LED Lights on Boats

LED lights increase safety and offer other enhancements

November 14, 2017
boat on water
High Visibility: Lights under the rub rail help you be seen more easily after dark. Courtesy Lumitec

Own a boat and at some point you’ll operate it after dark, either because you chose to stay out and fish the night shift, or because of a later-than-expected return to the dock.

But to stay safe and see what you’re doing, you need adequate illumination. Providing convenient and abundant lighting, both inside the boat and out, is no longer a daunting, complicated and high-maintenance proposition.

Luckily, light fixtures for boats have evolved and are predominately light-emitting diodes suitable for dozens of applications.


“LED technology has certainly been perfected,” says John Caballero with SeaVee Boats of Miami. “It’s awesome stuff. LEDs are easy on battery systems because they draw so little power. They’re also compact, last longer and don’t put out a lot of heat. Plus, they come in a variety of colors, sizes and packages at reasonable prices. What’s not to like?”

LED light locations on boat
Prime Locations: Simple but selective light placement provides additional safety, convenience and efficiency at night. 1.) Gunwale Bow Lights
2.) T-top Courtesy Lights
3.) T-top Spreader Lights
4.) Gunwale Cockpit Lights
5.) Livewell (inside) Light
6.) Underwater Transom Lights
Illustration by Tim Barker

Caballero says practically every boat the semicustom builder delivers these days has underwater LED transom lights and LED cockpit lights under the gunwales. “We can spec out any boat for whatever the customer wants,” he adds. Courtesy lights often installed in hardtops are normally white ambient lights, but blue and red colors are also popular. Aqualuma, Lumishore, Lum­itec and OceanLED are the major marine light suppliers.

There are numerous benefits of LEDs versus incandescent or halogen lighting. Light-emitting diodes are designed with two semiconductors, one with electrons and the other with holes. Current is routed through the two conductors to create photons, or the emitted light.


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LED lights on stern
Mood Lighting: Transom lights look spiffy, attract bait, and add a measure of safety. Courtesy Aqualuma

The resulting illumination is much cooler than the other two designs and uses 80 percent less power than incandescent lighting and 75 percent less than halogen. Capt. George Mitchell has Lumitec LEDs on his 36 Yellowfin for multiple purposes.

“I’ve got two sets of underwater lights installed on the transom and engine bracket, two facing down and two aft, that change colors,” Mitchell says. “I use the green for bait, and during the last tournament we fished, we had flying fish behind the boat and even jumping in because of those lights. When the tuna are busting flyers and you’ve got a live one out, you’re gonna get bit.”


Mitchell also has LEDs installed under the gunwales and on the console and hardtop. “The lights let you see when transferring bait early in the morning or when chumming at night. They help with tying knots, threading line on the rods or rigging bait. They don’t hinder your night vision, so you can see and still be functional.”

His boat’s navigation lights are LED fixtures as well, and Mitchell says they last years before needing to be replaced.

Mitchell’s Yellowfin has twin baitwells equipped with blue LED lighting, and after the initial shock of being placed in one of the wells, the sardines, goggle-eyes and blue runners he normally uses just settle down with the blue glow.

Sealed underwater mounts
Sealed underwater mounts allow for mounting additional lights below the waterline. Courtesy Aqualuma

The tail and side lights on Mitchell’s trailer are LEDs too, and he added still more illumination with underwater fixtures on the trailer’s crossbeams. “The combination illuminates the whole trailer and all around the dock,” he adds. “I can launch and load by myself with no problem. The lights really make it simple. They let me see well, so I can position the trailer at exactly the right depth.”

Lumishore THX802
Lumishore THX802 offers both blue and white light Courtesy Thru-Hull

John Dunphy uses several LED light setups aboard his SeaVee 390 when fishing offshore in the central Gulf of Mexico. “I’ve got white spreader lights, plus undergunwale lights and multicolored ones on the hardtop,” he explains. “We use the spreaders for loading and unloading, as well as for drifting for swordfish and tuna. The gunwale lights stay on for safety while we’re running, and they don’t impact night vision. The ones on the hardtop work as night lights whenever we’re sleeping.”

Aqualuma Surface Mount Underwater Light
Aqualuma Surface Mount Underwater Light Courtesy Aqualuma

Although adding a set of underwater transom lights is on his shopping list, Dunphy has found an inexpensive portable solution in the meantime: a 4-foot Hydro Glow LED tube light that plugs quickly into one of the DC electrical outlets mounted in the cockpit.

“The Hydro Glow works really well. It’s very durable, and we tie it off to a cleat up-current and hang it over the side. It’s super-bright and brings bait to the boat, then we dip-net flying fish or throw the cast net over the hardtails drawn to the glow. I’m planning to mount underwater lights eventually, but this is a slick and effective alternative for now.”

Lumishore core
Lumishore core eases maintenance from the bilge. Courtesy Thru-Hull

Thomas Edison changed modern society when he invented the incandescent lightbulb, but the geniuses who came up with light-emitting diodes surely had to be die-hard anglers in their spare time.

The usefulness of LEDs in boats is too overwhelming to be coincidental.


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