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ContinuousWave: Small Boat Electrical
LED Navigation Lamps
|Author||Topic: LED Navigation Lamps|
posted 06-27-2012 09:30 AM ET (US)
I am installing a red-green combined sidelight lamp and have been looking for LED versions. The price for these [LED navigation lamps] seems FAR higher than the price for a standard incandescent lamp version, and I don't understand why, either. I am considering buying a new or used non-LED lamp and replacing the bulb and socket assembly with an LED. The bulb is about $9 and the socket is about $6, as opposed to $36 to $60 for a complete LED lamp fixture. Has anyone tried this?
posted 06-27-2012 11:37 AM ET (US)
I have a custom built, 1975 16'7" whaler, I have own the whaler since new, and my [combined sidelight lamp] needed to be re-chromed and new fixtures installed or just purchase a new Boston Whaler combined sidelight lamp. I did not like the wires running in the rub rail coming out the back of the boat, as the connection in the back of the boat was always broken or not working from the salt water. Plus I did not care for the exposed wires nor the junction box on the inside of the hull. I purchase Attwood LED Navigation lamps--nice, small, and out and the way, about $26 found them on eBay--moved them to each side on my console, and placed my [stern white all-round lamp] on the engine cowling. Now all of the wires are [hidden], no junction box, they always work, no pole for the rear lamp, and out of the way, no wires in the rail. Send me your email and identify yourself from CW and I will send you some pictures and more info if needed. Take care
posted 06-27-2012 04:30 PM ET (US)
Not that LEDs are new technology, but what I've observed is that newly introduced electronics and other boating accessories do in general behave like the same technology in the broader consumer market, that is, the price comes down over time.
But over time can be a long time for boating items because of the relatively smaller market. I'm sure we will see all LED lighting for boats at a reasonable price soon enough. Again, depends on what soon enough is.
posted 06-27-2012 04:52 PM ET (US)
Contender, as I continued researching this, I found that Attwood has a great LED lamp like you described for $26 to $27. I've ordered it from Amazon. It would've cost me the same or more to re-wire an older lamp, and it wouldn't be nice and shiny, new. Thanks. Regarding the pricing, I agree the price will come down overall eventually. Fortunately it has started to do this now. Granted, you can by a cheap lamp for $10 and change, but you get what you pay for.
posted 06-29-2012 06:27 AM ET (US)
As I see it, there a few problems with fitting an existing navigation lamp with an LED replacement lightbulb:
--the navigation lamp was certified as conforming with the Coast Guard regulations with the original incandescent lightbulb as the light source, and changing to an LED light source will change the light emitted. The lamp will no longer be compliant because it is no longer in its original form;
--many of the replacement LED lightbulbs include reflectors or an arrangement of the LED's to concentrate the light in one direction. They are typically designed for automotive replacement applications where the light is directed axially and in one direction. In general you could say that navigation lamps tend to use an incandescent light bulb like an 1156 which emits light in a fairly even radial distribution. The LED lightbulbs generally seem to be more specialized and tend to emit light only in certain directions;
--the underlying rationale for use of LED replacement lightbulbs must be either their lower cost or their lower electrical consumption. Let's look at both:
The price of LED replacement lightbulbs for a typical 1156 incandescent lightbulb seems to be all over the map. Some no-brand LED replacement lightbulbs are $4 and some boutique models are $75. An 1156 incandescent lightbulb is probably about $2. The only way an LED can reach lower cost is through longer durability. Unless you go boating every night, the lifespan of an incandescent lightbulb in a navigation lamp is probably about twenty years or more. The lifespan of an LED replacement is not as well known, particularly the cheaper ones. Any electrical surges on the power to the LED could cause failure. Incandescent lightbulbs may actually be more resilient to little surges in voltage, as might occur during engine starting on a boat.
