Flashlights are critical gear on boats for finding what's in the back corner of the locker, checking where that strange noise is coming from and so much more. We went through a bunch before finding ones that just worked!

Flashlights That Work When You Need Them To

When we purchased Que Tal, the last line of the gear list said “collection of strategically located flashlights.”  We laughed about it at the time, but came to appreciate the sheer genius of the previous owners.  There were probably a dozen small flashlights mounted all over the boat!

Any time we wanted to peer into a locker — generally when I was looking to see what cans or packets I had squirreled away in some really inaccessible place — there was a flashlight readily at hand.

Unfortunately, many quickly succumbed to the realities of a marine environment.  Filaments broke in bulbs, parts corroded, and battery life was next to nil.  While it was wonderful to have flashlights everywhere, we decided that it would be far better to have working flashlights everywhere.  And so the search began . . .

Our first lessons involved the batteries.  We began turning one upside down when we weren’t using the light to prevent it from accidentally being turned on.  Yes, the motion of the boat would often shift gear so that something would bump the switch and turn the light on and drain the batteries.  Turning one upside down prevented this.

Then we learned about “self-discharge rates.”  Batteries still go dead just sitting there.  Different types of batteries do so at different speeds, with lithium batteries having the least self-discharge of any type commonly available for flashlights.  But they’re expensive.

So our next step was to cut the number of “strategically located flashlights” to the ones we used the most often, and use lithium batteries in those.

Then a friend gave us an LED flashlight (this was when LED flashlights were just coming out).  WOW!  Talk about improved battery life with great light.  We were really impressed . . . until the switches died after just three months aboard.  But it was enough to convince us that LED was the way to go — we just needed better ones.

Well, another trip back to the US gave us the chance to try again on our flashlights.  We have several mini-Maglites that worked well except for the bulbs dying easily.  I found LED conversion kits for these on Amazon and they have been satisfactory.  Still have to put a battery in upside-down as they will still come on “by themselves.”

Flashlights are critical gear on boats for finding what's in the back corner of the locker, checking where that strange noise is coming from and so much more. We went through a bunch before finding ones that just worked!Where I really did well though, was in the Gerber LED little flashlights I bought.  They have just one LED and use just one AA battery, so we’re not talking flood lights — but perfect for looking into the dark corners of a locker or checking something on deck at night.  They had by far the best reviews of any of the lights I looked at, but I kept balking at the price (then $18; they’re actually a bit less now) for such a small light.  Finally, I broke down and bought two.  Love, love, love them!!

  • They NEVER turn on by themselves.  No more turning batteries upside down to store, and then back right-side up to use.
  • Small size, so I can carry one in my pocket.
  • Mine came with a neck lanyard and a pocket clip; newer ones seem to just have the clip.
  • Waterproof to 10 feet.  I haven’t actually taken it underwater, but I have used it in driving rain and when getting splashed with waves.  No problems.
  • Sturdily made.  It just feels solid.
  • Amazing battery life.  Using a lithium battery, I used one several times a day for over six months before I had to change the battery (the specs say they’ll run 32 hours on an alkaline)

The link to them on Amazon:  Gerber Infinity Ultra Task LED Flashlight

We’ve had these now for over 8  years and I’m still thrilled with them.  While I initially wondered if they cost too much, I now can say that they’re the least expensive flashlights we’ve owned on a per-year basis.  I haven’t needed to buy additional bulbs and the flashlights themselves are still working fine with no sign of corrosion.  And the savings in batteries is considerable, too.

Just a side note:  On our family camping trip a few years ago, it seems that everyone else’s flashlights died the first night and Dave and I ended up walking several people home as we had the only lights that still worked.  Happened every evening after the campfire — and while all the kids and grandkids were buying more batteries all week, we never had to.  And at the end of the week, several took photos of our flashlights so they could buy them when they got home!

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  • Molly Stokes
    Posted at 05 April 2013 Reply

    Have you looked at solar powered flashlights? We got two as giftd and I took one sailing. Love them.

  • Chuck Burns on Facebook
    Posted at 05 April 2013 Reply

    Good LED flashlights are a godsend… Until now the definition of flashlight was “holder for dead batteries”

  • The Boat Galley on Facebook
    Posted at 05 April 2013 Reply

    So true!

  • Andy
    Posted at 11 April 2013 Reply

    Don’t forget LED headlamps. Same advantages of the LED flashlights-light weight, multiple settings, great battery life, but keep your hands free!

  • Dave Wahrer
    Posted at 19 December 2013 Reply

    Just ordered one from Amazon.

  • Sailing with Totem
    Posted at 20 December 2013 Reply

    …not to mention one that lasts, and lasts, and lasts. just used ours to explore hongs (sky-lit caves inside the limestone islands near Phuket, Thailand) and wow, it makes all the difference in the world…we were all jostling over who could use the “good” flashlight!

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 20 December 2013 Reply

      No kidding! Wish I was there . . . I’ve got the flashlight.

  • Charlotte Caldwell
    Posted at 16 September 2015 Reply

    Have you tried marine beam? It is as good if not better than a spotlight and the distance the beam travels is wondrous. A little pricey but worth it.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 16 September 2015 Reply

      Haven’t tried one — but I’d like to. These are the little lights we use for “everyday stuff” on the boat. Definitely not for the spotlight type stuff. But we’re also in the market for a spotlight, so I’ll look at those.

  • Barb France
    Posted at 13 September 2016 Reply

    Great article…we also have flashlights in all areas of the boat. Our main problem is that when someone uses one they can get legs and not put back where they belong. (that person knows who HE is). So I always double check if they are all in the proper place….lol! You just never know when you’ll need them.

  • Rosalind Franks
    Posted at 13 September 2016 Reply

    Perfect timing! We have been trying to find flashlights that will last more than a few months on the boat. Thank you

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