heat leads to another disadvantage — a
shorter life. Because of the heating and
cooling cycle, the filaments become brittle
and break after a relatively short span of
about 750 to 2,000 hours.
In contrast, LED lights are four to six
times more energy efficient at producing
light, one of the best selling points for LED
lights, particularly for cruisers concerned
about the high power draw of traditional
lighting. LED lights are unique in that they
only produce light on a very narrow frequency of the visible light spectrum. This
makes a white LED appear blue-toned to
many people, which could be a drawback
depending upon the intended use of the
light. One of the benefits is that LED lights
don’t produce the type of light that attract
bugs at night, so they’d be good for outdoor evening use.
LEDs are semi-conductor diodes that
use electricity to create electroluminescence. Because of the structure of the semi-conductor, LED lights are very focused in
their light output. This beam of light works
well for traffic lights, for instance, but it’s
less effective for area lighting such as a
table lamp. Because LED lights don’t create
much heat and don’t have moving parts,
they have a long useful life — as much as
25 times longer than an incandescent bulb.
While LED lights are very durable, they
must have a steady electrical source. A fluctuating power supply is the primary reason
LED lights die before their time, which is
why many LED lights come with a power
regulator. As a result, if you’re looking to
buy an LED replacement bulb for an incandescent fixture, it’s highly unlikely the bulb
will last for its rated lifetime.
Putting The Lights To The Test
The Foundation wanted to see if the
differences between incandescent and
LEDs made one better than the other as
boat lighting, or if they were even different enough to merit changing lights. We
tested new incandescent lights, as well as
a variety of commonly found LED lights.
We also compared the new lights to the
lights installed on the Foundation test
boat. These lights, installed at time of
manufacture in 1998, are incandescent,
but the lenses have become cloudy and
hazed with age.
The Foundation conducted testing on
the Magothy River, just north of Annapolis,
Maryland. The weather was clear and calm,
with a waxing moon. Being on a river with
a fairly heavily populated shoreline, there
were numerous lights visible along the
shore, as well as a good deal of ambient
light. We set up a test range using distances
of a half-mile, one mile, two miles, and
three miles from a stationary observation
platform. At each distance, we displayed
each test light from our test boat, in the
proper onboard position required by law.
We had six observers take notes on a variety of subjective criteria, but mostly the test
was a check to see which lights were the
As expected, our 11-year-old lenses
fared poorly compared to the same fixtures
using new lenses. If you have old lenses,
changing them will greatly improve your
visibility to other boats at night. Our other
limp lights were the portable lights for
dinghies. While perfectly fine for confined
anchorages, the lights were poor performers at a half-mile and barely visible at more
than one mile.
The two LED lights, one by Attwood
and the other by Navilight, were both
comparable to the incandescent light at a
half-mile. At farther ranges, the LED lights
were markedly better, particularly for the
sidelights. At a range of three miles, it was
difficult to tell what color the incandescent
sidelights were, which can be attributed
to the nature of the lights. The incandescent light used a white light bulb behind
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