LED Lighting Update

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About a year ago I wrote about using some inexpensive LED strip lights to improve the lighting in our shop and nav station That post, Cheap Boat Tricks (but will they last) featured Some very inexpensive but non waterproof lights like these : [amazon template=thumbnail&asin=B00HSF64JG]

After a year of usage I can report that the lights work okay but their durability is lacking.  In the shop area, I had segments fail after a leak developed nearby.  Since the LED lights are not protected in any way I guess it was inevitable that physical abuse of one sort or another would be their undoing. Having said that the Nav station lights continue to work well and at around eight dollars for five meters of light it is a great value.

However, late last year, a co-worker turned me on to some similar lights but with twice as many LEDs per meter inside a silicone sleeve with an adhesive backing.  At thirty dollars for 5 meters, they are also nearly four times the cost.  Check them out here: [amazon template=thumbnail&asin=B00CMX2KGK]

I had been warned that the adhesive backing on these lights was not sufficient to mount them upside down so I also bought the adhesive foam tape that is quite a bit stronger than the stock tape. In fact it is labled as a 3M product and looks like the same stuff used to mount our portlight covers.  You can check that product out here: [amazon template=thumbnail&asin=B00PKI7IBG]

Using these new lights I replaced the shop lights and also installed them in the galley and salon.  The galley was sorely in need of additional lighting and I was hopeful that the silcone cover and strong adhesive would work well in an area with heat and moisture. After two weeks of use, we have been very impressed with the quality and durability of the lights, but let’s give it another year.  Here are some before and after photos.  I took these without the flash, on a tripod to try and capture the differences more accurately.

The galley with just the Alpenglow fluorescent light

Galley with new LED strip lights

One of the advantages of the new silicone cover is that it helps to diffuse the individual LED lights, providing a more even lighting.   That is an issue at the nav station where at certain angles it looks like lasers are shooting down on the desk.

The salon lights are less utilitarian but still nice. I mounted them as uplights to provide general illumination. We have reading lamps on either side of the settee, so these just add a bit of warmth to the area.

The Lights are mounted behind a fiddle in front of the bookcase.

In addition to the lights and extra tape, I knew I would need some switches for these new locations.  Amazon helpfully (out of the goodness of their hearts, I’m sure) recommended these handy dimmer switches.  I bought two and they have been great. Here is a link to them:

[amazon template=thumbnail&asin=B00TSV2CFI]

I didn’t really think I wanted a dimmer function on these lights, but in the galley and salon this is a nice feature. The switches come with jacks that can be used with the lights but I just cut them off and soldered the wires to my DC system. Also, you will probably want to pick up some extra LED strip connectors.  Soldering a wire directly to those strip lights is pretty hard and these connectors make it easy to create a wire pigtail from the strip light. You can also use these to run multiple sets of lights or run the lights around a difficult corner.

[amazon text=www.amazon.com&template=thumbnail&asin=B0062RBR84]

Those three projects used all but eighteen inches of the lighting I bought but we are already thinking up new places to install these lights.  Eventually, I will probably replace the Nav station lights and I think it might be handy to have a separate strip of red LEDs in that area.  Also the lighting in the aft head, over the mirror needs help. Hopefully all of this effort to replace and install LED lighting will make our batteries happy.  If my batteries are happy, then I’m happy.

12 thoughts on “LED Lighting Update

  1. Your installation looks great. I love these strip lights and have both the silicone covered and bare strips on my boat but I’ve gone away from the silicone covered ones. The silicone on mine is clear so it doesn’t help diffuse the light and after three years, both naked and coated are still going strong so I can’t say it helps them last. However, the silicone makes it very difficult to solder pigtails since it’s nearly impossible to get rid of the silicone contamination from the solder pads.

    One thing to watch out for is that even though LEDs are very efficient compared to traditional bulbs, there are a ton of them per strip so they can still consume a significant amount of power over time. If you have a coulomb counter like a Link-10 or equivalent, it’s a good idea to measure your strip consumption so you’ll know its impact on your battery power budget.

    Regarding dimmers, I’ve run into some that generate tons of VHF-band noise. Caveat emptor.

    • Dear Mr. Pook,

      Good points all. I meant to include the other cost of these lights; their power cost. These higher density lights use three watts per foot so .25 amps. That is very efficient but if you go crazy stringing these lights around, it can still result in a noticeable power consumption. Suddenly, that five foot stretch of lighting in the galley is a 1.25 amp draw.

      You are a better solderer than me if you are soldering wires to those pigtails. Even the naked lights have some light coating on them which must be scraped off. I found the little connectors cheap and easy.

      Thank you for reminding me about the noise of the dimmers. I had forgotten that was an issue. Hopefully these will not be troublesome. Given that one of my future purchases will be a new SSB receiver this could be an issue. On the plus side, the dimmers do help reduce the current draw. Using my Victron battery monitor, the lights pull a tiny fraction at their lowest setting.

  2. Not only dimmers… some LED lights cause significant noise too! This can be in VHF range and in SSB HF range. (And then there’s that refrigerator… oh, and the solar panel regulator.)

    Not to beat a dead horse, but keep an eye out for a HAM/SSB-HF transceiver (perhaps used). Ability to talk to other boats is such big plus (indeed, even here while cruising BC). 😉


    • David,

      Yes, lots of sources of RFI on a boat. We will have to monitor these strip lights as well as the other LED lights we have been using to replace the halogen lighting throughout the boat.

      When we bought the boat, the Kenwood SSB transceiver was a selling point for me. I spent part of my time in the Air Force working the MARS station at Laughlin AFB and have had a portable receiver for decades now. Sadly the Kenwood seems to be at the end of its life and finding someone that could repair it has been fruitless. So, for now, I want to buy a really nice reciever that I can use for weather-fax and general listening. I am leaning towards the CommLink CR1 as it is fully software programmable and covers aviation frequencies. The Alinco receivers are great too.

      For two way comm, we are getting an Iridium Go. That can be used for texting which has become vitally important to many people these days and can be used as an emergency phone.

      • Well, I know an excellent radio repairperson/business in La Paz, BCS.

        Trouble with technology such as Iridium GO is it is “1-to-1” communication, and you have to know the addresses in advance. But you know this already.

  3. Glad to see this post! We also ordered Hitlight strips and plan on installing them soon in the salon & v-berth. We ordered some little toggle switches to turn off & on, but those dinmers would be nice! Thanks for the tip about the adhesive tape .. guess we’d better order some. Looks great!

    • Good timing then Cheryl. I’m glad you read this before mounting the covered lights with the stock tape, They sagged very shortly after mounting for us. Also, I pulled the thin tape off of the silicone and cleaned it with alcohol before mounting the lights with the thicker, more aggressive tape.

      If you can find a good mounting point for the dimmers, I think you might like them. As others have noted, such devices can create RF noise which could affect your radio or other electronics. We’ve not seen that problem on Galapagos but every installation is different.

  4. Looks great Mike.

    Indirect strip lighting really helps ameliorate eye fatigue for me as well.

    We find ourselves turning off the overhead fixtures unless we need that bright, direct overhead light, and relying on indirect when feasible.

    They are especially great in your galley.

    Thanks for the tips!

    Cheers! Bill

    • Thanks Bill. Melissa really dislikes the overhead lights. We have the Alpenglow fluorescent lights throughout the boat and they are nice looking fixtures but we keep them off a lot more now in the galley and salon.

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