Navigation lights on older boats are a great target for an LED upgrade. However, I’ve seen some pretty terrible solutions to do this without replacing the fixtures. Recently I found an option that appears to be extremely well built and bright.
Grace has the factory Hella bow and stern navigation lights. These use a festoon-type bulb, and had been updated by the previous owner to an LED of some sorts.
I hadn’t been that impressed with the amount of light that the stern light was putting out, and after figuring out how to remove the Hella lamp cover (squeeze top and bottom together, bottom has a clip), I exposed the light inside. The light had 6 rather dim LEDs on a board. The color of the light always bothered me too – sort of an off white, too cool and almost borderline blue.
I had really liked the quality of the LunaSea LED anchor light I put on my mast earlier in the year, and noticed that they also made a festoon navigation light replacement. I ordered two of the LLB-189W-21-0Z from Fisheries Supply. I decided to order two white bulbs instead of one white for the stern, and one red/green for the bow, as the fixture I have on the bow has very dark lenses which should work fine with the white LED.
Note: beware Amazon versions of this product – I saw widely ranging prices up to $75 (Fisheries sells it for $24) and odd pictures that might not be the same light.
The bulb itself is nicely made – far wider and angled on either side to ensure that the light is spread all around. In addition, the entire light is fully sealed in plastic so that it will last a long time in the marine environment. It feels extremely well built.
Here you can see the previous LED on the left, and the LunaSea on the right. Not only does the LunaSea have 3 more LEDs, but they’re angled more appropriately to emulate an all around bulb, and the LEDs themselves are much bigger.
It was pretty clear when I powered it up in the stern light with the cover removed that not only was the color of the light far better, but the brightness and coverage was far safer and more complete.
I did some testing in the dark, which is hard to take photos of, comparing the visibility from off center using both bulbs, and the new LunaSea was shockingly far better. The older bulb was extremely hard to see from even a small angle, which is dangerous!
The bulbs fit easily, if not a bit more snugly, into the festoon holders. Some with smaller width lights may have issues with the size of the LunaSea – it is quite wide.
Updating navigation lights to LED is not a new subject – I’ve seen countless articles on it before, and I usually replace them on any boat I purchase, as well as recommend the same for anyone who doesn’t already have them. However, I was surprised at the crappy quality of the ones that had been put on Grace, and should have done my own upgrade when I purchased her.
I was happy to find a very high quality LED replacement from LunaSea that seems to be extremely well designed, very bright, and has a wide beam due to their design.
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