The lower electrical consumption generally favors LED lightbulbs. An 1156 incandescent lightbulb is perhaps a 27-watt load. The replacement LED lightbulbs are much lower, typically only about 3-watts. If you are boating with your engine running, there is plenty of electrical power available. If you want to fish all night without the engine running, the LED lightbulb could save considerable battery drain.
posted 06-29-2012 06:45 AM ET (US)
Here is an ATWOOD LED combined sidelight lamp that only used a few watts of electrical power and has a fairly modest price:
posted 06-29-2012 11:21 PM ET (US)
Skred, I went the same dilemna as you. As I have traditional Perko red and greens on my bow and they have been extremely problematic (only at night) I was looking for an alternative. I too looked at the Attwood LED's but their oblong shape did not appeal to me nor did I think they would look good on my 210 Outrage. What I did do was purchase replacement Perko lights as the bulb holders were corroded. I also purchased three way LED bulbs from West Marine as they are approved. Heres the part that seals the deal. Before I installed them, I soldered the bulbs to the copper blades that hold it in place. Now, I have long lasting bulbs that will most likely not lose their connection to the tabs. That was the most common problem, that the contact surfaces developed a slight corrosion and no light. Whatever light or bulb you choose, solder it in place or have someone do it for you.
posted 06-30-2012 08:54 PM ET (US)
I bought the exact light that JimH referenced above. It's not going on a Whaler, so aesthetics are not an issue. I popped it out of the clam pack, and touched the two leads to a battery, and - wow - very bright indeed. Since this light is to be used on a boat with no charging system, the voltage consumption is a really big plus.
Fno, I would do just what you did if I put on on the Whaler. A great solution. I'm not positive, but I believe the Attwood light I bought has permanent connections to the wiring...
posted 07-01-2012 08:42 AM ET (US)
My wiring for my sidelights ("port light") has long been a problem. In wanting to fix it a friend of mine came up with the great idea mentioned above of mounting a side light on each side of my console and just leaving original, I think, port light alone (which is great for pulling my anchor up).
Problem I find is in Florida boats under 26' MUST have the "sidelights" mounted at the very front of boat.
posted 07-01-2012 12:22 PM ET (US)
Correction: The Attwood light I bought "probably has" hard wired or soldered connections to the LED's used in the fixture.
posted 07-01-2012 12:22 PM ET (US)
You may not think it's such a good idea if you ever go boating at night and use the lights.
posted 07-01-2012 05:41 PM ET (US)
OK, I will try this once again.
I was going to remove the original light fixtures and replace them as the thread suggests the OP is interested in.
Instead of doing that and after some inspection of the old light fixtures, I realized the condition of the bases would make them almost valueless for resale. So I would stay stock while upgrading to a new style lamp, an LED lamp.
I used an epoxy product to strengthen the bases for use.
I looked and looked on the net, (since this is what I have patience for) and found many lamps for $20 to $30 dollars, then found the same lamps on Amazon for $4.99 each.
I ordered two.
The bases (the male and metal part of the lamp) are exactly the same size and style as the stock forward navigation lamps on my 1987 Outrage. (note) The aft lamp and the 360 degree lamps are not this style)
However the lamps pictured above are to tall to fit into the 1987 Boston Whaler Outrage fixture as received.
So my idea was to experiment and see if i could make these inexpensive lamps work. I removed the 3 small LED's from the top of the lamps, filed smooth the connections, being very careful to examine the electrical connection pads and ensure no arching or possibility or trouble existed. With a Dremel tool and a small sanding disc the top disc can be smoothed quite well and then covered with quality electrical tape. Carefully trimming the edges around the disc.
