Brighter Days Ahead

Installing underwater LEDs on our Grand Banks 42 project boat sheds some light on how simple such an addition really is.

Arawak lighting

There is just something oddly mesmerizing about a pretty boat whose hull is bathed in a deep-blue hue from underwater lights. Like mosquitos to a bug zapper, boaters buzz closer to the swim platform to ogle the after-hours aquarium that has suddenly materialized off the boat’s stern. Like many new technologies the price point to achieve underwater illumination was once so high that it only made sense on superyachts and high-dollar sportfishermen; but today, thanks to a line of products that ranges from $310 to $1,900 per unit, small to midsize boats are seeing the light. 

Alexandra Bader, U.S. vice president of Aqualuma, one of the largest providers of underwater LEDs, acknowledges that most boaters add the lights to their vessels for the “wow factor” they provide but cites a lesser-known benefit: “Sure, underwater lights are fun, but they also offer a sense of security—a lit boat in dark waters allows swimmers to see and, more importantly, be seen, all the while observing what’s around and under them.” You also reduce the risk of onboard theft and vandalism that is sometimes associated with docking in a darkened transient section of an unfamiliar marina. 

One reason these lights are becoming more practical for smaller vessels is that LED bulbs are being employed. Says Bader, the modern LEDs being used below (and above) the waterline sip power compared to their electricity-gulping halogen predecessors. “Our largest lights only use two amps at 12 volts or one amp at 24 volts; so boaters can have them on while using their generator without any fear of wearing down their battery,” Bader explains. 

Besides consuming less power, LEDs today boast a superior lifespan. In the case of Aqualuma, Bader says its lights should shine brightly for upwards of 50,000 hours, which, if you do the math, would allow you to run the lights 24/7 for more than five and a half years. As much as we’d like to see that claim tested, that’s not something we recommend trying however. 

So, at this point we can understand that, sure, the lights are cool and functional, and they stay lit for a really, really long time but where most boaters get hung up is the installation process. Are these lights worth the risk associated with cutting large holes into your boat’s hull? Bader acknowledges that common concern but believes the fear of “large holes” is often misplaced. “A hole in a boat is a hole in a boat and it really does not matter if it’s the size of a dime or a dinner plate,” she explains. “What’s important is how well it’s sealed. With our lights, once the fixture is in place the unit adheres to the hull and will not allow any water to penetrate inside the vessel. It’s actually much easier to see and seal a larger hole than a small one.”

dock lighting

The install process itself is relatively straightforward thanks to the “plug and play” aspect of Aqualuma’s light fixtures. Essentially, you cut a hole in the hull, the entire light slips in and gets wired up; then the one-piece light gets sealed to the hull with 3M 5200 polyurethane or another adhesive. Citing Aqualuma’s installers, Bader claims that six lights can be fitted in just a few hours and sealed up by the next day. Being so straightforward, you might be tempted to tackle the install yourself. We urge against trying that not just because of warranty issues but because the cost of a faulty install (i.e., sinking) far outweighs the potential savings. 

Series 6 LED from AqualumaLike the install itself, Aqualuma says regular maintenance is minimal. “Obviously they need to be kept free of barnacles so that the maximum light shines through and this can be done by scraping them with an old credit card, or something of that nature, to free the sea life from them,” says Bader. “Whenever the boat is hauled for maintenance or bottom paint, we recommend using a soft electric buffer and some compound to buff them clean; the polymer housing comes back to its original clear brightness each time, and these housings also come with a six-year warranty.” 

Another fear some boaters might have is that as soon as they install LEDs, another more advanced underwater lighting technology will come out. With Aqualuma’s through-hull installs, though, you can simply swap in a new light without even having to haul the boat. 

The sensible price point, simple installation process, and obvious benefits are why we have opted to fit out Arawak, our Grand Banks 42 project boat with Aqualuma underwater LEDs. With the help of skilled installers, we look forward to seeing Arawak shine both above and below the water.

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