Convert Your Lights to LED Bulbs for More Light with Less Power

When we first started spending long weekends aboard Summer Dance, the deep cycle battery wouldn’t have enough charge left in it by the end of the weekend to power much of anything. At that time, Summer Dance had all incandescent navigation lights and only two cabin dome lights converted to LEDs. Besides the lights, we also have a music system onboard that runs most of the time as well as an autopilot. As I added more electrical devices (see LED strip lighting and Complete rewiring), it was obvious that I would have to balance the electricity budget somehow so that we weren’t broke by the end of our cruises.

Divide and conquer

I approached the problem on two fronts:

  1. Added some amps back to the battery with outboard motor charging
  2. Reduced our power consumption by converting the incandescent lights to LEDs

The lights that I converted were the original Perko bow and stern navigation lights used on the  first generation Catalina 22s.

Bow red/green navigation light
Stern white navigation light. Notice the short bulb that is the same in both navigation lights.

I also added an Aqua Signal Series 25 anchor light on the masthead at about the same time so I converted it first before mounting it.

All around white anchor light

I looked at a lot of different replacement LED products but there are only a few that met my requirements:

  • Small enough to fit in the Perko lights
  • Low power consumption
  • 360 degree coverage so that there aren’t any blind spots in the light pattern
  • Warm white color temperature for the best colors through the bi-color bow light lens
  • Reasonably priced

Among those that qualified, the price differences are small. I settled on the bulbs sold at Sailboatowners.com. They had the best prices, their online bulb finder makes choosing the right bulb easy, and I wanted to support them since they host the Catalina Owners online forums. I purchased two warm white model 819264 bulbs for the Perko navigation lights and one cool white model 819278 for the anchor light. The bulbs fit perfectly and produce more light with less current than the old bulbs.

Reliability update

The LED bulbs in the navigation lights worked great for two summers and then died. The bulb in the anchor light is still working. Sailboatowners.com no longer offers the brand that I purchased but only offers the more expensive Dr LED brand. I can only presume that they stopped carrying the brand because of their low reliability. For these reasons, I recommend that you only purchase bulbs with a strong warrantee. Their prices are too high to accept premature failures. I’ve since reverted back to incandescent bulbs for the navigation lights since they only get used rarely and briefly.

Illumination with conservation

Disclaimer: I make no claims that the methods or products described in this article meet the U.S. Coast Guard or any other regulations in any way. The reader is solely responsible for any consequences of following this advice and is encouraged to seek professional assistance if they are unfamiliar with this subject.

Following are some pictures taken at night and minutes apart that show the differences between the two bulbs side-by-side: incandescent on the left and LED on the right.

Bow incandescent (L) and LED (R)
Bi-color bow light: incandescent (L) and LED (R)

 

Stern incandescent (L) and LED (R)
Stern light: incandescent (L) and LED (R)

 

Anchor light shown on the cabin roof for better perspective
Anchor light shown on the cabin roof for better perspective: incandescent (L) and LED (R)

The difference in brightness is even more remarkable in person. The original square cabin dome lights each take a #93 incandescent bulb that draws over 12 watts each.

BEFORE - Original dome light
BEFORE – Original dome light

Two of them had been replaced already by the previous owner with LED cabin lights  from a certain Catalina parts dealership that each draw less than half a watt for their 8 white LEDs (for daytime use) and 4 red LEDs (for nighttime use to preserve night vision). We don’t use the remaining original dome light in the V berth very often, so I’m in no hurry to replace that light just yet. I explain why below.

Day/night LED dome light

Before the conversion, the total load of the navigation and cabin lights was 63 watts. The total load is now just 8.88 watts, an 86% reduction.

But wait, there’s more!

I will admit that the LED dome lights are not nearly as bright as the original incandescent bulbs. That makes it difficult to see things in the dark. To supplement the dome lights and because they are so cool looking, I installed LED strip lighting in the cabin and in the lazarettes.

The bottom line:

Suggested price: $101.02
$tingy Sailor cost: $43.17
Savings: $57.85

If you haven’t yet converted to LED technology, why?

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Behr Palomo says:

    I wanted to convert, but had no luck finding bulbs for my dome lights. The current (incandescent?) bulbs look like car turn signal bulbs, with two connections on the bottom and two side pegs that are offset from each other. The bulbs themselves don’t have any helpful markings or part numbers printed on them other than “GE” and “1140” which didn’t bring anything similar up on eBay. I would like to just replace the bulbs rather than buy all new casings at $20+ each. Are there perhaps LED bulbs I could solder in place, or another solution?

    1. Look about halfway down this page.

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