Are you a boat owner who’s been on the fence regarding LEDs? Do you find yourself considering switching out your boat’s old light fixtures, but can’t seem to reconcile what looks like the significantly higher costs associated with LEDs? Are you still waiting for LEDs to become “mainstream” enough before accepting them as a legitimate alternative to the tried and true incandescent bulb? LED Display
If so, it’s likely you are one of the many who has yet to have found all the information available about LEDs. This isn’t surprising considering that for all the hype surrounding them, there is really very little informative material regarding LEDs readily available to the public. To get past the hype and the misconceptions, one has to dig a little deeper. Here we hope to bring to light some of the more important basics that may help fill in any blanks that have made understanding LEDs difficult for boaters.
LEDs are solid state luminaries that more closely resemble circuitry than traditional incandescent light bulbs. Instead of heating a wire filament as is done in a light bulb, light is produced in LEDs by passing current through two differing types of materials mated to a semi-conducting platform. Each material represents an Anode and a Cathode and as the current passes between them electrons split and flow through “holes” in these materials, emitting radiation in the form of light as they recombine after exiting. Different materials will affect how the electrons flow, changing their wavelength or light color as they exit. By using specific materials manufacturers can control the color of the light an LED produces.
To produce white light, LEDs are usually designed with multiple sections to produce red, blue and green light which combine to form white light. LEDs can instead be treated with a phosphor coating to produce white light as well. This process is called electroluminescence and produces light much more efficiently than the process of resistance used in typical incandescent lamps. This efficiency is one of the biggest benefits the LED holds for boat owners as it is directly responsible for the impressive reductions in power use boaters realize when switching to all LED lighting.
LEDs consist of a semi-conducting material that acts as a platform for the entire LED structure. This platform is then layered with different materials depending upon the color of light the LED is intended to produce. Each layer acts as a positive and negative conductor through which current will pass. The design of the LED is such that current can only pass in one direction. Some LEDs, most notably those designed to produce white light will have three or four separate sections, each coated with a different material. Each section will produce a specific color, usually red, green and blue. The end result is that these colors combine and the LED in effect produces white light.
The entire LED assembly is coated in an acrylic, silicone or other clear material to protect the entire assembly. Illumination grade LEDs are typically affixed to heat sinks to help dissipate excess heat and preserve LED life. This overall design is extremely durable and resistant to damage from materials degradation, vibrations and shocks. Since no materials are actually burning or being heated to very high temperatures as with an incandescent lamp, the LED has an extremely long operational life often measured at 50,000+ hours. If you drop an LED on the floor, it will likely continue to operate without any discernable change. Not so for a glass covered light bulb. This durability is the second biggest reason for the popularity of LEDs with boaters. Switching to LEDs means that a boater will likely not have to replace another light for 5 years or more. This means that although LEDs may cost more initially, the savings in maintenance and replacement costs easily offset this outlay.
Contrary to popular belief, LEDs are not really directional. LEDs are manufactured to produce light over a well defined degree of direction. Manufacturers do this to intensify light output and improve the LED’s practical application. The wider the degree of direction, the wider the light beam produced by the LED. This is why some LEDs appear intensely bright when viewed head on and appear to dim drastically when viewed from an angle. An LED with a 10 degree spread will produce a well focused light beam and is suited for use in spotlight applications. An LED with 35 or 40 degrees of spread is more suited to floodlight applications. Manufacturers also incorporate reflectors and diffusers to further enhance the type of beam produced and will usually cluster groups of LEDs with individual reflectors to produce a single highly powerful and purpose specific light beam.