If You Want to Add a Little Pizazz to Your Boat, Here’s a Simple DIY Project Most Boaters Can Do in an Afternoon

What’s the point of owning a very cool high performance sportboat if nobody notices it? Sure, they’re exciting to drive, but isn’t at least half the fun having other boaters turn and stare when your machine is tied at the dock or motors by?

Call it pride of ownership, or perhaps just a mild case of inflated ego, it really doesn’t matter. What counts is how your boat registers on the bling scale.

Where the game was once ruled by twelve-color gelcoat blends and fades or a custom Imron-painted hull mural of your favorite movie super hero, the aquatic arena for exotic has now taken a turn to electronic. More specifically, light emitting diodes (LEDs) are illuminating all kinds of boats from personal watercraft to multi-million dollar super yachts around the globe.

If you’ve ever seen underwater LEDs at work in your local marina, you haven’t forgotten it. Instead of a simple white mooring light on a pole, there’s a cascade of brilliant color surrounding the hull, lighting the water like an outdoor Las Vegas fountain show. Instead of just another ho-hum piece of floating fiberglass, LEDs have the ability to magically transform even the most mundane into visual super-stars.

LEDs are not a new invention, first developed in the 1950s for use in small calculators and mobile phones. It wasn’t until Nichia of Japan, however, came out with a bright white high intensity LED that the market exploded, soon opening the way for applications in televisions, monitors and automobile headlights.

Underwater LED systems began appearing with regularity on the marine market scene about seven years ago. One of the first was OceanLED out of the UK who patented their product in 2004 and introduced it to U.S.boaters a year later in 2005. According to Susan James who is OceanLED’s stateside Marketing Communications Manager, the initial penetration in America was made among the mega yacht and sportfishing audience. Depending boat owner preference, some super yachts and sportfishers literally surround the entire perimeter of the hull with powerful LEDs, lighting the water in a true 360-degree fashion.

In 2008, OceanLED introduced their Amphibian underwater LED line which targeted smaller trailerable-sized boats. Today, sales to mega yachts and serious sportfishers continue to represent a significant volume of the marine LED business, but sportboats are rapidly catching up, especially among the high performance crowd who frequent poker runs and regattas. And who can blame them? The overpowering visual effect of high intensity colored LEDs illuminating the water around a boat is indeed a spectacular in-your-face presentation.

Because they are a relatively new product, boaters have questions. If you’re in the mood to buy a set here are some helpful things to know. First, determining who has the brightest and most intense LEDs is difficult to compare. Some manufacturers like to boast about lumens which are one measurement of light intensity, but others suggest that LUX is more relevant since it measures the amount of light you will actually see on the surface of the water at a certain distance. In your search for the ideal product, it’s wise to also consider other factors like ease of installation (which we’ll get into more about later), product technology, minimal power demand, color clarity, light spread (beam) and durability.

One additional area of underwater LED debate centers around which lens material is optimum for the marine environment. Some manufacturers prefer to use plastic or a polycarbonate lens because of its strength factor. OceanLED, however opts for a process called Tritonium Optical Lensing which is commonly used by the military because of its superior qualities of clarity and inherent resistance to clouding or discoloration when subjected to prolonged exposure in water and sunlight.

Because LEDs are a solid-state light source, they are virtually immune to vibration thus allowing them to be illuminated while the boat is at rest or underway. This provides a boater the option of lighting the wake while under power to create a stunning visual effect after dark.

Since LEDs are lights, the question of longevity is often a concern. According to OceanLED, provider of our demonstration product, their LEDs have the capacity of up to 100,000 hours of continuous use, however, they conservatively rate their LEDs at 40,000 hours (about 4.5 years) when used in underwater applications. It should also be noted that underwater LEDs are available in colors, the most popular being blue, green and clear white. Because blue and green have shorter wavelengths than white light, they appear brighter to the human eye. White, however, is recommended for best results in extremely clear water conditions, while blue is better if the water is slightly murky. Green seems to be the color of choice for attracting fish and very effective in fresh water. Be aware, however, that some colors (blue and red) may be a no-no with some local law enforcement.

For our installation demonstration, we called upon the services of LaveyCraft Boats in Corona, California, manufacturers of exceptional high performance sportboats (vees, tunnels and deckboats) from 21 to 39-feet. LaveyCraft has done several installs of OceanLED systems on a variety of customer boats with outstanding results. This, however, was the first time that LaveyCraft has installed one of the new Hybrid series from OceanLED featuring the new all-in-one technology that does not require any external power supplies or driver boxes as part of the system. The two units selected to mount on the transom of LaveyCraft’s 28 Party Prowler deckboat is the OceanLED 30i which delivers brighter, more intense light projection than the original Amphibian series and is easier, faster to install either as a surface-mount or a thru-hull. Here’s a step-by-step account of how it’s done.

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The new Ocean LED Hybrid 30i is a true plug-and-play system.

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If you don’t want to do a conventional surface mount installation, OceanLED also can provide an optional thru-hull locking stem assembly. an optional thru-hull locking stem assembly.

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The backside of the Hybrid 30i is waterproof. Be sure to insert the three rubber mounting grommets into the outer bezel for optimum fit and seal on the transom. Note that the Hybrid 30i does not require any external power supplies or driver boxes. It’s a self-contained system.

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Whenever you are making an installation on a fully rigged hull, always check to make sure the drilling path inside and out is clear before proceeding.

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It is recommended for best results, underwater lights should be mounted 8 to 10 inches below the waterline of the hull.

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Once the exact location of the light is determined, find the center and drill a small 1/8” pilot hole in the transom.

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Once the pilot hole is drilled, proceed by using a one-inch hole bit to make the necessary opening in the hull.

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With the hole drilled, feed the provided LED wiring through the hole.

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Position the LED body on the transom and drill pilot holes for the attaching screws.

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Remove the lay-out tape and prepare the transom to mount the light.

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Be generous with the silicone sealant. No gasket is needed. The backside of the LED body has a cut circular groove which acts as a gasket when covered with sealant.

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Hand tighten (no power tools please) the attaching screws until they are snug. Tighten enough to cause excess silicone to form a complete ring around the perimeter of the LED body. This will ensure a water-tight seal.

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Remove the excess silicone with a putty knife before it dries.

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The exterior LED installation is now complete.

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Now it’s time to locate a convenient place at the helm to mount an LED switch.

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Measure carefully and be sure there is no interference on the backside of the dash.

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Drill four holes at the corners and then use a small hand saw to make the opening.

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Position the switch body and attach the simple red positive and black ground wires. If the wires get crossed, don’t worry, the system has reverse polarity protection.

The Hybrid 30i system comes standard with 13’ of wire. LaveyCraft makes the chore even easier since it custom makes all of its own wire harnesses with spare wires run to the transom from the helm in case additional electrical accessories are requested by the boat owner at a later time. This eliminates the need to feed new wire behind upholstery, under carpet or through bulkheads.

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Once the electrical connection is made, all that’s left to do is fill the transom hole from the inside with more silicone and secure the wire.

And enjoy – let there be light!