halogen.
Australian made Aqualuma lights are the popular choice for prestige boats - Aqua Luma
Boat owners looking for wide light spread could consider Hella Marine’s 0754 series SeaVision LED underwater lights, which are designed and manufactured by Underwater Lights in the US.
Designed for permanent submersion 125-150 millimetres below the waterline and ideal for smaller vessels, the powerful LEDs are available in luminous blue or white.
The six LEDs generate a light output of 1,000+ lumens at 10-28V DC, with power consumption of less than 18 watts. Sydney’s MR Marine uses InView LED underwater lighting, which is manufactured in Asia and, accordingly, well priced ($770 per light).
It surface-mounts to the transom under the waterline, and the power cable can be run above waterline for entry into the boat (read, no holes under the water).
The company says it’s equal in brightness to a 200-watt Metal Halide underwater light, but uses less than one-third the power.
Interior lighting: Modern LED lighting provides many advantages over traditional filament-based sources – significantly reduced power consumption, increased reliability, reduction in radiated heat and attractive ambient effects.
The single most influential driver is the opportunity to save hundreds of amp hours. As a recent example, the entire Hella marine LED lighting system specified for a Maritimo 73 draws less than seven amps.
To light the same interior with conventional halogen lamps would have totalled over 62 amps, and there was an added reduction in cable size and weight. Each lamp consumes less than 0.8W yet produces the equivalent light output of a 10W halogen lamp.
LEDs don’t have filaments to break but do require precise current regulation and voltage protection to provide long-term reliability.
Colour ‘temperature’ has been a stumbling block for LED until recently. They had a reputation for appearing ‘cold’ and ‘blue’ due to their phosphorous coating heritage, but today’s lights can rival incandescent light sources for ambience.
Cool white will accentuate blue and green hues in certain fabrics and surfaces, and where there are stainless steel or gelcoat surfaces.
While the LED is great for lighting large spaces, you may still employ some strategically placed halogen or incandescent spotlights to create a cosy sensation.
When it comes to night vision you should be seeing red.
The human eye contains two types of receptors, rods and the cones. Rods are largely responsible for our day time and colour vision and have an increased sensitivity towards the red band of the visual spectrum. Cones are responsible for our night vision capability and have an increased sensitivity towards the blue band of the visual spectrum.
Red light will not affect the sensitivity of the cones and with that our night vision is not affected by the use of red light in the cabin.
Navigation lights: Where you really benefit from brightness is in navigational lights, which not only enable other boaties to spot you but also communicate the direction you’re travelling.
This isn’t the article to touch on specific lighting requirements for particular vessels – check your maritime authority handbook for those details. But given the growing popularity of LED lighting on vessels, NSW Maritime has cautioned skippers to make sure they fit only LED lights that comply with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.
Simply placing an LED light bulb into an existing incandescent light fitting on a vessel does not necessarily mean that your navigation lights will be displayed over the correct arc of the horizon.
By the same measure, he who relies solely on battery-powered portable navigation lighting is asking for trouble. America’s Accon Marine offers a full line of sleek lighting, pop-up bow and side lights that fold down flush when not in use, keeping the deck free of protruding lights and helping prevent passengers from tripping over them. AMI Marine Sales is the Australian distributor in most States.
The 210 and 211 LED Bow Lights are US Coast Guard approved for two nautical miles, while the 204 Bow Light is rated for one nautical mile. Do-it-yourselfers can view more detailed mounting instructions by watching www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rt9x0QTuwPI&feature=channel (below)
The BIAS and Whitworths boating catalogues have pages full of lights. The LEDs are about $15 more than an incandescent equivalent, but worth every cent in my book.
Arguably the ‘duck’s guts’ in nav lighting are the NaviLEDs from Hella – the sidelights start at $169 each and the tri-colour is, wait for it, $599. Like children, better seen than heard.
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