LED Lights For Your Boat: Green Boating Upgrade

LED cabin lighting
Cool bright LED lights are becoming fixtures on high-end boats

New boat builders have had to improve their products to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. High-end builders like Sabre, Trinity, Morris Yachts, Tiara, Oyster, Nordhaven,Hatteras, and SeaRay, just to name a few… now install Light-Emitting-Diodes or LED lighting as standard equipment on their vessels. Not only are the lights more energy efficient than their halogen predecessors and miles ahead of incandescent, but they are cooler—giving off less heat. The bottom line is, better equipment such as LED lighting adds more value to these boats and differentiates them from the competition. So, why not upgrade your used boat to LED lights, adding value and improving efficiency?

LED reading light
LED reading lights would look good on your boat

The green benefits are significant: LED lighting draws approximately 75% less power than halogen bulbs for the equivalent amount of illumination. You will be using less power and burn less fossil fuel (you won’t have to run your engine or genset as often or as long to charge the batteries) and you will also be cooler–LED lights emit less than 1/3 the heat of halogen bulbs. If you add a solar power battery charger you will become even greener.

To find out about the recent advances in LEDs, the cost, and installation options I turned to lighting engineer Mike Moriarty at IMTRA—a leading manufacturer of marine lighting located in New Bedford, MA.  “IMTRA originally made halogen lights, but over the last seven years LED lighting has grown to be about 85% of our total lighting business”, says Mike. “Since we already had the halogen fixtures we began selling LED bulbs that would fit the same or similar fixtures, making conversions simpler and less costly.”

LED replacement bulbs
LED replacement bulbs designed to fit in older fixtures are an economical way to transition to greener, more efficient lighting.

Replacing a halogen bulb with an LED bulb is a minor  project and the most basic option. Replacing the lamp fixture itself to one designed for LEDs (IMTRA makes these as well and in the same sizes that will fit the existing cutouts) is the next level. In addition to a more modern look, the LED fixture is designed to more effectively disperse heat, resulting in fixtures that last a minimum 50,000 hours. The final option to becoming completely LED compliant is to run an additional duplex signal wire to all the LED fixtures to facilitate dimming. Running new wires is something that is not always easy in a used boat. Power and MotorYacht magazine produced an article in August of 2009 where a Tiara 3600 was converted and the consensus was that it took 3 advanced DIY capable people 7 hours to do a full LED makeover.

The cost of conversion depends on the level of installation. LED bulbs cost almost 3 times that of halogen but tend to last much longer.  A typical LED fixture can cost in the $80 to-$100 range and for a big boat with 35 fixtures with dimmers can run $3,800 in materials for a full conversion. I suggest you check out IMTRA’s website for closeout and clearance items. Other than the cost there are no significant downsides to installing LED lights.  Early versions of LED  lights had issues with the quality of color,  but these have been largely overcome by use of phosphorus coatings.

Getting started is as simple as consulting  a marine lighting manufacturer such as IMTRA. They can guide you to a local distributor or installer and will also happily consult directly on making sure your boat is properly lit.  You can start with one bulb or one fixture and don’t have to immediately upgrade the whole boat—of course, it won’t be as efficient and your boat might not appeal to the next buyer as much if you have the proverbial dated fixtures screaming, “I’m old.”

LED Nav bulb
LED nav light bulbs made for incandecent housings

Whether you plan to keep your current boat for a while and want the green benefits of LED lighting, or like many of the high-end boat builders installing LEDs as standard equipment, you’re looking to upgrade and differentiate the value and green nature of your boat on the open market, LED lighting is a fine choice.  By the way, while you are providing new life for your old boat, don’t forget to convert your running lights to LEDs, too—it is the greener way to go.


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