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Swap or Not?

I explained to Joe Galati of Galati Yacht Sales that PMY was looking for a cruiser with incandescent or halogen lighting that we could swap for LEDs from Imtra Marine. We had four objectives:

First, we wanted to see if it’s a do-it-yourself project or a job for a pro. Second, we wanted to measure energy savings—LED lights are heralded for their energy efficiency but backup data is rare. Third, we wanted to see if we could maintain the ambiance of the original lighting system—LEDs have a reputation for producing fluorescent-blue tints. And fourth, we wanted to determine if converting a boat to LEDs is worth the time and money.

Galati had just the candidate at his facility in St. Petersburg, Florida, a 2006 Tiara 3600 Open with halogen lighting. So some weeks later, I boarded her with Imtra lighting engineer Mike Moriarty and Imtra sales rep Richard Misner to do the conversion.

Getting the answer to our first question took roughly seven hours, the time required for us to replace 35 halogens and add two pulse-width-modulated dimmer switches. Installation of the LEDs took less than four hours, and the only tools required were screwdrivers, wire cutters, wire strippers, crimpers, and heat guns, plus an assortment of butt connectors and heat-shrink tubes. Because the halogens had the same cutouts as the LEDs, replacement meant just snipping the old lamps free, connecting the new ones in accordance with wire color, and popping them home. Even the new trim rings matched.

The dimmer switches were trickier. To install them, we had to connect signal wires on the new fixtures via lengths of duplex wire, and we had to route more duplex wire between the switches, one on the forward end of the saloon and the other at the aft end. The latter task required flashlights and an electrician’s snake to route the duplex behind bulkheads and overhead panels that we dared not remove due to fastening complexities. But while the dimmer install added three hours to the project, I’d say it was still well within the abilities of the average, electrically savvy do-it-yourselfer.

As to energy savings, Moriarty and I first measured the amperage draw of the 35 halogens using the Tiara’s 12-volt ammeter. We also measured illuminance, or light density, at four locations using a Konica Minolta light meter. After the swap we took identical measurements and found power consumption had dropped from 24 amps to 8.2 amps while illuminance had increased by an average of 48 percent. And dimming the LEDs to original illuminance dropped power consumption to 7 amps!

What about the color and quality of the light of the LEDs? Indistinguishable from halogens. Indeed, color temperature (as measured by our light meter) had increased by only two percent, a variance not perceptible by the naked eye.

So is an LED swap worth it? Despite the complexity of adding dimmers, our install was relatively easy. Money was a consideration, though: The suggested retail for our LEDs fell between $80 and $100 (although savvy shoppers will find discounts) for a grand total of about $3,800 for 35 lights and two dimmers, not including labor and incidentals.

But when you factor in the added safety of LEDs (they are way cooler to the touch than the typical halogens and project virtually no heat into the room) as well as an estimated service life of 50,000 hours, upgrading to LEDs looks pretty attractive, especially if you place a high priority on minimizing the use of your genset.


, (508) 995-7000.

July CHECKLIST: LED Advantages

1) Longer Life: Can last up to 50,000 hours making changing bulbs a thing of the past.

2) Lower Temperature: No safety or comfort worries concerning halogen heat buildup.

3) Less Cooling: Reduced heat from lights cuts A/C run time, especially in warm climates.

4) Low Electrical Draw: Lower amp requirements reduce battery drain and recharge time.

5) Less Genset Time: Less electrical load means more time spent on your boat’s house batteries.

This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.