THE FINAL FRONTIER — UNDERWATER
THERE ARE ONLY TWO REASONS to install underwater lights — to catch more looks or to catch more fish. If you’re not about bling or bait, skip to the end. “A big trend we’re seeing right now is that these lights help catch fish,” says
Don DeMott, general manager at OceanLED. “The light will bring in bait and concentrate it at the boat. Our pro staff guys run the blue lights during the day as well.
It creates a strobing effect and makes the predator fish curious, turning the hull
into a giant teaser.”
Planning an underwater light install typically takes a little more consideration
because you need to drill holes to run
power leads and choose locations that
keep the lights submerged in order to
dissipate heat. At the same time, you
want the light to have a clear path into
the water. The color light you choose
is mostly about preference. However,
some colors work better in clear water;
some do better in brackish or stained
water. OceanLED’s website features
useful tutorial videos; it helps to have
a picture of your transom handy when
you start the planning process.
Another factor is how you store
your boat. If your boat is on a trailer or
lift, a light designed to be submersed
only part of the time will suffice, such
as OceanLED’s Amphibian series. If
you keep your boat in the water, you’ll
need one with a housing designed
to resist fouling, like their Pro series.
The Pro series also are brighter for a
given size fixture: for
example, 800 lumens
for the Amphibian T12
versus 1,300 lumens
from the Pro series A12.
“I always tell people to
buy the brightest light
they can comfortably
afford,” says DeMott.
be happier with it.”
the more familiar warm white that mimics
a halogen bulb.
Another option is color. If you’re thinking
about courtesy lights for your walkaround
or center console, blues and greens have
become popular. And of course, you can get
a red light for over the chart table. “A big
consideration with courtesy lights is glare,”
says Woodcock. “LEDs tend to seem more
intense, so you want to think about using
indirect light, particularly on steps or companionways.” LED fixtures designed with
“eyebrows” to prevent you from looking
directly at the light are a good option. You
also want to look for fixtures rated to IP65
or greater, which means they can withstand
direct spraying with a hose or short periods
Making the changeover to LEDs doesn’t have
to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If power
consumption is your primary concern, you
can start with the lights you use most or that
draw the most amps. If you want the look of
LEDs, start with exterior fixtures, such as courtesy lighting, spreader lights, or cockpit lights.
If you decide to start with bulbs, first
you’ll need an inventory of the existing bulbs
in the various fixtures aboard. Write down
both the type of bulb (festoon, wedge, bayo-
net, or two-pin) and its wattage. You might
also want to note the manufacturer of the fix-
ture. Depending on size and output, a quality
LED replacement bulb will cost you $15 to
$30, but should last for thousands of hours,
far longer than you’re ever likely to use it.
If you decide to go the fixture route, con-
sider not only the cost of each fixture, which
depending on your taste could top $200 per
unit, but also the cost of any headliner you’ll
want to replace and/or installation costs if
you don’t do the work yourself.
When you’re doing the math, don’t forget
that the savings aren’t limited to replacing
bulbs. LEDs can save costly upgrades in
batteries, as well as forestalling the need to
invest in generators, solar panels, and other
costly charging capability.
Michael Vatalaro, BoatU.S. Magazine’s executive editor, has a 24-foot Pursuit center console
and enjoys doing all the work aboard himself.