Changing to LED Bulbs

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2015 • all rights reserved

A really easy DIY project to cut down on the amp-hours used on a boat or RV, along with where to get the bulbs you need. Step by step directions with photos!Older dome lights use a lot of power on a boat, typically drawing just under two amps with a 20 watt bulb.

While not the biggest power hog on Barefoot Gal, we knew that switching them over to LEDs would be a quick and easy project. Very bright LED replacement “bulbs” would draw only 0.23 amps!

I got our replacement bulbs from Cruising Solutions, one of TBG’s sponsors. They have replacement bulbs for virtually every light fixture. I started by removing the old bulb to see exactly what type it was — both what type of base and the wattage. I knew that if anything, we wanted more light in these areas, not less. Since I was a little confused by all the options, I picked out what I thought we wanted, then called and double-checked before ordering.

On Barefoot Gal, the dome lights are in areas where we wanted bright light, so we chose the 23-LED universal matrix for all of them (you can also get them that have both red and white). Had we wanted softer light, they have smaller arrays that draw even less power!

A quick photo tour of installing them:

Start by turning off the circuit breaker to the light you’re working on. If you’re not the only person aboard, it’s a good idea to put a piece of tape over the breaker with something written on it along the lines of “don’t turn on; work in progress.” I’m usually lazy and just write “NO!” Yeah, I know you shouldn’t have to do this to change a bulb, but I just like to have things off when I’m working on them.

Then remove the trim ring and glass from the light fixture. On most brands of lights, the screws are tiny — stick them in a cup so you don’t lose them!

A really easy DIY project to cut down on the amp-hours used on a boat or RV, along with where to get the bulbs you need. Step by step directions with photos!

If you want to reuse the old halogen bulb (either in a infrequently used light or to sell/give to someone else), use a piece of paper or cloth to remove it. Touching a halogen bulb with bare fingers leaves oil on it, and because of the high heat that halogen bulbs put out, this can damage and bulb and cause it to blow up. If the bulb is a “G4” style, as most dome lights are, you just pull to remove it — two little wires will just slide out. Other bulb styles may require the bulb to be twisted slightly, then pulled out.

A really easy DIY project to cut down on the amp-hours used, along with where to get the bulbs you need.

Attach the correct adapter to the wiring coming from the LED bulb (the photo is the “G4” style with two wires if you’re wondering . . .).

A really easy DIY project to cut down on the amp-hours used, along with where to get the bulbs you need.

Plug the bulb into the socket. Turn the power on and then the fixture on. Make sure it works before going any further. Then switch it back off.

A really easy DIY project to cut down on the amp-hours used, along with where to get the bulbs you need.

Route the wire to go down the center section and dry fit the bulb into the fixture. See next photo for how it has to fit.

A really easy DIY project to cut down on the amp-hours used, along with where to get the bulbs you need.

Then peel the backing off the double-sided tape and stick the bulb to the fixture. Press hard so it will stay in place — it’s perfectly OK to touch the LEDs.

A really easy DIY project to cut down on the amp-hours used, along with where to get the bulbs you need.

Put the lens and trim ring back on with those teeny-tiny screws. For me, this was the hardest part of the job (a computer screwdriver such as this one really helps).

A really easy DIY project to cut down on the amp-hours used, along with where to get the bulbs you need.

Total time? About 5 minutes per fixture, including washing the glass.

We also changed out the reading lights over the bed and it was even simpler as it was a straight “change bulb” deal with nothing to take apart or adapters to fit. About 30 seconds each for those.

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  1. I’d like to do this, but the prices at that place are OUTRAGEOUS! Folks, if you look hard enough, there are articles on how to make up your own LED assemblies for a small fraction of the cost those robbers ask.

    • If you want to make your own, sure you can do it cheaper. But for pre-made? Prices are competitive.

    • You know what? What you call “competitive” IS outrageous. Just for perspective, at the local Home Depot they sell replacement recessed ceiling lights. 2 years ago they were going for about $40 a pop, and now they are $15. In the same period of time the stuff at West Marine actually went UP!

