Saturday, February 6, 2016

One Less Incandescent Light

A while ago I started converting most of the incandescent lights over to LED. When I bought the boat, there were a number of incandescent bulbs. All the navigation lights and a number of interior lights used incandescent bulbs, so as I found LED alternatives and when lights or fixtures started giving me problems, I would switch them out.

All of the salon lights were 10 watt festoon bulbs and have been converted to homemade or pre-purchased LED bulbs. The navigation lights were converted once I found the right bulbs at a reasonable price.  When the anchor light burned out, it was replaced with an LED.  When the deck light went on the fritz, I found a nice Par LED replacement bulb and replaced it.  The only incandescent lights left on the boat were the reading lamps in the berths (I hadn't found a bulb replacement for them), a couple of cockpit lights (the new top will be getting new lights to replace them), and the steaming light (not a high priority since it is only on when engines are running).

Well, on our trip south, the steaming light went out.  So, I guess it was time to convert that one to LED too. All of the navigation lights on the boat use the same BAY15d base bulb. Of course I couldn't find one in stock in Southport, so I ordered one from the local Napa store that also sells a lot of marine supplies.  I had been using the bright white bulbs in these fixtures, but since I had to order one, I went with the warm white this time.

Why warm white?  Well, it actually has to do with the red/green navigation light. The colored lenses on those lights were designed for use with an incandescent bulb.  When I went to the bright white bulbs, I noticed that the green looked a bit more blue than before (after all yellow + blue makes green). I had heard (after I bought the LED bulbs) that this might be the case.  So, by ordering the warm white bulb, it should help the bi-color light look the right color once again.

The bulb came in yesterday, so naturally it rained all day.  Today it was cooler, but sunny, so it was time to swap the bulbs around.  I removed the bulb from the bi-color navigation light and replaced it with the new one.  I then took the bright white bulb that was in the bi-color light up the mast with me to replace the steaming light.

I wasn't sure what I would find when I went up the mast to fix the steaming light.  With previous light issues on the mast, one was a burned out bulb and another was a bad connector.  So I gathered up a multi-tester, some crimp connectors, pliers, screwdrivers, and my trusty dielectric grease and headed up the mast. The steaming light is protected by a metal cage, and when I tried to remove it, I found the screws were pretty much frozen in place.  They wouldn't budge.  At all.  The screw that I needed to remove in order to remove the cover of the light was positioned right behind one of the bars, but I managed to get a screwdriver to it well enough to disengage it.  Then I carefully removed the cover and lens, maneuvering it through the openings in the cage.

Once I finally had access to the bulb, what did I find?  An intact incandescent bulb.  I removed it, inspected it, and put it back in place.  I asked my wife (since she wasn't hanging off the side of the mast) to go flip the switch.  Sure enough, the light came on.  Whew, it was just a little corrosion on the bulb that caused the outage.  After turning the power back off, I removed the old bulb.  I took out the LED bulb, applied a little dielectric grease on the contacts, and installed it in the fixture. We tested the new bulb and confirmed it worked.  I replaced the lens and cover and checked the function one more time before I headed back down.  All was well.

So, now all the lights on the big aluminum stick have working LED bulbs.  Hopefully the LEDs and the protective grease will make these lights a bit more trouble free for a while, and I won't have to climb the mast for any lighting issues any time soon.


  1. is a great source for inexpensive drop in LED bulbs.

    SV Kintala

    1. They do have a variety of bulbs, but I seem to find the ones I need a little more economically elsewhere. In this case, by the time shipping was included, it was the same price as the local Napa after taxes and Napa had it the next day. Now if I could get the weather to cooperate... ;-)

    2. Hi Mike,
      I started reading from the beginning a while back and have almost made it up to current time. I was wondering when I read about your nav light bulb replacement if the wavelength difference between LED and incandescent caused a color shift that would render the fixture no longer legal as a nav light. I'm glad I waited to ask the question since you've already noticed it might be a problem. If there was ever an accident at night you know the lawyers and insurance folks would try to make it your fault for not using approved lights.

      I'm enjoying your blog and hope to begin my own journey a few years from now. Our plan is to buy a cat and spend a few years on the Great Loop and in the Caribbean.

    3. Hi Scott,
      The bright white LED's do make the green look a bit more blue/green, but I'm not sure that it would be enough to say that it invalidates the usefulness/legality of the navigation lights. I don't think there is a specific wavelength of green specified, getting the warm white bulb was more to see the difference since I had to order the bulb anyway...and they were the same price. If all I had was the bright white, I'd rather go with it than go without the light.

      The light output of the bulbs is definitely sufficient to meet the 3 mile visibility requirement (they are actually brighter than the incandescent bulbs), so best I can tell they are legal. But as you noted...lawyers...might as well not give them anything to pick at.

      Glad you are enjoying the blog. If you do the great loop with a sailboat, the mast will be a fun thing to deal with...I know people have done it with the mast down and strapped somewhere on the boat. Good luck with your plan!