Summertime is upon us with a vengeance this year as record high temperatures and humidity sends most folks running for the comfort of their air conditioned homes. For those of us who own boats however, triple digit temperatures and 80% humidity levels are just greater incentive to get out on the water and enjoy the coolness of a swim after a cruise to our favorite spot. A big trend these days for avoiding the brutal heat and humidity, is to plan boating trips for later in the day and into the evening hours when the sun has set and temperatures are at a more reasonable level. This is a great way to have a much more enjoyable cruise as not only is it cooler, but humidity is usually lower, the waters calmer, and less boat traffic is present to make things crowded and noisy.
While it’s great to leave the dock later in the day, when you’re going to be on the water at sunset and into the dark evening hours, it becomes extremely important to give a lot more thought to safety. Without daylight, even the usual routes you know by heart can become difficult to navigate. Submerged obstacles are always a serious threat, channel markers are not always illuminated, and making sure you are visible to other boaters becomes a top priority. Although running with spotlights or some sort of headlight is illegal in most places, and really not advisable anyways since such lighting actually makes night navigation more difficult, boat lighting is still an extremely important part of night time boating safety.
Before ever leaving the dock for a night cruise, the single most important thing you can do is perform a detailed check of all your boat lighting equipment to ensure it is operating properly and easily visible. This means checking navigation lights for operation and brightness, making sure lenses are clear and not cracked or obscured, inspecting housings for proper seals and solid mounting, and checking wiring and connections for looseness and fraying as well as overall condition. Non critical lighting should also be checked, particularly deck lighting and special purpose lighting such as spotlights and spreaders for proper operation. Once out on the water after dark, navigation and indicator lighting becomes one of your first lines of protection and plays a critical role in the prevention of accidents as well as ensuring you are within compliance for all applicable watercraft laws and regulations. Have a look at Boat Lighting in Fort Lauderdale for more info on this.
One of the big problems with older boats and their lighting system is the frequent failure of bulbs and the corrosion of housings, wiring and sockets. Most older boat lights, including navigation lights and deck lighting, are fitted with incandescent bulbs. At the time of their installation, these incandescent fixtures were likely the only game in town and effective for their intended purposes. However, these incandescent lights have very short operating lives compared to modern lighting types such as LEDs and HID lamps. As a result, in as short as 500 hours of operation these lights burn out, requiring the owner to maintain a sharp eye on lighting and perform frequent bulb replacements to avoid issues. Additionally, older boat light fixtures tended to be made of materials that at the time were the best available, but nowhere near as durable as modern materials. Old rubber style housing gaskets for example frequently dried out after a season or two of exposure to the harsh marine environment, and allowed corrosive salt water to contaminate the fixture and corrode internal contacts and wiring. Paints finishes and coatings used on housings likewise were not as advanced as today’s newer polymers and powder coatings, allowing corrosive salt water and damaging UV rays to eventually penetrate through and corrode and weaken housing materials.
The good news is that older boats can benefit from an upgrade to new lighting fixtures as readily as a new craft. Particularly popular these days are LED boat lights designed to meet Coast Guard regulations for brightness and visibility. LED lights offer huge improvements over old incandescent style light fixtures by every measure of performance. From increased brightness, to greater durability, to extreme longevity, LEDs can literally transform an older boats’ lighting systems from a barely adequate and problem plagued system to an almost maintenance free system that exceeds performance minimums. LEDs for instance have an average operational life of around 25 to 50,000 hours compared to an incandescent bulbs’ 500 to 1000 hours. For boaters who frequently spend nights out on the water, this means a lot less money spent on bulb replacements, and a lot less time having to inspect and test lighting to ensure it is operating correctly. LEDs are also extremely durable as they are not made of glass and have no thin wire filament to break or burn out. While an incandescent bulb is easily shattered, or the filament broken by heavy pounding and vibrations while underway, and LED will take all this abuse in stride. And of course, since LEDs use only a fraction as much power as incandescent lamps, folks who switch all their lighting over to LEDS can expect to see their boats’ battery drain from lighting reduced by up to 75-80%.
Equally impressive as LEDs themselves are the materials now being used to build the fixtures which house them. LED light bars and spreader lights are commonly constructed with heavy extruded aluminum housings and unbreakable polycarbonate lenses, producing a light fixture that would likely be as at home on a tank as it would your boat! Heavy duty silicone gaskets, advanced polymer and powder coat finishes, and deep treated galvanized and stainless steel hardware and fittings make for LED lights and fixtures that can withstand just about anything, even being submerged underwater completely for hours at a time.
Perhaps the best thing about these modern LED boat lights is the fact that although upgrading all your boat lighting to LEDs might seem expensive at first, within a couple years of operation these lights will pay for themselves with reduced fuel costs, lowered maintenance costs, improved electrical efficiency, and a much greater overall enjoyment of the boating experience.