The lamps were exactly the right height, or maybe a smidgen to tall still. It depends on your feelings. I found them to be exceptionally well suited for the fixtures. The tops of the lamps are against the fixture (marinium) cover. They are a little depressed into the connection socket and yet operate perfectly.
posted 07-01-2012 07:47 PM ET (US)
number 9, I know what you are talking about, however if you are standing behind the light there is no glare, The attwood lights I used were 3560, 3570
posted 07-01-2012 10:49 PM ET (US)
When Gus modified the LED lightbulb assembly, it was a good thing the LEDs he removed must have been wired in parallel and not series. Otherwise if wired in series removing one of the circuit elements would have killed the string. At least that is my presumption. It would be interesting to know what else is in the circuit of that replacement LED lightbulb. I wonder if there are any current regulators to limit the current. It also occurs to me that if the current were regulated, then perhaps removing the top three LEDs will cause more current to flow through the LEDs that remain.
posted 07-02-2012 12:01 AM ET (US)
Yes jimh, you are exactly correct that the individual LED lights were in parallel on the single lamp and therefore not effected by removal from the circuit. The light is a 2 watt 12 volt lamp. There are no electronics associated in or with the lamp itself. The circuit onboard the boat controlling the navigation lights in a simple electrical circuit design.
The system is as pictured here with one more light added:
posted 07-02-2012 07:03 AM ET (US)
Thanks, Gus, for the further details. If the three LEDs were wired in series directly to the supply voltage, each one of them must be designed for about one-third of the voltage, or about 4.5-Volts. I am somewhat surprised there was not more electronic control in the assembly.
posted 07-02-2012 09:23 AM ET (US)
Even with the expensive LED lamps, you have to make sure that
the location of the LEDs matches the location of the filament.
I have the all-round white light common on whalers. I got
an expensive LED bulb for it and the LEDs where located
higher than the filament and didn't line up correctly with
the optics of the fresnel lens.
posted 07-02-2012 10:49 AM ET (US)
I have read that it is best to color match the LED with the color of the lens (but have no personal experience with doing so). Have you checked out the nav lights from a distance to see how bright they really are at various angles, and if they are true to the color of the lenses?
posted 07-02-2012 10:50 AM ET (US)
My previous post was directed at gusgus!
posted 07-02-2012 05:04 PM ET (US)
I haven't done a distance visual check, but it is a 100% agreement with friends and family that the intensity and color is really good. The alignment of the lamps to the diffuser might play a big part to brighten or dim the lights brightness and color. I was (somewhat) careful to choose the best direction. But it is limited since the light base and bulb mount alignment is designed to improve the action of the spring in the bulb mount. An incorrect alignment when reassembling the bulb base with the light base could cause a poor connection due to the inability of the spring to keep the connections tight.
When choosing the "locked" position of the bulb in the lamp base, the alignment choice with the most LEDs facing the light diffuser was quite good and alike in both light fixtures (both side navigation lights). The end result was 3 panels of 3 LEDs each facing towards the light diffuser or lens.
The OEM lens does a good job or spreading the light out and yet the brightness is impressive. I am very pleased with the final result. After a year or so of use, ask me again.
Oh one more point, there were past comments of excessive heat generated by the LEDs and I was initially suspect since I have never known LEDs to generate heat. I have left these lamps on for 12 hours, the lamp housings are still cold. I can't feel any heat generated by these LED lamps.
posted 07-02-2012 05:12 PM ET (US)
While writing this information I see another lamp offered that seems to be the same mount style and is also LED.
This is amazing, a plastic cover, kind of proves heat isn't an issue.
posted 07-02-2012 05:54 PM ET (US)
That replacement LED lightbulb in your last link looks very interesting. It looks like a drop-in replacement for the usual 1156 incandescent or similar-sized lightbulb.
posted 07-03-2012 01:57 AM ET (US)
For $4 bucks, it sounds like a cheap test to see if they will fit and work well enough. If mine weren't in I would test them. My concern about the incandescent style is the individual LEDs are really small and unlike true incandescent bulbs, size does matter when light emission is considered. They look like "dim bulbs" actually.
posted 07-04-2012 01:01 PM ET (US)
It is my understanding that the comment about using the same color LED as the lens is correct. You should not use a "white" LED behind a red or green lens.
