Cheap Boat Tricks (but will they last?)

During our Christmas break  I had a chance to undertake a few small projects around the boat.  One such project was to try out these nifty LED Strip lights.

Definitely not waterproof

Definitely not waterproof

Two places in particular called out for more lighting; the Nav station and the work shop.  While both locations have nice Alpenglow fluorescent fixtures, sometimes more light is needed for the fine detail on charts or when working with small parts in the shop.

At seven dollars for 300 LEDs on three meters of adhesive film, these lights are incredibly inexpensive. They are not particularly rugged and they certainly are not waterproof but did I mention they were only seven dollars?  For relatively protected interior lighting, I can hardly imagine a more cost effective solution.Cut lines every three LEDs provides great flexibility in installation

Cut lines every three LEDs provides great flexibility in installation

The lights come in a number of colors, red, blue, and both warm and cool white.  I ordered the warm white as it is closest to the incandescent lighting we are used to.  The kit comes with a few connectors for joining multiple strips and there are short leads soldered to both ends to make hookup very easy.  I had hoped that I could solder my own leads to the pads but I think I will need smaller wire and some sacrificial strips to practice with.  As you can see in the photo above, there are marks for cutting the strip every three inches or so. this makes creating the five foot lengths I used in the Nav station and shop easy.


Our NAV station without the lights


And with light. I would have preferred to place the lights just behind the teak trim piece to hide the lights a bit better but the adhesive backing would not stick to the rubber liner. The adhesive sticks well to the teak trim though.

The before and after photos are a little misleading since the camera flash is filling in the unlit areas rather well. Shop_Ahead_Dark

The shop without the LED lighting

Shop Ahead Light

And with the lighting. The difference is less dramatic because of the camera flash.

The light strips come with a 3M adhesive backing which did not want to stick to our rubbery textured headliner.  It did stick well to the teak trim piece however and so that is where it went.  That means the lights are more exposed to damage and I don’t care for the look as much.  I would prefer that they be a bit more hidden, especially at the nav station.  Again some experimentation may be in order to see if I can attach them to the headliner securely.

for seven dollars and a few hours of time, this appears to be the perfect cheap boat trick.  Time will tell if they hold up to the abuse of being on a boat.  Corrosion may slowly do them in but I bet it will be a few years before that happens. In the shop, I am more concerned about physical damage  from my manly exertions with hammers, saws and vices.

16 thoughts on “Cheap Boat Tricks (but will they last?)

  1. I put these in as indirect lighting in my cabin, where they were used every day for a year while we lived aboard. They’re still going strong. Great, cheap upgrade!

    • Glad to hear they have worked well for you. If we can mount them a bit more discretely and add a dimmer circuit to them, I think they would be a nice addition to the main salon.

  2. One thing to watch out for is whether they cause radio interference, either/both for VHF or for HF SSB (should you decide to get a HF SSB – – which I highly recommend.


    • That is a good reminder David. I have not tested either radio with these lights on but I will do so. I have an older Kenwood Marine SSB radio which I have been playing with in the hopes that it would be serviceable for our cruise. I have our station’s license and I think I will get my General Radio Operators license as well. I have heard that some LED lighting systems are terrible for HF radio reception.

  3. I bought a dimmer for mine but found that it hummed slightly so I pulled it out and went with separate switches for each strip. You’re welcome to the dimmer if you want it.

    • I think a PWM type dimmer is probably the reason LED lights tend to generate RF noise as was mentioned by David. Your experience may bear this out. Like you, I just have a simple switch for the two light strips I just installed. Full on light is perfect for these two locations. I will play with the remaining five feet of lighting I have to see if they can be reliable and quietly dimmed for other settings.

  4. LED strips are really nice. I got solid colors, one white and one red. So far, used them for new lighting in the head with a 2 way switch for each color. Next use will be extra lighting in the engine space. On one of the strips I used, the adhesive didn’t want to stick so well so I ended up using some super glue. No worries about it falling now. 🙂

    Accent lighting around the boat would be nice too. That may come later on.

    • I will need to try some other solutions for attaching the strips in some locations. for short sections I might try some of our ever handy butyl tape. That might be a little bulky though. The super glue would definitely do the the trick but it seems rather permanent.

  5. I installed LED strips i got a CostCo a couple of years ago. Mine can turn all different colors, and even have different “disco” light variations. I LOVE them as they take VERY LITTLE power to run. I found that Red used the least power, and white used the most. I can also dim them. they came with a remote to control everything, and an AC to DC transformer that stepped it down to… well, 12 volts! Perfect! you won’t regret installing them….

  6. I am just up the road from you in the Foss Harbor Marina on a Fontaine catamaran. I bought these for our cockpit lighting in the hopes that I could dim them down to red for night sailing:

    They lasted about a month. The solder joints that are not printed on the strips but a more globs of solder break when your boat expands and contracts. It was a bummer. I also noted that there were, like the ones in your picture, a separate LED for each color (RGB)

    I ended up getting these as a replacement:

    Much higher quality strip. Better adhesive and sealing. Each LED module is actually RGB rather than individual leds for each color. Same controller with little remote.

  7. Pingback: LED Lighting Update | Little Cunning Plan

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