Underwater lights, stupid & offensive?

DeepseaPowerLight_18LED.jpg

I was surprised when Tim Flanagan went all Glen Beck on underwater lights last week. It hadn’t occurred to me that “no boat owner with an ounce of sense” would drill a hole below his or her waterline just to “make the water glow pretty colors”.  In fact, senseless me has long considered going for the dramatic effect above (compliments DeepSea Power & Light) on Li’l Gizmo, which has become fairly reasonable and easy thanks to gear like OceanLED’s Amphibians. You’ll note that they are surface mounted, and hence only need a cable hole through the hull (they also purportedly run cool enough to use on deck). But, heck, I’d  consider putting bigger holes in big Gizmo’s transom if the LED and thermoplastic casing technologies reach the right cost/performance point, which is where they seem headed.  Any underwater fitting deserves especially carefull installation, but I don’t think fixed underwater lights compare, danger-wise, to true thru-hulls which involve a forever hole protected only by an often open valve and a hose.  Has anyone heard of an underwater light causing a sinking?  And while I won’t argue that anyone really needs underwater lights, they sure can be beautiful…


In fact, I put underwater lights right up there with beauty accents like well tended flags and varnished teak toe rails; they are unnecessary and possibly annoying-to-care-for accessories that can bring owners and onlookers alike real pleasure. “If you’re not looking good, you’re not yachting,” was one of my seamanship teaching joke lines, but there’s truth in it.  It’s also true that you can enjoy the hell out of a boat without paying attention to how it looks. But I digress.
     Apparently I’m not the only boater yachtie who likes underwater lights; this is one busy and competitive niche.  Brands besides the already mentioned DeepSea P&L and OceanLED (which, like several of the following, has a good photo gallery) include: Aqualuma, SeaVision, Underwater Lights LTD, Abyss, Aqua Lights, Oceanbright, KEP Marine, and Imtra. And there are probably even more brands, which, along with some hard-to-understand technologies, may explain the fairly high level of infighting I’ve noticed in this sector.  As you can gather from some of those links, underwater lighting started as a very expensive and somewhat tricky category using high power Xenon and Halogen bulbs.  Hassles for a megayacht engineer included not only changing burnt out bulbs, but making sure they were all of similar age so they balanced properly.
   When OceanLED aggressively trail blazed LED lights back in 2006, there was push back.  The competition claimed that LEDs just weren’t bright enough.  But the founding father and son team of Nigel and Lee Savage are not the sort of chaps who walk away from a fight. The illustration below came at the end of a long, highly technical, and wickedly sarcastic rebuttal to the “not bright enough” e-mail campaign.  That battle is long done, as most every manufacturer now features LED underwater lights.  Recently, though, some of the companies have been fighting about who first developed a decently bright LED which runs cool enough to stay healthy even when underway and sometimes deprived of cooling water.  Frankly, I don’t care who was first.  Nor do I think that these lights seriously disrupt sea life, as suggested by a Navagear commenter.  Am I stupid and offensive because I want underwater lighting to get better and cheaper, and hence more available?

OceanLED_bright_enough.jpg

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Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

30 Responses

  1. “Glen Beck”
    Thats so funny I fell off my chair!

  2. Mark says:

    Look at me! Look at me!
    IMHO flags, lights, and other signals serve a specific purpose. Perhaps I’m a traditionalist…
    Didn’t the NYYC bylaws once state “hulls and sails shall be white…” And Lindsay Lord’s “Nautical Etiquette and Customs” is a good read (make sure you get the first edition).
    So, unless you’ve got a plausable excuse for UW lights – clearing a line from your prop at 3 in the morning, or during a night dive for guidance back to the boat…
    Ben, your new mistress looks fairly traditional – don’t mess her up with gimmicks.

  3. Steve says:

    Well, there *is* some real value in being able to see the bottom… and lighting things up for the underwater cameras. OK.
    Not really a luddite,
    Steve

  4. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Geez, Mark, you seem confused.
    First you’re taking guidance from the New York Yacht Club, a bunch of dudes who care more about how their persons and their boats look than any other boating group on the planet. (Only an opinion, but I do tour the fleet when they come by here, i.e. every other summer except the years they were banned for bad behavior 😉
    Then you conclude that looking good is not a plausible reason for having underwater lights.
    Balderdash! Practicality and joyful expressiveness are not mutually exclusive on boats.
    But no worries; my first goal with Gizmo is just getting to know her. It will be long time before the gentle glow of underwater LEDs shimmers up through her swim platform, if ever.
    And you will never, ever see me in a pair of Breton red pants, unless it’s Halloween.