The way I understand it is this is because the white light from an LED is produced much differently than the white light from an incandecent bulb. The incandecent bulb produces the full sprectum of colors and blended together they appear white. A red lens filters all the colors but red and allows the red light to pass through. A white LED is actually a blue LED shining through yellow phosopher to make it appear white. As a result, a white LED produces very little light in the red and green wavelengths. Passing this light through a red or green lens will tend to filter out most of the light.
posted 07-05-2012 04:27 AM ET (US)
I can't comment about the conditions of colors being filtered out or what ever, But I can tell you it is 100% not the case with my lights. The red is very red and without wash out and the green is as picture perfect as it can be.
LED design and quality has been changing rapidly, so maybe the wash out or filtering of color was an older design or a different design. My LED lamps are bright white and lack nothing after being placed behind colored lenses.
I would give a positive recommendation for the bulb type I used and I can also promise, I will use them again. In fact I ordered 2 more as spares, and plan on adapting them right away for on the shelf parts.
posted 07-05-2012 04:53 AM ET (US)
An LED bulb will produce heat if it uses a resistor to limit
the current. If it uses a more sophisticated pulse width
modulation current limiter, it will produce little or no
It would be best to color match the LEDs to the lens. The
posted 07-05-2012 05:24 PM ET (US)
I purchased some LED replacement bulbs from Defender for my 1988 Montauk. These were Dr LED brand. They both seem to work quite well, with no discernible difference in brightness for the bow light, at least to me. I could comfortable grip the LED festoon bulb with with my fingers while lit. The incandescent was too hot to touch.
As Jim points out, it is probably a tough sell in economic terms, unless you save a few bucks by using smaller wire if you are replacing anyway. But they are cool (literally & figuratively), and I can leave LED lights on for extended periods without worrying as much about battery drain.
posted 07-06-2012 09:20 PM ET (US)
I would like to clear up a few misconceptions about LED lamps.
The white light produced by high power LEDs is actually the emission from the phosphor in the "lens" that encapsulates the LED junction. The LED emits blue or untra-violet light which energizes the phosphor that actually emits the white light. An LED junction emits quite pure monochromatic light however the phosphor has a spectral distribution which, while not uniform or complete, enables a colored filter to pass its color component.
The design life of most LEDs is 50,000 hours based upon maintaining the junction temperature within specified limits. Typically junction temperatures are specified to be 125 to 150 deg C, pretty hot. A normal end of life failure would be when the light output drops to 50% of the initial specified. At 50% reduction most people could see a difference.
The design of an LED fixture is very much a thermal design problem. While you may initially have a nice bright light by placing an LED replacement bulb in a random incandescent fixture you can plan on a much reduced life if the LED junctions are optimized.
Modern LED fixtures are designed with either constant current or constant voltage LED drivers. No one is using current limiting resistors in a modern fixture because of their power loss and additional thermal load. LED junctions are very sensitive to short duration over voltage conditions and they do not tolerate reverse voltage at all. Since marine electrical systems have a pretty wide voltage range this is detrimental to LED junctions which would be directly exposed to these variations without a intermediate driver.
Other problems with the marine environment are moisture which will corrode the bond wires to the junction, hydrocarbon exposure which will turn the phosphor "lens" brown and high fixture temperature if operated in direct sunlight. Keep some spares handy.
posted 07-07-2012 08:34 AM ET (US)
I'm going to disagree about LEDs not tolerating reverse
voltage at all. Thye are a diode, they just block. When I was replacing the
incandescent bulbs in the CHMSL (Center High-Mounted Stop
Light, often incorrectly called "third brake light) in my
Pathfinder and my Corvette, the bulbs were not keyed, so
it was plug them in, flip them over if they don't light. No
The current limiting circuitry may be another story.
posted 07-07-2012 10:10 AM ET (US)
Chuck, you need to trust me on this one. While an LED junction structure is a diode, the materials used and the diffusion are quite different than those of a diode that is designed to carry current and block voltage in the reverse direction. Here are some typical specifications for comparison:
Samsung 2323 LED (typical for TV backlighting)
Generic 1N4004 Diode (typical for rectification of AC Line)
If you were to use the Samsung 2323 LED in a simple series circuit for a 12 Volt DC power source you would connect 3 of them In series with a resistor. The reverse blocking ability of this configuration would only be 3 Volts. You can see the problem. While they are a diode they really offer no protection for a reverse polarity connection. It would be typical to connect a power diode with reverse polarity in parallel with the LED string to protect against a miswired connection.
