LED replacement bulbs, the options get better and cheaper
LED lighting keeps getting better with higher quality light output, better fitting replacement bulbs, and lower costs. While new LED fixtures are a good choice on some boats — note how Gizmo got brighter and dimming cabin lights that way — the options in replacement bulbs have gotten so good that the expense was not justified given my boat’s existing fixtures.
Several years ago I set out to convert as much of Have Another Day’s lighting to LED as possible. With over 100 12v halogen fixtures this was going to be quite an undertaking. The benefit of LEDs in both bulb longevity and efficiency was a benefit worth pursuing. I probably ordered over a dozen different bulbs before settling on a couple of favorites for various applications. With 30 bi-pin G4 halogen fixtures in the salon area alone, cost was a major issue in selecting the winning bulbs. But as Steve Mitchell mentioned in his 2016 LED Lighting article on SailBits, I learned that a constant voltage driver is a must for replacement bulbs with acceptable light output not prone to flickering or other annoying behavior.
The first LED bulbs I purchased came from eBay and cost a couple of dollars a piece. However, they turned out not to be worth even the small price I paid. The light quality was terrible, they flickered and everything looked garish in their light. I then tried some of the more expensive bulbs and while their light quality was much better at $20+ per bulb, I just needed too many of them to justify the expense.
The lineup of bulbs above contains from left to right a three-year-old roughly $20 bulb (marine beam I think), a two-and-a-half-year-old $8 bulb (superbrightleds.com), the $6 single LED Cree bulb (superbrightleds.com), a $3 bulb from Amazon, and a $1.40 bulb from Amazon shaped most like a traditional halogen bulb.
Eventually, like Steve, I decided to use the single Cree LED bulb from superbrightleds.com for much of the lighting on the boat. Despite initial concerns the single LED would emit harsh light, I was pleased with the quality of the light. And, at $5.95 / bulb I could afford enough to convert the most used fixtures without breaking the bank.
There were other areas of the boat where I wanted a little more light than the 60-lumen single LED bulb produced so the second bulb from the left above is a 9-LED, 170-lumen bulb also superbrightleds.com. 170 lumens turns out to be a lot. A 10w halogen bulb is typically rated at about 120 lumens so this is a noticeably brighter bulb.
Having spent several hundred dollars and converted about 60 fixtures, I decided I’d converted enough fixtures and moved onto other projects. But, every time we’re at anchor, and I’m thinking about when I’ll have to fire up the generator, I’m reminded of all the places I haven’t converted to LED. When I returned to Super Bright LEDs to complete my bulb conversion, I learned that both bulbs I’d previously used have been discontinued. But the latest options seem even better.
I’ve noticed the physical configurations of G4-LED-replacement bulbs has changed towards more tower (cylindrical) shaped bulbs and fewer of the flat discs. I’ve previously tried some of the tower-shaped bulbs and had trouble with them fitting in my fixtures. Some perusal of Amazon found what looked like workable disc-shaped bulbs as well as the halogen shaped bulb seen above. At $3/bulb for the flat disc 1.8 watt, 150-lumen bulb and $1.40/bulb for the halogen shaped 1.5 watt, 180-lumen bulb it was easy to give them both a try.
I’m really happy with the light produced by both bulbs and especially happy with the universal fit of the halogen-shaped bulb. This bulb will fit in nearly every fixture I’ve encountered made for standard g4 bulbs and with 6 LEDs on each side of the bulb uses the reflector built into many halogen fixtures. If I need any additional bulbs I think they will be the halogen-shaped bulbs.
I’m keenly aware of the potential RF interference issues from LED bulbs. I haven’t been able to detect any interference from any of the bulbs onboard but when I read the notices about cheap LED bulbs being a large culprit I know they’re talking about me. We rarely boat at night and even more rarely have any lights on. My antennas are all about 8 feet above the overhead in which most of my light fixtures are located.
The Amazon bulbs I ordered this time around aren’t dimmable. For the locations I’m installing them in this time around that’s not a big deal. I do have an LED compatible dimmer in my salon that I use with the 9-LED Super Bright LEDs sourced discs. The dimming is pretty limited with light quality degrading if you dim down too much (and I also fear might well raise the amount of RF noise made). I think this is one area where purpose purpose-built fixtures do a better job than a halogen fixture with an LED bulb.
Have Another Day was clearly designed to either be plugged into shore power or have its honking 23kw generator running at all times the boat is occupied. So, the more than 1,000 watts of potential draw from the lighting wasn’t a major factor. But we don’t like to run the generator any more than we need to and cutting down our draw by 85% or more is a big help in minimizing run time. In fact, after a full year, I just hit the 200-hour service interval for my generator.