  5. Phalpal says:

    The most amazing underwater lights is phosphorescense.

  6. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    True that…
    Dinoflagellata: large group of flagellate protistis. Some species are heterotrophic, but many are photosynthetic organisms containing chlorophyll. Various other pigments may mask the green of these chlorophylls. Other species are endosymbionts of marine animals and protozoa, and play an important part in the biology of coral reefs. Other dinoflagellates are colorless predators on other protozoa, and a few forms are parasitic. Reproduction for most dinoflagellates is asexual, through simple division of cells following mitosis. The dinoflagellates are important constituents of plankton, and as such are primary food sources in warmer oceans. Many forms are phosphorescent; they are largely responsible for the phosphorescence visible at night in tropical seas. There are approximately 2000 species of dinoflagellates.

  7. Richard Rodriguez says:

    Yea – the lights are stupid. I shall make no comments about the ethnicity of such lights.
    BTW – Tim’s a buddy, and he is so “Glenn Beck”

  8. Tim Flanagan says:

    Don’t worry about it, Ben. You don’t have to pay any attention to those hacks over at Navagear!

  9. Preston Calvert says:

    I have beautiful blue underwater, through-hull lights on my Riviera convertible, and I love them. They go with the blue LED cockpit and stairway lighting very well, and make it a real pleasure to return to my boat at night after dinner out. People who don’t like underwater lights need to get over themselves. To each his own, folks. Go stumble back onto your dark boat, if you want to.

  10. Eliboat says:

    I modified a Subchapter-T boat spec a couple of years ago to include a bunch of the underwater LED (oceanLED I think) lights, and it was ultimately approved by the conservative (not in the Glen Beck sense) USCG MSC office in Washington. While those lights are technically thru-hulls, the wires extending from the lights are potted in a strong plastic all the way through the threaded bronze fitting. The chance of water penetrating that is slim to none. The lights have Lloyds approval, and have since been in service providing light for Manta Rays to swim to as vacationers in Hawaii look on.

  11. mrfugu says:

    wow, really, wow…
    powerboaters.. the lot of ya!
    As a sailor, my philosophy is 1/2 necessity, 1/2 functionality.
    Deck lights (or anything beyond cabin/running lights) should *only* be used as long as there’s a pressing need for em.
    we are already bringing the noise with us (powerboaters, i’m lookin at you..), now gratuitous lights?
    unless you’ve got a diver in the water…
    or
    some sort of submersible research robot on a giant hook….
    or
    if you hook em up to the EQ display output of the stereo…
    or
    go big, with some strobes… and send morse..
    ok, I’m in!
    robert

  12. Anonymous says:

    A new record, Ben! A single paragraph that took me 3 minutes to puzzle through, and I couldn’t do it without moving my lips. I’m going to go back and document this polysyllabacy right after I take a nap. My head hurts.

  13. Jon says:

    Sorry, Ben. At the risk of being identified as one of your “never-waste-so-much-as-a miliwatt” contributors of the sailing persuasion I gotta give them the old thumbs down.
    I was once enjoying a peacefull and beautiful anchorage at Shroud Key in the Bahamas when a boat that had come in earlier in the day provided all with a light show. Underwater lights all around the boat that pulsed and changed colors. Even the fish were getting sick.
    Maybe a couple on the transom to attract fish at night but no way with the “look at me, look at me” displays of wretched excess.
    And don’t forget, you can attract a lot of fish with a five cell Mag-lite and it’s usefull for other things.
    Jon

  14. Arnie says:

    Unless your boat is commercially licensed and you make a living with the vessel, then you don’t need a boat and the “don’t need” argument is out the window.
    The lights can be obnoxious in a private secluded cove, but so can ones laundry hanging from the lifelines, or large guts hanging over a Speedo. (And don’t get me started on some of those girls in a 2 piece) How about those propeller driven generators? They can be disturbing also. While we are at it maybe we can keep crying babies out of our secluded coves also. Unless they can eat the barking dogs.

