It’s Time

DIY LED Lighting

Capt. Mike Genoun October 8, 2010

For those of us who enjoy being out on the water long before dawn, or beating the heat and fishing under the cover of darkness for snook, snapper and swordfish, reliable lighting is an important concern. Whether it’s courtesy lights, floodlights or deck lights, we need to see. And for the foreseeable future in the marine industry “seeing” means LED lights.

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Aesthetically appealing and highly functional, like me you’ll certainly find under gunwale LEDs a welcomed addition. Photo: Steve Dougherty

An LED (light-emitting diode) is a semiconductor, introduced as a practical electronic component in 1962. You’ll see LED lights in almost all home appliances. While early LEDs emitted a low-intensity red or white hue, the latest diodes are available in nearly every color with varying degrees of brightness. With the flick of a switch, an LED creates light using the movement of electricity. As the electrons stream across the semiconductor, they create electromagnetic radiation. A portion of this radiation takes the form of visible light. This is called electroluminescence and while it sounds confusing, in reality it’s a pretty simple process.

Because LED receptacles generally feature a much smaller profile than typical lighting fixtures, they can be installed practically anywhere.

LED lights offer many tangible benefits over traditional halogen, incandescent or fluorescent lighting. How about a 100,000-hour bulb life for value? With no fragile filaments or gas filled tubes, LEDs are also more durable. The greatest benefit of this technology however may be in their efficiency. LEDs convert nearly all electric energy into light rather than heat. Traditional lighting does the opposite, with a large percent of amperage wasted. Because LED receptacles generally feature a much smaller profile than typical lighting fixtures, they can be installed practically anywhere. Plus with the world going Green, it’s comforting to know LEDs are 100-percent recyclable.

With all of these benefits and little to no maintenance, I couldn’t help but freshen up the lighting system aboard our Strike. I started by replacing bulky, bracket-mounted halogen floodlights mounted to my T-Top with low-profile Solstice Solo LED Deck Lights from Apex Lighting Inc. At only 2″ these lights are super sleek, yet with 800 lumens they punch through the darkness. Phase two of the upgrade involved installing under gunwale LED lights—a project I wanted to discuss in greater detail.

After playing with the idea for some time, I’ve recently completed the installation and have already come to appreciate the valance of blue light. It’s both aesthetically appealing and functional. I know many of you are toying around with the same idea. “Should I install under gunwale lights or not?” Take my word for it; it’s time.

This is one project that you can certainly do on your own, with really only two viable options; rigid light strips sold in 5″, 10″, 20″ and 40″ lengths, or flexible rope lighting that can be ordered by the foot. Mounting options include track systems, bracket mounts or double-sided tape, though I am not so sure how the latter would hold up in the marine environment.

Before you buy anything, thoroughly inspect the area where you intend to install the lights. Every boat is built different. Some designs offer easy access under the gunwale while others provide little to no access. Your application may be better suited for short, rigid light bars intermittently spaced, or you may see that a continuous strip of rope lighting is the way to go. Also consider brightness. In the darkness out at sea even a small amount of light illuminates well.

After consulting with John at SeaMaster Lights we concluded that a series of 20″ light strips were the way to go. The results have exceeded my expectations.

Measure twice and cut once. I’m no Bob Vila, so I’ve learned to double-check my measurements before I drill or cut anything on my boat. I recommend you do the same.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that under gunwale LED lights remain somewhat exposed to the elements. Even when not in use, boats in the water or on a dry-rack or trailer close to the water are constantly exposed to corrosive spray. Even though marine LED lights are fully contained and weather resistant, exposed wiring is not. It’s up to you to ensure all electrical connections are tightly fastened with the proper size connectors. Wrap connections with electrical tape before permanently sealing with heat-activated shrink wrap. With LED light bars wired in sequence, one bad connection is all that it takes to interrupt the circuitry.

Red light dampens your night vision the least, but if you’re not intending on running with your deck illuminated it is my opinion that blue ties in nicely with the nautical environment. The latest under gunwale LED systems offer a range of colors, so your choice is only limited by your imagination.

With only a small investment in time and money, under gunwale LED lights offer numerous benefits with an accessory that you can count on. The very first time you flick that switch, you’ll be glad you did the job.

You’ll need…

  • Tape Measure
  • Insulated 2-Wire
  • Wire Stripper/Crimper
  • Wire Connectors
  • Electrical Tape
  • Heat Shrink Tubing
  • Small Butane Torch/Lighter

Under-Gunwale LED Lights

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