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Cheap LED Lights For Your Boat

Our boat looked like a covered wagon, the most ridiculously high (7' 2" headroom) canvas I have ever seen and useless for cruising. We needed a place to mount radar (and reduce windage) so we decided to build a hardtop and reduce the height to 6' 4" and we'd need some lights under the new hardtop.

So we built an aluminum frame and stuck it on. With winter coming on we shrink wrapped the boat and laminated a hardtop on the dock over the winter , honest we did !

Come spring, off comes the shrink and eight guys help me lift the hardtop on to the aluminum frame. It took eight guys because it was somewhat unwieldy even though it only weighs 79lbs.

Ikea LED under our new hardtop

Ridiculously high canvas

Canvas off - Aluminum frame on

Shrink on

New hardtop with radar
So we mounted a couple of Ikea LED's under the hardtop. We started out with four but found them too bright so we installed only two. They come with a little transformer and run off 120VAC ..... but throw the transformer away and guess what ..... They run on 12VDC ! They even came with tinned wire unlike many so called marine products and were only $10.00 a piece for a set of four.

We were so pleased with the two we put under the hardtop that we decided to convert all of our lights to LED. Unfortunatley the high cost of such lights from a marine store cut that program short so I decided to try and convert our existing fixtures. We had two lights left over so .......

We converted our old incandescent fixtures. First Go to Ikea ....... better yet get your wife to go, unless you like to be directed, manipulated and herded like sheep. OK no more rants (not in this article anyway) .... promise. Some of their models even come with dial pads that change the colour of the lights, not my thing but some may find it entertaining.

If you search on line or go to any of the boating chat forums you will find all sorts of folk telling you that cheap LED lights do not work on a boat or won't last long due to the voltage fluctuations and that you need to buy the very expensive "marine grade" stuff and I agree where navigation lights are concerned. For interior lights ? ... well, we live aboard and installed these lights in 2006 and they have been trouble free since day one.

The package you see below left is just the way it comes from that awful place (sorry, it slipped out). From now on I'll only refer to Ikea as "the bad place".

Step #1

Read the info on the transformer and make sure it has 12VDC output. The bad place has several different models and although all the ones I saw put out 12VDC, check to be sure.

Package from the bad place
Step #2

Throw out all the connectors, plugs and LED driver (transformer) or basically anything that is not a light fixture.

Throw this junk away
Step #3

Keep only what looks like a light. These ones are directional and can be swivelled.

Keep this stuff
Step #4

After you cut off the finickly little connectors for the junction box (that didn't work half the time anyway) you are ready to get to work.

Cut off the finicky little connectors
Step #5

We have ten of these fixtures on the boat to change over, they draw a lot of amps and are not bright enough to read by comfortably.

An old light fixture in the saloon
Step #6

Take off the trim ring and diffuser

Trim and diffuser removed
Step #7

Pull, tear or cut away everything but the switch and wires. You can bend the various little tabs out of the way without having to remove the whole fixture.

Be careful not to disturb the very fine connections at the switch or you may have to re-solder them.

Remove all but switch and wires
Step #8

The LED light can be screwed in place through its' trim ring or glued with a little 5 minute epoxy or even some silicone caulking as they are very light (no pun intended). Connect with crimped butt connectors and voila !

New LED in place
Remember that unlike your old incandescent lights, LED's are polarity sensitive so check before you make the connections. If they don't work one way, reverse the wires and try again.
Step # enjoy

Stick the original trim ring and light diffuser back on and you are done.
We also have four of these fixtures onboard and its pretty much the same operation. Remove the old incandescent guts and glue in the LED. I'm pretty sure that just about every 12VDC fixture I have seen on a boat could be converted to LED's from the bad place.

Don't forget the polarity !

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