  15. awboater says:

    I’ll wait for the NMEA2000 version 🙂

  16. JohnD says:

    I’ve got a story.
    We were in the Tobago Cays, absolutely stunning night, stars, phosphorescence, when this giant boat shows up in our somewhat crowded but peaceful anchorage.
    They’ve got these underwater viewing ports, and sure enough, eventually they power up the floodlamps for a romantic night viewing no doubt. Depths are shallow, so this thing lit up everything.
    Folks sleeping on deck started heading inside to rather hot cabins to avoid the flashing lights.
    My grumpy buddy was especially irked, and killing two birds with one stone as it were, had me dinghy him directly above where the boat sat in a rather soft current. A little trial and error, and we nailed it and into the water he want, where he took a number 2 for real (aka an Aquaduke). About 30 seconds later, boom, the lights went out.
    Gensets and flashing lights late at night in a peaceful sailors anchorage can make for grumpy sailors in the morning 🙂
    That said, over a sandy bottom with a few other power boats I think they’d look great. And having unwrapped a prop at night I’d have loved this from that perspective.

  17. Sailboat owner says:

    Wait a minute. Are you guys telling me that everything on a boat has to be functional? I guess that means I pull off my teak cap rails, take the shine off of all of my stainless, dull up my paint job, remove all wood from down below, etc.
    Give me a break – we all want our toy to present a good image. Underwater lights look cool and are impressive. I agree – make them cheap and high quality. I want the all over the boat.

  18. Bill Lentz says:

    Ben, I have just had 4 blue lights mounted thru hull that are the Ocean’s that only require the power wire to pass through solid fiberglass on my boat. I also bought a set for my radar arch to replace the old spreader cockpit lights. I can truly attest that they draw 1/5th the current that my old arch cockpit lights did and they are brighter. I no longer have a light on the boat that is not LED. They have come a long way in the last 2 years. I changed all my navigation fixtures to USCG and about 10 other agencies approval’s and the current savings, additional brightness and no messing with corroded base/bulb problems is worth the cost IMO. I have about 40 interior LED lights from floor/step lighting to red floor LED lighting on the bridge to preserve night vision, overhead accent lighting, gooseneck red/white reading lights. Now instead of drawing 22 amps when running all the interior lighting and anchor light I draw slightly less than 3 amps. To me changing out all these lights and adding some has reduced maintenance and obviously the current draw on my house bank when on the hook. I think LED’s are a win/ win. Now lighting the transom I think looks beautiful? Pimp my ride. LOL
    Bill
    Wireless One

  19. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Sounds great, Bill. Do you mean you used OceanLED Amphibians (linked to in the entry) in the transom and arch? What brands of LED nav and interior lights did you use, and how do they compare?

  20. Daniel B says:

    I’m with you Jon.
    The latest in on-water “bling”.
    Anyone ever heard of something called light pollution?
    There are a number of ways to spoil the tranquility of a peacefull bay at sunset. Drunken idiots on “Gin Palaces” with powerful stereos is one that we’ve probably all had to endure. Soon it seems, we who prefer taking in nature at its best over a drink, will be subjected to the gaudy artificial glow eminating from poser boats moored around us. With enough boats fitted with these lights (in a multitude of colours), it’ll be like floating in a bath tub with a submerged christmas tree.
    Their practical value ends with entertaining the kids. They emit most of their light OUTWARDS with a very strong blinding beam. If you need to do emergency midnight underwater work on your boat (because that happens so often!), your better off with a light that shines ON TO the work area, not one that you cant look in the general direction of. As for seeing the bottom, come on, any boat fitted with these has sonar. Depth perception through water isn’t great, added to variable water clarity it’s useless. Besides, are you reversing into your anchorage – because most boats with underwater lights solely fit them at the transom.
    Each to there own though, It’s got great novelty value, which may entertain some people. Potential owners – be considerate in their use and don’t spoil it for others enjoying the water.

  21. Russ says:

    A luxury. You want to burn the hydrocarbons to generate the electricity to light up the water, it’s your choice. I’ve certainly enjoyed watching the fish come up to an underwater light. Compared to the fuel you’re already burning to move the boat from place to place, it’s probably not significant.
    It’s pretty clear to me that the per capita carbon footprint of a 200′ megayacht is a lot higher than that of a 40′ sailboat. I’m not so sure about the carbon footprint of a 40′ motor yacht versus a 40′ sail boat. I’ve watched a lot of sail boats run their engines for an hour in the morning and an hour at night while on the hook just to charge their batteries. For what it’s worth, Steve Dashew says his new motor yacht is cheaper to operate than his last sail boat. But a key point is that his motor yacht doesn’t plane. If you spend the energy to plane, you’ve probably upped your carbon footprint pretty substantially.
    As reported above, the lights can irritate some in the neighborhood. They probably require the same discretion or sensitivity as playing loud music. If you’d gladly crank up the music to #10, then it’s probably ok to crank up the lights. But if you think the neighbors are going to not enjoy your music, maybe it’s time to dim the lights. We all share the water.
    We’re probably 20 years behind the curve on understanding the importance of our carbon footprint and recreational boats are only a minor part of the story.
    Stupid and offensive? Clearly sometimes they are offensive, but they come with an on/off switch which can manage that pretty easily. With regard to stupid, I say it’s a luxury. Whether it’s a luxury we (as opposed to you) can afford, time will tell.