  2. 2/3rd’s if the way through replacing the old incandescents on my Alberg 28 with LED bulbs/fixtures – electrical consumption is less than 1/5th of what it used to be and there is better illumination. Expensive, yes; but a good investment as I plan on sailing the good old boat for years to come.

  3. If you guys want to get more adventurous with LED replacement, I wrote up my project to convert my fluorescent fixtures to LED.

    Fluorescent to LED Conversion project

    Cost was around $2 per fluorescent tube replaced.


  4. I’ve replaced most of my lights with LED using some pre-made bulbs as well as some do-it-yourself options. Definitely worth the effort in power savings. I’ve done a couple write-ups for those interested:

    One thing with LED nav lights. Make sure the bulb doesn’t interfere with radio or electronics…some of the replacement bulbs can be noisy…electrically speaking.

  5. John Seager this could be good for above the chart table…

  6. We tend to keep solar hours on the boat. Dont leave lights on long enuff to matter. Big energy savins for us was in the big energy using refridgerator. External insulation between engine room and refer box really paid off.

  7. Given the cost of very good house batteries and the fact they are charge cycle limited, we found that the extension of useful life on the batteries due to reduced recharge AH per week just about paid for the LED bulbs.

    One suggestion though. Some LED bulbs have built-in dimmer circuitry and some battery chargers put out electrical noise which triggers the dimmer circuitry. When we first encountered this, the lights would do through a continuous dim-brighten cycle as long as the charger was in bulk mode. We recommend trying a single LED replacement before buying a bunch that have this annoying behavior.

  8. We invested in changing all our old incandescent with LED’s last year on pur Liberty 458, it droped our power bill to 1/4 of what it used to be. We are in CA = expensive. I agree with Colin Mombourquette. Well worth the investment. You can also choose the ambience you like in different locations on the boat.

  9. Ernest Lorimer says:

    I know this won’t be exactly popular, but I’ve started down this path direct sourcing bulbs from Alibaba. I replaced all the reading lamps for less than a dollar each. These turned out to be auto taillight bulbs. I ordered extras, and they arrived after a couple of weeks in a padded envelope. A quarter of them didn’t work, but it still was a good deal.

    I also ordered replacement bulbs for the courtesy lights. These also turn out to be auto bulbs. I haven’t tried them yet, as they took about 3 months to arrive. But those were around a dollar a bulb. The delay I can see from the envelope was because the Post Office sent them back as undeliverable (my office!) and they were resent to the same address.

    • Just make sure you aren’t getting any interference with your VHF. Brands like Dr. LED and HQRP guarantee their marine bulbs to be shielded, so they won’t cause any RF problems.

  10. We did some LED testing as well. Cruising Solutions seems to be about half the price of West Marine, but a little steeper than HQRP-USA on eBay.

  11. Before you invest in changing all the bulbs in your boat, look at how much you actually use each light. Saloon, galley, nav station, and reading lights all make sense. But a light in closet or berth that is hardly ever used really doesn’t save you much. Even the light in the head (unless you do a lot of preening). If a light is on for 1/2 hour a day (which would be a lot in the head), you would save about 3/4 of an amp hour. That doesn’t make a dent in most electrical budgets.

  12. that is a huge difference, thanks for the tip

  13. I bought led replacements on eBay. They had to come from China so it took longer to get them. The type I got was 2 for $5 with free shipping. Significantly cheaper. Worked fine.

  14. I changed all our halogen G4 bulbs to LED. Power savings as well as almost no heat generated. Got from Amazon direct from China as well. Very inexpensive. Easy upgrade.

  15. I changed over 50 lights on my boat to LED wow what a difference

  16. Less power draw, long life, vibration resistant. Absolutely

  17. Pennco Phil

  18. Y

  19. We changed all the bulbs in our boat and its a great peace of mind knowing if you leave a light on it wont cause a problem in the battery dept.

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