It's probably by now safe to say that LED lighting is here to stay. Although as little as five years ago LEDs were still considered a fairly unproven marine lighting technology, we are now seeing major boat manufacturers incorporating LEDs as standard equipment in a wide variety of lighting applications ranging from navigational lighting systems to cabin lighting. LEDs have come a long way in the last decade, and with more and more boats realizing the benefits to be had from their durability, efficiency and long operational life, it was only a matter of time before major boat builders began embracing them as well. For quite some time, a boaters only real option was to attempt a do it yourself installation, which resulted in a lot of hit or miss results. LED quality was spotty at best, and effective installation in existing fixtures required a bit more work than simply replacing a bulb. Regardless, boaters were ahead of the manufacturers, and proved beyond any doubt that LEDs were an attractive addition to the marine industry. With such a strong demand obvious and present, it's no wonder that manufacturers finally caught on and began offering LEDs in their new models.
For the boater looking to purchase a new watercraft, the option of including LEDs onboard is fairly simple since most manufacturers offer either the option to have them added or include them as standard equipment. How in-depth their inclusion is depends upon the manufacturer, but for the most part, most important lighting can be ordered in LED configuration and the boater need do nothing. While the cost of including LEDs does indeed increase the overall purchase price of a boat, the savings in fuel and maintenance costs help to quickly offset their added expense and provide net savings in the long term. Even better, LEDs allow boats for most practical intents to abandon the old ways of saving power, and now it is possible to run a multitude of lights for hours with little worry of draining batteries or having to run noisy gensets. Replacing bulbs is quickly becoming a thing of the past as well, and maintenance of LED equipped lighting systems consists mainly of ensuring connections and housings remain in good condition.
While it's a positive development, equipping newer boats with LEDs from the factory does nothing for boats with older models that still use traditional incandescent and halogen lighting systems. Fortunately, the heavy interest among boaters in LEDs and their efforts to include them has resulted in the growth of an huge aftermarket that caters well well to their needs. Every year new offers arise that make switching older boats to LED lighting ever easier and simpler. It is now possible to upgrade an entire lighting system to LEDs with little more than screw in and bolt on replacement fixtures, which simplifies things for those with limited mechanical ability and electrical know how. Aftermarket marine LEDs also allow boaters to implement LEDs at a slow pace, making it a more affordable project as well. Rather than go all out and replace every fixture in one huge overhaul, boaters can simply replace fixtures with LEDs as they happen to fail and burn out, allowing them to reap the benefits of LEDS while spreading the costs over a longer period of time.
For boats seeking to switch to LEDs, the aftermarket can at times seem a bewildering mish mash of unknown brands and confusing options. With the huge popularity of marine LEDs has also come a large number of new distributors and suppliers, each seeking to gather his share of the market, and portion of the boaters funds. Unfortunately, this has also led to a lot of unhappy boats as they seek to purchase the cheapest LED fixtures possible without understanding some of the problems associated with bargain brand LEDs. While generally speaking LEDs outperform incandescent lights by a wide margin in almost every measure of performance, they still require some extra attention in detail that is often lacking in bargain brand versions. To avoid some of the problems, boaters need to understand a few salient points before embarking on their venture into LED lighting.
First and foremost, boats need to understand that when it comes to LEDs, you do indeed get what you pay for. While those bargain LED flood lights from China may look like a great deal, there is a high probability that they were manufactured with cheaper materials of an unknown quality. The internal electronics may not have the needed extra attention to detail or durability that the marine environment claims as well, with thinner gaskets, lower grade circuitry, and cheaper metals and alloys used in their construction. While these lights may indeed work, and even look good once installed, it's a guessing game as to how long they will wait, and there is a strong chance that something something go wrong, customer service may not be quite the pleasant experience one would hope for.
To avoid some of the uncertainty, the safest route to follow is the one paved with known brands and established manufacturers of marine lighting equipment. While it is true that many new startups and foreign brands may eventually develop a solid reputation for quality and service, as a cost conscious boater the wisest choice is to go with established companies that have the resources available to allow them to use only quality materials and designs and provide effective service when needed. Look for names like Cree when purchasing LEDs as these indicate that a known and reputable design of LED is included in the fixture. Consider exterior lighting fixtures with IP ratings of IP65 or higher as this indicates the fixture can withstand the wet and corrosive marine environment well. Utilize stainless steel mounting hardware and waterproof connectors when installing the lights to give them the longest possible lease on operational life. Avoid LED fixtures with plastic housings and lenses if possible, and look for designs that use aluminum for housings and LEXAN for lenses as these offer the highest durability possible.
Upgrading to LEDs is indeed a wise choice for the boater looking to improve its boats energy efficiency, reliability and safety. However, it is important to avoid sabotaging these efforts with cheap LED products if they are to be successful. While the initial outlay may be somewhat higher, it is important to understand that not only are you paying for quality, but piece of mind as well.