Alan Wendt is our guest blogger today and his timely topic is about decorating your boat for holiday boat parades. How does the new LED technology simplify stringing lights on even the smallest of boats and what will you need in terms of power requirements?
The same LED light technology or underwater bling illuminating yachts is making decorating for lighted boat parades more elaborate. Drawing just a tenth of the current of old filament bulbs, and producing far less heat (adding safety for wine tipsy landlubbers invited onboard) there are still some risks to consider.
Electrical overloading can momentarily shut down all of your onboard navigation systems, trip breakers can cause a distraction for the skipper who already has to monitor the boat ahead and behind in a parade, not to mention an inexperienced crew. Newer boats with gensets and voltage regulators are at less risk of an overload than the runabout using an inverter plugged into a 12volt dashboard receptacle.
The old style incandescent C7 string of about 50 lights drew 20 watts. That meant you could only connect about five strands of lights together before overloading the circuit. That same size string of LED lights draws just 4 watts so you can now connect 25 strings together.
To convert your boat battery 12 volt power to alternating current (AC which household lights) requires an inverter, found at West Marine, Home Depot, auto parts stores or online. It simply plugs into a 12 volt power receptacle; probably where you have the cell phone plugged in, and will produce 20 watts to 400 watts. Larger and more powerful units are available. However for the small sail or powerboat looking for a temporary solution that will get them through the boat parade, these inexpensive $50-$100 units are more than adequate. Like all things electrical placed in a water environment, take caution to secure the inverter from sliding around. I like to use a small plastic open container just to restrict movement, keep passengers from stubbing their toes and add an extra layer in case of unexpected dampness.
Calculating the size of the inverter which will be rated in watts with the number of light strings is pretty simple. A string of 70 count LED lights uses 4.8 watts. Rounding to 5 multiply the number of strings, i.e. 20 x 5 = 100 watts and you can easily determine whether the inverter has enough juice to power your display.
LED lights are far more durable than old style lighting and with good care can last many seasons. However left in a saltwater marine environment, the failure rate for inexpensive strands is higher. This is because the lights use copper wire which connects to the aluminum-based wires on the light emitting diode. With moisture the combination of metals can result in galvanic corrosion inside the lamp’s sockets causing them to stop working.
Timing & Sizing
Give yourself a good day for set up, maybe even the night before for testing. Do so with the boat engine running, not when it’s hooked up to shore power. The small C5 mini lights don’t project nearly as well as the larger C7 or C9 bulb sizes but may look just fine on a small boat.