  22. Mark says:

    Ironically, I wandered the Miami boat show looking for (among other things, the Ray digital radomes, the new Fusion stereo, the maretron N2K engine module, etc) underwater LED lights that would fit flush in my sailboat’s hull so they wouldn’t add too much drag.
    My reason for this crime against nature? I actually have two.
    One, to attract fish, for fishing. Yes, fish like light and it attracts the little fish which in turn attracts the big ones. Easily this justifies them.
    Two, to attract fish for entertaining my dog. She likes boating, she likes watching fish. Small price to pay, as long as I get flush lights that won’t add much drag.
    Of course, the purported third reason, the illumination of skinny dipping guests, is not a reason no matter what my friend Rob says.

  23. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    I have nothing to write about today .. so I thought I would chime in.
    I don’t have these lights, not ready to add them, but let’s say I had them already … I wouldn’t hesitate to use them.
    Does that make my carbon footprint any different ?
    I would argue that every minute my family is on the sailboat, as long as that includes my 13 yr old daughter, I am doing a great thing for the environment ! A little illumination in the water dosn’t come close to the power we consume at night when we are at home.

  24. Eric says:

    I fished on a Sportfish boat in New Zealand last year. The boat had two Blue LED Underwater lights.
    We anchored out overnight and the captain only used one time for about 30 minutes after he asked everyone if we wanted Calamari Steaks for dinner.
    Within minutes of turning on the lights, and dropping our lines in the water, hundreds of Humbolt Squid appeared and voraciously clamped onto our baited lines. We reeled about a half dozen of them slowly up to the surface and scooped them up in nets.
    In an hour we had calamari steaks on the grill. Very tasty indeed. I’ve seen them attract many other types of fish as well.
    Since then I have convinced many blowboaters to install these types of lights to catch a quick meal.
    One could easily argue that these types of lights, used in this manner, will REDUCE one’s Cruising Carbon Footprint(CCF) in lieu of refrigeration requirements, going to shore in a dingy for food, trolling for fish, etc..

  25. David says:

    LED Lights are great for fishing.

  26. Billlentz says:

    Ben to answer your question about all my LED lights I will try and do my best to give a complete list.
    Arch LED lights are LUMITEC 3103’s
    Navigation lights “AQUA Signal” all 32 series
    Masthead light dual fixture 225degrees and all around anchor light part#32411-7 (expensive)
    Stern LED 135 degree part#32503-7
    Starboard side LED part#32203-7
    Port side LED part#32303-7
    Gooseneck reading/chart lights (4) IMTRA part#IL5321
    Ceiling background lights (16) IMTRA ILG421LED
    Floor lighting West Marine (10) white LEDs part#51124
    Floor lighting West Marine (4) red LEDs part#51126
    Mars Dome (2) red/white 3 position switch LED ceiling fixtures part#8001184
    Hellia (4) ceiling spot LED lights part#343980501
    I am using 4 of the Oceans Blue Canyon transom high power LEDs.
    I hope this helps all part numbers are manufactures except the floor lights they are West Marines part numbers.
    Bill Lentz

  27. OceanFroggie says:

    Bling ugly. “Look at me” and Darwin comes to mind.

  28. Billlentz says:

    To each his own I love watching the fish get attracted to the lights when anchored out or even at the dock. I don’t leave them on all night but I could with the battery systems I have in the House bank. Our water is not clear like the Bahamas but it’s just fun watching the fish that the lights attract.
    Bill

  29. Johnny O says:

    Looks like I’m a bit late to the conversation, but have been catching up on old material. I used a submersible light attached to a battery for night fishing for years. It’s a great way to “chum” the waters, using the light as a plankton trap to get the food chain going under your boat. Whenever I can get back to the salt, I’ll be looking at installing underwater thru-hulls to make the setup a push-button operation.
    And who wouldn’t enjoy swimming in a blue glow.

  30. Slow 5 Tonnes says:

    You took the words right out of my mouth Ben

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