In Search of Budget LED Nav Lights

As much as I value LED lighting, I was hesitant to change Gizmo’s navigation light fixtures. Why spend the (significant) money and refit time to save power when a big alternator is always running at the same time as the running lights anyway?
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 A benchtop test of the Aqua Signal sidelight reveals a miserly current draw of just 0.17 amp

A benchtop test of the Aqua Signal sidelight reveals a miserly current draw of just 0.17 amp

As much as I value LED lighting, I was hesitant to change Gizmo’s navigation light fixtures. Why spend the (significant) money and refit time to save power when a big alternator is always running at the same time as the running lights anyway?

This past winter, though, after I had already removed the boat’s side light boards for refinishing, I noticed thatthe cost of at least some LED nav lights has become quite reasonable. The result was nearly an impulse buy as I put a pair of Aqua Signal (aquasignal.com.au) Series 33 sidelights in my cart at defender.com for a price of $45 each. Truth be told, I’m not totally satisfied with the purchase, but I do expect the Aqua Signals to be a vast improvement over those old incandescent fixtures.

Power testing showed that the old Perko (perko.com) fixture uses 12 watts, or over an amp of 12 volt current, while the LED Aqua Signal comes in at about 2 watts or 0.17 amp, even though it’s approved to meet the requirements of pretty much every authority possible—BSH, USCG, IMO COLREG, GL, RINA, ABYC A-16 and CE—and is rated to be reliably visible at a range of 2 nautical miles.

Of course, that’s why LED running lights are a no-brainer for sailboats. Equally important for boaters of all stripes is the fact that these and other LED fixtures are completely sealed and claim a working lifespan of 20,000 hours or more.

A look inside the old running light reveals a typical but unreliable incandescent design. First, there’s the intrinsically delicate bulb, whose filament must heat way up to work. Then there are the spring clips, which have to deal with the heat and current in often damp atmospheric conditions. No wonder they often fail.

It’s important to note that this is why LED bulb replacements are often a bad idea when it comes to running lights. You can get a Dr. LED festoon bulb (doctorled.com) that fits this fixture, but you’ll still have the clip connection to worry about. You also won’t get maximum power efficiency because you’re putting an entirely different lighting technology into a fixture it wasn’t designed for. Finally, the Dr. LED replacement bulb costs almost as much as an entire sealed and purpose-built Aqua Signal 33 fixture!

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