Let there be (LED) light

The future of navigation lights has arrived. LEDs (light emitting diodes) are the latest leap in navigation light improvements.

In a previous blog (“Let There Be Light”) I wrote about navigation lights and Rules of the Road compliance. Navigation lights are part of the Coast Guard Examinations and Law Enforcement Boardings. They can be an item during investigations should you have a collision during hours of darkness or restricted visibility — see Rule 20.

The most important reason to show legal and highly visible navigation lights is to be seen before you get into trouble and before you become involved in a collision. Consider this an important safety tip. The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” means, in this case, be seen or show yourself with the proper and most visible navigational lights approved by the Coast Guard. Today, those can be LED navigation lights. A tragic example involving a deadly collision where navigation lights were a factor was in the collision between the Coast Guard cutter Cuyahoga and the vessel Santa Cruz II in the Chesapeake Bay that resulted in 11 deaths.

LED navigation lights are “electronic” lights. They’re not the old tube and filament technology of the Thomas Edison age. I’ll spare you the techno-speak about how they work and what the electrons do unless you are a geek and want to read about them.

LED lights are bright and sharp. They have thousands of hours of life instead of just a few hundred hours for a regular bulb. That means you save money replacing them because they are more reliable and have to be changed much less frequently.

You can purchase them to replace the bulbs in your fixtures relatively cheaply. I went with replacement LEDs on my boat for around $100. Cheap. I thought the improvement in the visibility of my navigation lights was amazing. But you’ve got to read the directions to get the wiring polarity correct if you are replacing your fixtures or they won’t work. Like most men, I hate reading directions, but it’s simple enough. 

Make absolutely sure whatever LED bulbs and fixtures you use are strictly in accordance with the Rules of the Road and it must be approved by the Coast Guard. Just any old LED will not do. Bulbs, whether LEDs or not, are fixture-specific. A recent Coast Guard Safety Alert lays out all of this and is a must read if you are going for LEDs. 

(I have to put in a plug for Coast Guard Safety Alerts across the board. Ken Olsen and his colleagues at the Coast Guard’s Office of Investigations and Casualty Analysis are fantastic in getting out the immediate word on critical safety items.)

So let there be more and better light. I recommend you look at LED navigation lights. You’ll see them shine brightly.

Sail Safe!

About the author

Capt. Peter Squicciarini

Capt. Peter Squicciarini is a licensed master mariner and marine safety specialist at the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command in Portsmouth, Va. He has worked on towing, passenger, and fishing vessels, and was a safety and compliance manager for an East Coast tug and barge company. He also served in the Navy as a surface ship officer and commanded several warships. He can be reached at pdsquicciarini@msn.com.

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