Another concern I have with these cheap LED bulb replacements is that they will have questionable quality. In super high quantity this Samsung part would sell for about .25/ea. The bulb replacement GusGus purchased for $5 each has at least 15 LEDs, 5 or 6 metal clad Circuit boards, mechanical fixings, electrical interconnects plus a bulb base. There is no conformal coating that is obvious. You get what you pay for so I will repeat, keep the spares handy because when you need it most it may not light. Keeping a few incandescent bulbs as a back up may also be cheap insurance.
posted 07-07-2012 12:46 PM ET (US)
I concur with your message. LEDs in marine lighting are relatively new, and it is always prudent to keep spares until you discover their true operational nature. The "you get what you pay for" axiom is right on as well, as much of the cost of some of these devices is likely the voltage management circuitry which should be present in the packaged device.
One figure that you referenced that might cause undue alarm is the junction temperature. I suspect the 125C to 150C are the spec'ed limits of the device, not the nominal operating point. At 125C, assuming any reasonable thetaJC (a coefficient specifying the "resistance" to transfer of heat from junction to case), the device would either be too hot to touch or would burn out rapidly. Silicon devices which I am involved in the design of are rated to junction temps of 110C, but we really operate at 70C to 90C. Even at these temperatures the case feels quite warm to the touch.
The power management circuitry likely has a conventional diode structure integrated into it which allows the packaged device to be reversed with no ill effects, other than not working.
Good info. I plan on carrying along the incandescent originals as spares.
posted 07-08-2012 08:08 AM ET (US)
Interesting, that the reverse current issue exists, and i should have considered this, but I hadn't.
The lamp socket in my classic Outrage is bi-directional or allows the lamp to be inserted in two positions. Being the lamps are two contact, two wire lamps this opens the possibility that a reverse install is possible. I guess i was lucky.
It just so happened that the lamps were installed in the best alignment direction and operated perfectly.
posted 07-10-2012 03:33 AM ET (US)
It occurred to me that I have a few 120V LED lamps. This question is to those LED experts out there, How does alternating current work with light emitting diodes (LED)?
posted 07-10-2012 11:03 AM ET (US)
Simple rectifier in the base of the lamp assembly.
posted 07-10-2012 10:21 PM ET (US)
The latest LED technology for 120 VAC applications puts the LED junctions in a "bridge" configuration and eliminates the need for a rectifier. These "LEDs" are arrays of individual junctions on a single chip. You haven't seen these in consumer products yet but they are coming. They are dimable but below about 40% some people will perceive flicker.
posted 07-11-2012 09:12 AM ET (US)
Anytime you think you know technology, just wait a few days and it's gone by you!
posted 07-11-2012 10:46 AM ET (US)
This post has gotten quite long with a lot of good discussion, but can be a little confusing to a non-technical person.
What is the bottom line on replacing traditional bulbs with LED? Can it be a simple bulb replacement, does it require changing the base/socket or changing the entire fixture?
posted 07-11-2012 12:14 PM ET (US)
There are multiple answers, depending upon what boat you have and what bulbs you need. For my 1988 Montauk, I installed some Dr LED replacement devices which are rather pricey, but integrate all power management functions into the bulb. There is a festoon style for the bow light, and a pin/socket for the stern all around light.
Gus went a different route and made a more custom setup, spending less for the devices themselves but with more modifications required. He seems to be happy with the result too.
If you want to go for the direct replacement, find your bulb type and do an internet search for that in an LED form. Defender is where I got mine, but many places carry them.
As Davej14 suggested, carry spares of some type until you accumulate a bit more history on the LED devices.
You probably don't want to do this to save money...
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