Marine LED Lights vs halogen vs incandescent  vs fluorescent

Since early 2009, the marine industry has seen a shift in lighting from fluorescent and incandescent marine lighting to halogen, Xenon HID , Metal Halide and Marine LED lights.  This shift in marine lighting came abruptly and continues to grow rapidly.   Marine LED  lights makes perfect sense in any marine lighting situation, as they "outshine" other marine lighting options in virtually every aspect, from durabilty and much lower power consumption, to extreme lower temperatures and cleaner output. Are there brighter lights available?  Yes, but as you'll learn throughout this review, LEDs can produce equals to a point and with all the benefits, you'll want to investigate LED marine lights before making a purchase of another type.  In the marine lighting industry, the three primary areas of interest are based on a combination of longevity, low heat and minimal power consumption. This is something that the other marine lights mentioned above simply can not do!  With this in mind, manufacturers have been designing marine LED lights with our needs in mind, and building some very high quality lights.

I remember not too long ago when we all had halogen lights that really lit up the water, but many boaters were simply terrified to run them for more than a few minutes out of the fear of draining the battery.  I've turned the key a few times on my night trips only to hear that dreaded slow turn of the engine starter.  I've also nearly caught a few items on fire from being to close to the halogen lights.  With halogen marine lights, about 90% of the energy used is converted to heat!  That's simply a major waste of light, energy, and the life of the bulb.   

Then we had the deck lighting made up of low wattage incandescent (10 watt) lights that always produced a yellowish glow.  It seemed that the moon made for a better light than running four 10 watt lights.  We all wanted something better, something brighter, something that wouldn't kill our batteries, but we had no options. Then came those cheap led lights that lasted but a few trips and just fizzled out. Wal Mart seemed to be one of the first places to jump in on the LED bandwagon back in the the late 90's, as they started selling those LED bars for helm lighting.  I saw many boats sporting these LED lights, including myself, but within a few months my LED light ended up in the recycle can!  These were simply junk. I can't believe it took another nine or so  years to get a quality LED light on the market.  The reason was and still is somewhat, that lumens cost money in the LED light world.  When lumens start costing pennies we will see every boat sporting LED's.  Right now, quality marine LED lights range from .08 to .20 cents per lumen, but with the quality and life of the LED's, they are well worth the extra expense.  

Imagine if we could have a  super bight 10 watt LED light that ran at 3/4 of an amp and out performed in all areas a 40 watt halogen guzzling 3 amps?  Imagine running 4 of these 10 watt LEDs at 3 amps versus 4 of the 40 watt halogen lights at 12 amps!   You could run your lights with no fear of a dead battery.

Below, I will compare LED marine lights vs Halogen marine lights vs Incandescent marine lights.  In addition, I will give you a real world review of a few different marine LED lights (spot, spreader, and underwater transom lights).  


Fluorescent Marine Lights -

Fluorescent lamps are gas charged mercury lamps that use use an electrical charge to excite the mercury vapor within.  Once energized, the mercury produces short-wave ultraviolet, which reacts with the phosphor and produces visible light.  This type of light is more efficient than incandescent, but the lamp itself it more expensive.  Fluorscent lamps depend on resistance voltage, and to operate these lamps a ballast is needed.  If no ballast were used, the resistance across the lamp would drop, thus allowing more current to flow and instant damage to the lamp.  Fluorscent lights in the marine industry are mostly used as cabin type lighting, and persoanlly, I see no use for them anywhere else, especially in open air enviornments.  The energy to run a DC driven fluorescent light of this type is too high being that the ballast usually uses as much energy as the lamp itself, thus doubling the energy requirments.  Now, there are battery operated lamps on the market that have low power consumption requirments in the .03 to 1 amp rating, but the light from such a lamp certainly can not match that of a quality LED light.   In addition, any low current fluorescent DC lamp woth having will be the more expensive.  When you add up all the aspects, and toss in the fact that flourescents don't take well to vibration, well I'm clearly not a fan and would not recommend such a lamp for my boat when clearly LED outshines, outlasts, uses less energy, and is more reliable.    


