Sunday, August 12, 2007

Seemed like a good idea at the time department...

LED's have been a something of a frustration aboard the test bed that "So It Goes" is becoming these days as the new boat design is coming into focus so wanting to get all the systems right before going into the construction of Loose Moose 3 ( or Ultima Moose...) that we can just build it and not have to do any thinking in the process.

LED's provide a lot of light and don't use a lot of power in the process which sounds like just the thing for a boat with an energy budget..LED's are also cheap and promise lives so long that they appear to live a lifetime. Sounds like the best thing since sliced bread...

The problem is that it seems the sliced bread analogy is a bit moldy...None of the LED's lamps we have purchased for SO It Goes have lasted anywhere near their claimed life...Point of fact none have even lasted as long as their low tech bulbs they have replaced and in talking to other cruisers and the guy who is the local whiz at the St Martin Budget Marine we are not the only ones having problems...Even those lovely hockey puck units costing several hundred dollars and more seem to be coming back on a regular basis ( they melt it would seem).

Our first foray into the world of LED lights were new replacements for our Bicolor and poop light from Orca ...Now being somewhat handy with things I thought long and hard about the fact that I could buy some LED's from a company like Superbright LEDS for a few dollars and cobble together something...But I fell for that if it costs a hundred times more ( plus that it was USCG approved) it had to be better...and being seen at night is no bad thing...So I stumped up for the Orca lights. A BiColor replacement led light source for the Aqua signal I had in place and a complete LED lighting fixture for the poop light. Which worked quite well were certainly as bright as the Aquasignal lights they were replacing and the fact that they consumed milliamps instead of amps made my battery bank happy. The fact that the Poop light which was sealed from the factory had lot of moisture trapped inside the unit gave us some pause but we figured in time it would go away ( It never did...which in a way says a lot about the purported waterproof quality of their construction...Vapor tight is impressive!) But a couple of years later they shall we say expired...First the port side of the LED array went then the next time I tried them the poop went south as well...maybe 80 hours as opposed to the claimed Gazillion hours all of the LED folk like to claim for the never need replacing advantage of the LED lamps. Orca also has the habit of never answering email...So frankly I have not a clue what they think of the problem though a recent thread on the Seven Seas Cruising Association bulletin board did reveal I am not the only one having this non answering problem...or problems with their products. I might add that Orca has changed the design of their lights quite a bit since ours were built and no longer offer the replacement light sources for the Aquasignal Navigation lights...Their new stuff looks excellent and has a matching price tag but with our 100% failure rate with their products as impressive as the new stuff looks the chance of finding its way into any boat we have is doubtful.

We then heard in the cruising grapevine about BEBI electronics down in Fiji who were doing some good NAV lights at very reasonable prices though they do have a somewhat shall we say Agricultural appearance being cobbled together from PVC pipe but we heard good things and ordered a new Tri Color unit ($58.50)and anchor light ($36.) from them...They sent them quickly and we were very impressed by the light output and the frugal nature of their amp draw. Our anchor light fizzled out quite soon after and the folks at BEBI dispatched a replacement immediately though that has also now had several LEDs go bad as well. Truth be told I am not looking forward to climbing up the mast and seeing how our tricolor has fared...

In talking to others we have heard of several instances of melting tri color lights in some of the hyper expensive LED tri color units and in one of the local marine stores a 40% failure rate on LED replacement bulbs they are selling...So one does wonder where they get those never needs replacing with such a high failure rate.
We do know that in the automotive world LEDs are very much established and actually do have the sort of performance and longevity that the hyper priced Marine units claim but sadly do not deliver...Which is pretty much par for the course for anything labeled "marine" or "yacht".

So this week I am going to buy a whole bunch of LED's from Super Bright LEDs ( cobble my own system together including replacement units but at a few bucks I can certainly afford to have several backups.
So for the moment we rate LED's as Not ready for prime time unless you do them yourself...ORCA certainly is not ...BEBI is better and their service excellent but to be honest we won't bother getting a replacement to our Anchor light as on something as important as navigation lights two strikes is enough to put you out of the game.