For many boats, the jury is still out on LEDs. Although LEDs have become the latest rage in boat lighting circles as of late, there still remains many boats uncertainty of their effectiveness and value. This is somewhat understandable considering that some LED lights manufactured as little as 5 years ago were not quite up to the task of replacing current standard incandescent and HID lighting. Some of the common complaints were light color that was too cold with an almost bluish tint, LEDs that did not last nearly as long as they were supposed to, and light output that was below the advertised levels. Fortunately, most of the these problems were attributable to buyers purchasing cheaply designs from less than established manufacturers in an effort to save a few dollars, and basic LED designs that simply lacked the refinements and improvements that later versions would benefit from. If you're one of those boats who remains on the fence regarding LEDs, follow along as we outline some of the many reasons why LEDs are now a very practical and effective alternative to the traditional incandescent boat light.
As we mentioned earlier, one of the biggest complaints boats had regards LEDs had to do with their cold light color. For the uninitiated, a lamp that produces a "cold" color of light is basically one that produces most of its light output towards the bluish end of the light spectrum. Because of the basic materials used to construct an LED and the unusual manner in which an LED produces light, they naturally tend to produce light in skewed towards the blue, or "cold" end of the light spectrum. Developers of LEDs who were intent on creating a version capable of replacing the tested and true incandescent bulb quickly realized that LEDs would have to be tailor to produce a "warmer" color of light if they were to be accepted by the general consumer.
Fortunately, it did not take long for developers to realize that they could coat LEDs with various materials which would help shift the output towards the desired end of the light spectrum. This is usually done by coating the LED itself with phosphors, which help to alter the wavelength at which light is emitted. The result was the ability to shift the light output of the LED farther towards the middle of the light spectrum, effectively creating light output that was much whiter in appearance and more pleasing to the human eye. Today, developers can produce LEDs in a wide range of color temperatures ranging from very cold "bluish", to very warm 'yellow to reddish orange', and just about anywhere in between. in mind, allowing boats to choose extremely white and powerful LEDs for exterior illumination, and softer more warm LEDs for cabin and cockpit illumination.
We also stated that LEDs often tend to have a survivor lifespan than was advertised. To be fair to the developers of LEDs, this was a great problem born from the heavy efforts of many companies to capitalize on the growing LED markets. When LEDs began to rise in popularity, there were a lot of general product manufacturers who attempted to bring their own offerings into the markets at prices far less than the established leaders in lighting technologies. These LEDs tend to be constructed of cheaper materials and with a lot less attention to proper design and development. The result was a lot of LEDs appearing that although they looked good in the advertisement, proved to be less than a bargain when they failed after less than a couple of months of use. The effect this had on the consumer end of things was significant, with many consumers deciding that LEDs were a poor replacement for their trusted incandescent bulb.
As time went on however, and the leading developers of LED technology like Cree and GE began producing quality LEDs at a more cost effective price, the ability of these cheap LEDs to compete in the marketplace began to diminish, and consumers found themselves finally presented with offers that not only lived up to their promises, but in many cases exceeded them. LEDs from reputable manufacturers are now actually producing more light than comparable incandescent fixture while using only a fraction as much energy. Manufacturer claims of 50,000+ hour operation from a set of LEDs are also now hitting the mark, and LEDs with lifespans in the 100,000 hour range are becoming more common. When you consider that the typical halogen boat light has a life span of only 500 to 1500 hours, this increased longevity is a big deal indeed, and something we will go into more detail next.
The biggest reasons why boaters have been so interested in LED lighting have been the extreme efficiency of the LED and its very long operating life. Conserving power on a boat is a challenge every boater faces, and finding ways to improve efficiency is a constant struggle. LEDs give boats the ability to produce more light than standard incandescent bulbs, while using only a fraction as much energy. The standard 50 watt halogen bulb produces 850 lumens and draws about four and a half amps. An LED fixture on the other hand can produce that same 850 lumen output, while using only 12-16 watts, and drawing less than one and a half amps. Many boaters are finding that when they switch all of their lighting over to LEDs, they can literally cut the total number of amps dropped by their lighting systems by over half. This means you can run more lights, run them longer, use less power, and produce just as might light, with as good or better color quality.
To close this out, we'll say a couple words about LED longevity. The typical incandescent boat light lasts around 500 to 1500 hours. If we assume a 50,000 hour lifespan for an LED fixture, that means we would have to replace the incandescent around 34 times to reach the same amount of runtime as the LED. This is important because as boats quickly learn, LEDs simply cost more. However, if we figure that an incandescent halogen bulb is going to cost about $ 5.00 per replacement, we see that over the long term, that halogen bulb will actually cost $ 175.00. This is replacement costs alone. If we also consider how the LED uses much less power, which means less money spent on fuel, it quickly becomes apparent that the halogen bulb simply is not very cost effective at all compared to the LED.
In the end, it comes down to personal choices and making an informed decision. Talk to boats who have made the switch to LEDs, shop around to learn what they have to offer. Chances are, if you put a little effort into learning more about today's LED boat lights, the decision to make the switch will not be a hard one to make.