Incandescent Marine Lights- Details Coming Soon


Halogen Marine Lights- Details Coming Soon


Xenon HID Marine Lights- Details Coming Soon


Metal Halide Marine Lights- Details Coming Soon


LED Marine Lights -

What are LEDs?  LED stands for Light Emitting Diode, a simple semiconductor that produces light when a current flows through it. They come in many colors, shapes, and sizes and have been around for many years. However, as mentioned above, they have just recently hit the market in high-powered versions. Compared to conventional underwater boat lighting such as those mentioned above (halogen, metal halide, xenon), LEDs use less power and produce more light, pound for pound out shinning all the others.  LEDs far exceed the lamp lives of conventional lights and in the case of underwater lighte, they install without drilling large diameter holes through your hull. 

Quality marine LED lights have a rated life expectancy of 50,000 plus hours, which is not the end of the lamps but the point at which the LED produces 70% of the original lumens when new.  This is still a very bright light at 70%. As a measure, at 24 hours per day of continuous use, an LED can deliver useful light for six years or longer!  Imagine how long that LED will last on your boat!  LEDs do not use filaments or other fragile components used by halogens, metal halides, and xenon based marine lights. Because of this, they have virtually nothing that can fail when properly designed for their environment.

What kills the life of LEDs is excessive high current operation and overheating, which has been overcome when you use a high quality design.  Quality LED marine lights come designed with a very effecient heat sink system to rapidly remove heat from the LED components.  Quality LEDs also are engineered with smart power supply drivers to prevent over current driving of the LED components through a constant current.

How do I compare the brightness of one LED to another?  

Well, that seems to be the million dollar question.  There are some marine LED light manufacturers that put out specs on their lights that simply aren't true, and these are pretty easy to cipher by looking at the price, internal components, and the exterior casing, and then comparing to others on the market.  In terms of lumens and Lux output, you have to be very insightful and compare apples to apples.

First, most of us want to immediately shout out wattage!  In the case of LEDs, you'll need to retrain your way of thinking.  The wattage value is the amount of power the LED, or regular light bulb draws from the electricity supply, which is taken from the formula of volts x Amps= wattage. With conventional light bulbs, a percentage of that power is converted into light while a vast majority into heat. In an ordinary incandescent bulb, most of the wattage is dissipated as heat, and a smaller fraction as light. In a fluorescent or energy-saving bulb, a much greater proportion of the power consumed is converted to light. With LEDs, even a greater portion is converted to light!  This is why you'll see LEDs with a much lower wattage rating, yet still produce a very high output of light.  In short, forget about wattage as a comparison tool, but consider it as a measure when comparing LED to LED.

Secondly, a lumen is the measure of the total light output from the LED measured in all directions. You can not compare LEDs based on this because thought it may produce xxx amount of lumens, those lumens may not all be emitted from the unit, as 30% can be lost in the light housing from poor deign. The design of the unit and lens can reduce the amount of light output drastically.  In example, you could have a 700 lumen light with a great lens and housing deign outproduce a 1200 lumen LED with a poor lens and housing design.  Shading and filtering of the light also play a role here, which is why lumens are measured from the entire system and not the LED itself.  Keep in mind that the LED manufacturer also has a lumens measurement for their LED tested with no 3rd party housing, which the 3rd party can easily state as their own after the LED is placed into their housing.  Reputable sellers of marine LED lights do not base lumen measurements on the test results of their LED source suppliers, but instead use an independent third-party testing lab to measure and validate the output of their LEDs once placed inside their housing. So, while the lumen is not a good measuring tool, it is certainly a number to use as a starting point when looking for and comparing LED to LED,  but don't let a few hundred lumen discourage you from a product. 

Thirdly, we have Lux, which  is a measure of light produced on a target area. A Lux measurement indicates how well the surface area of an area is illuminated at some distance away from the source. It's basically the intensity of the light. This is where you will start to see the real truth in LED light output, but you will also get some misguided information here as well, so look deeper and compare.  In example, you compare a light with an output of 100 lux to another at 150 lux and instantly you like the 150 lux number.  This is where you need to find out the distance from which the lux was measured.  If that 150 lux was measured at say 15 feet, and the 100 lux from 25 feet, then you know the 100 lux will only increase as it moves closer to the target, and in this case would most certainly be as bright if not brighter.  However, this number can still throw you off because you have to take into account the spread of the light beam, as a 20 degree beam will have more lux than a 40 degree beam, as it is condensed to a smaller area.


Objects are illuminated and measured in LUX as shown below:


- Full Daylight approx 10,000 LUX (this would be 10,000 lumens each and every square meter!)
- Cloudy day approx 1,000 LUX
- A lighted parking lot at night approx 10 LUX (average)
- A full moon approx 0.1 LUX



Add comment