Replacing Navigation Lights With LEDs

Back in the old days, the navigation lights on your boat were little incandescent bulbs housed within a small fixture with colored lenses. Simple and small as they were, somehow they always seemed to have a way of causing problems far out of proportion to their size. Oftentimes it seemed as though the mere act of putting a boat on the water in the dark would cause them to blow out. A few nighttime outings or a single season of use could lead to dead lights, corroded sockets, and fogged up lenses. Worse, most old style navigation lights were hardly what you could call user serviceable. Once a fixture corroded, there was little recourse besides replacing the whole thing if you wanted to get more than a few weeks of use out of it again.

These days, however, incandescent lights are becoming something of an antique notion to be remembered with a strange mixture of dread and nostalgia. The days of trying to remove rusted fixtures from mounts, clean corroded sockets and wiring, and clear up foggy colored lenses are rapidly receding into history as new navigation lighting technology comes to the fore. Gone are the days of putting your boat in the water only to have your lights fail at the first sign of an oncoming yacht or rainstorm. Of course, we are talking about the introduction of the LED into the marine navigation lighting niche’.

The light emitting diode, or “LED” for short, has largely obliterated the problems usually associated with navigation lighting. Powerful, efficient, compact, highly durable and extremely long lived; incandescent navigation lights never stood a chance once the LED was introduced. Where it was once pretty much standard practice to periodically inspect, clean and replace your lights several times during the boating season, LEDs have made it possible to go an entire season with little more than an occasional inspection to ensure everything is still operating as expected. In most cases, an LED lighting won’t even need replacing for 5 years or more.

LEDs are nothing like an incandescent light bulb. https://eternia.to/ They have no glass bulb, there is no filament, and there is very little heat produced. This is because LEDs produce light in a wholly different manner. Rather than heat a filament like an incandescent bulb to produce light, which is by the way extremely inefficient, LEDs produce light through a process called electroluminescence. Rather than go into a long and drawn out technical explanation, it’s enough to simply say that electrical power is fed through a small piece of semi-conducting material which then emits light energy. This process is extremely efficient, produces little heat, and is basically solid stated in operation, meaning there are no parts to simply burn up or wear out in a short period of time. At the most basic level, an LED is a diode, just like you’d find in a radio or your computer. They’re efficient, compact, and powerful light sources that can operate for several years without fail.

The small size, long life and cool operation of the LED lends itself very well to boat lighting. Since they can operate for several years, run cool, and are very small in size, LEDs can be fully sealed or potted within a housing, making them impervious to water and air and thus extremely resistant to corrosion. Additionally, the solid state design of an LED navigation light makes it extremely durable. An LED equipped navigation light can withstand abuse and conditions that would normally make short work of an incandescent navigation light. Vibrations, pounding waves, rain squalls, and even minor impacts with docks will be shrugged off by quality made LED lights. About the best that can be expected from an incandescent nav light under those conditions is an expectation of servicing and replacement on a regular basis.

Another of the reasons why LEDs are proving so popular as lights is their ability to produce color specific light. Unlike incandescent bulbs which normally require a colored lens to produce the red, blue, and green colors necessary for navigation lighting, LEDs can produce these colors naturally. This means that clear lenses can be used, resulting in a brighter navigation light without the colored lens that can reduce the fixtures overall light output. While LED navigation lights are certainly available with colored lenses for the purists out there, they simply aren’t necessary and in reality reduce overall effectiveness.

Where LED lights really shine though is in light output and electrical efficiency. A typical incandescent bulb produces about 17 light lumens per watt at best. Most of the electrical energy fed to the bulb is radiated as heat, resulting in a very inefficient and wasteful light source. LEDs, on the other hand, produce anywhere from 60 to 100 lumens per watt. Very little energy fed into the LED is radiated as heat, resulting in a very efficient light source that can produce a lot more light than an incandescent while using far less electrical power. Considering the importance of navigation lighting and the need to conserve power on a boat, this is an extremely attractive benefit. You can use less power, yet produce a much stronger nav light signal, improving your visibility to other boats while reducing power consumption at the same time. On smaller boats, you could run a basic set of navigation lights all night and still not deplete your batteries. Increased safety and increased efficiency, all from a simply change in light sources!

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