In last month’s article we talked about the popularity of LED lights on boats. We received a lot of feedback and some great questions regarding the different choices available and the best way to install them on a boat. LED lights, or light emitting diodes, are much brighter than traditional marine lights, draw very little and are one of the quickest ways to update your boat. I recently installed LED strip lights on my Catalina 36 and would like to share a few tips and tricks for your own installation.
Rope Light. A few years ago the only choice for this type of under-counter, accent lighting was the traditional rope light. It was mostly used for decoration as it has a 360-degree distribution of light. Rope light can be tricky to manoeuver in tight spaces as it can’t be bent for 90 degree corners without breaking the internal wires. Rope light can only be cut in certain sections so it cannot always be customized perfectly to a space. It also gets very hot and is generally more expensive.
Strip or Tape Lighting. The most recent introduction to this market is strip or tape lighting, which can be used for under-counter, decorative lighting as well as task lighting. This type of lighting usually emits light in one direction. Strip lighting is straightforward to install and uses L-shaped connectors for 90 degree turns, and it can also be cut anywhere between the bulbs and uses adhesive tape to stick to most surfaces. It comes in warm and bright white as well as RGB (red, blue, green) offering multiple colours. One downside to this lighting is that it has limited run length of approximately 16 feet before it requires its own power source.
Strips are typically sold in 30, 40, 60 or 120 LED’s per metre. Be careful with this because some manufacturers sell the strips in feet or by the reel (one reel equals 16.4 feet or five metres). The 30 LED strip draws three amps, the 60 LED strip is double that, however, the 120 LED strip gives you the most brightness and only draws four amps. The brightness is measured in lumens, not watts, and varies for each project. This is a rough guideline:
Lumens Required Per Foot
150 to 250
175 to 550
Task Lighting Near Source
250 to 450
Task Lighting Far from Source
350 to 700
375 to 575
500 to 750
12 watts of LED strip lighting equals one 60-watt incandescent bulb. To calculate what transformer you will need take the length of the strip and multiply it by the wattage of the strip. For example, 7 metres X 4.8 watts = 33.6 watts, so you would require a 60 W transformer. If you are looking to install strip lighting on the exterior of your boat, for instance on your back deck, look for IP65 rated (water resistant) or IP68 rated (submersible) strip lighting that includes marine-grade, 3M double-sided tape.
Also, if you are installing strip lighting over a shiny dark countertop, you may want to install an aluminum profile diffuser lens, available in opaque or frosted, which will eliminate the spotting effect. It will also make the lights easier to clean if the lights are installed near galley splashes.
Remote Dimmers. An interesting feature of LED dimmers is the ability to control the lights remotely. For instance, you can install an RF dimmer and transmitter kit near the LED strip lighting and then have the dimmer remotely activated via either a wireless handheld or a small tape-on LED dimmer. The tape-on dimmer switch is useful because you can mount the switch where it is most convenient and there is no need to run wires between the dimmer and its control.
The flexibility of the RF dimmer switches gets even better, as you can have one RF dimmer transmitter switch paired to multiple RF dimmer receivers. For instance, you can have one RF dimmer transmitter switch that controls all the LED strip lighting on both sides of the hull and no wires need to be run between the switch and the dimmer control. Another possibility is to have one RF dimmer receiver be controlled by two RF dimmer transmitter switches. For those boaters who like the ability of turning on the floor illumination from both the aft and bow of the boat.
Strip lighting is available through retailers such as West Marine and Steveston Marine or on-line at LEDmontreal.com or ledworld.ca. Most retailers sell kits that include a 16-foot light strip, a power supply, a power connector and a power connector extension, and retail for about $75.
About the author: Jeff Cote is a systems design engineer and owner of Pacific Yacht Systems, a full service shop delivering marine electrical and navigation solutions for recreational boats. Visit their website and blog for info and articles on marine electrical systems, projects and more: www.pysystems.ca.