Lighting the Cockpit

I enjoy eating dinner in the cockpit, but frankly we rarely ate before sunset — there were always just too many fun things going on during the daylight hours.  And I’m a big fan of seeing what I’m eating.  Consequently, we ate down below far more often than I’d have liked.

Monday, I saw a great solution . . . courtesy of Brittany on, who kindly gave me permission to “steal” her idea and also gave me copies of her photos to use!  Now, if you don’t already follow Brittany, Scott and their baby Isla, I urge you to take a look at their blog — it’s filled with lots of great info.

Her solution?  Clear (warm white) LED Christmas lights for a car!  They’re 12 volt, take only 2 watts for a string, and come with a cigarette lighter plug.  They’re easiest to find at automotive stores and at some big box stores such as Walmart (I saw a few recently at a Walmart in Florida; still haven’t seen them at the one near my house in Illinois).

Amazon used to carry them, but now only has multicolor strings, which could also work (20 lights in just under 11 feet, with a 15-foot cord to the cigarette-lighter plug):

Amazon also has a 12v “pure white” (blue-white, not warm white) light ropes in a 10′ length with a cigarette plug:

With any of these, run the string where you want them using cable ties, then just plug in when you want light.

Admittedly, the light isn’t bright enough to read a book by, but it’s plenty for dinner or a glass of wine in the evening.

One of Windtraveler’s readers mentioned finding a string of solar powered LED lights and using them in the cockpit.  I found many of these online but none looked bright enough to actually illuminate an area, as opposed to providing a bit of decoration, and many purchasers complained that the lights appeared blue.  If anyone knows of a brand that doesn’t have these problems, please leave a note in the comments.  (UPDATE:  See my post on the Luci light — it’s great!)

I also know of boats that use solar yard lights.  Since they need to be in the sun all day, most mount them on lifeline stanchions with cable ties.  We did this for a while, but had two problems:  they were too far from the table to provide much usable light and they failed after just a few months — we were actively cruising and I’m sure they got their share of salt spray, so it’s not surprising!

Anyone got other good ideas??  Leave a note!

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  • janice
    Posted at 16 November 2012 Reply

    I have been doing this for years with one exception. I use solar lights. The salt air usually ruins them in about a year so I change them at christmas when they are easy to find. They are LED as welln but reqiure no voltage. They are not a reading light either, but a soft light. They work great for me.

  • Tammy
    Posted at 16 November 2012 Reply

    I too like solar lights but hate their short life. Replacing them every year seems like such a waste. We have a cigarette lighter socket in the cockpit. Might have to try this!

  • Sara Peterson
    Posted at 17 November 2012 Reply

    We got dome bsttery operated “Backyard” lights that are LED from Lowes for about $12 a pop. Haven’t had a chance to change any batteries yet and they are ‘very’ bright in the cockpit but not so bright in the galley so have switched to a plug in ‘work’ light that is flourescent there. John always knows where to find his work light now. : ) The ‘backyard lights are tube shaped about 8″ long and have a clamp for attaching it to objects. We have 3 now in the cockpit and you can read a book by them outside but not inside. I don’t know why the difference in luminosity? (Is that even a word?)

  • Mike Pludek
    Posted at 19 November 2012 Reply

    Hi, Try Hit Lights on Amazon comes in 15ft strings and about 5 or six colors approx $12 a string and can be cut to any length just remember that you will need to connect them to a power scource but theyare also sticky backed and round the saloon or cockpit are very effective and I ordered the cool white as the bright white is a bit blueish and isnt easy to read by. Hope this helps

  • Diane
    Posted at 12 September 2013 Reply

    My husband build a dodger for sv Harmony and included LED lighting in it, so cockpit can be well lit if we need it. What we are interested in is some way to use LED lighting on our dinghy davits or dodger top to provide distinctive lighting for a crowded anchorage after dark. It’s very hard to distinguish your boat’s anchor light from 30-50 others in the same anchorage. We’d like to use colored lights to really set us apart from the rest. Any ideas other than what has already been posted?

    Diane Emigh
    sv Harmony (Anacortes)
    Sea of Cortez, Mexico

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 13 September 2013 Reply

      Oh, how well I know that problem! Both in Puerto Escondido and La Cruz (back when it was only an anchorage), we did the “go from boat to boat in the dark” to try to find ours!

      We didn’t have the options then that are available now, so we used a couple of solar yard lights — which few other boats had! Now, I’d opt for the multicolored LED 12v Christmas lights, strung along the dinghy davits or stern pushpit (whatever makes sense with your boat’s configuration and where there’s a 12v outlet (or you could hardwire them and have a switch). The multicolor lights listed on Amazon are rated for outdoor use, so they should be okay.

      We found that it was a big help not just to have a different color light — colors are hard to differentiate at a distance — but a different light configuration from what most boats had. So that’s why I’m thinking to string them on the davits or stainless, or maybe barber-pole them up a radar mast.

      Our boat had part of the backstay insulated as the SSB/Ham antenna, and a light could hang really nicely from the insulator. No one else was doing this so it was very distinctive. Seemed like a great idea . . . until the light died. We learned that we had killed it when using the SSB while the light was on — it literally fried the light’s innards! So my one piece of advice is DON’T hang a light from any type of antenna.

      Good luck in finding your way “home!”

  • Marjorie Karlsen
    Posted at 13 September 2013 Reply

    We don’t own a boat – hopefully someday – so we charter. To light up the cockpit at night we use Coleman micro lanterns that we hang up with a bit of string. They are waterproof, easy to pack and combine torch and lantern all in one.

  • Melinda Pitcher
    Posted at 15 September 2013 Reply

    We have been in their cockpit and these lights are delightful

  • Chris Link
    Posted at 03 December 2013 Reply

    Also great to leave the white strand up to find your boat after happy hour.Found mine at Target and have lasted for a few years.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 03 December 2013 Reply

      Great to know that Target has had them . . . there’s not one near me so I can never check there. Thanks for adding!

  • Renee M Klapper
    Posted at 03 December 2013 Reply

    you can also buy them as solar lights. I usually buy the solar rope lights at Big Lots and put that up in the cockpit. They usually last me about 2-3 years.

  • Lynn Macfarlane
    Posted at 09 February 2017 Reply

    We’ve had many discussions with fellow cruisers and we think we’ve found the best solar light yet. Nokero has a solar light that is durable and with new recharable barrettes can last until sunrise. We place these lights around the boat to protect us from being hit by fisherman coming and leaving the bays in Mexico. They’re also good for inside the cockpit at night. The link below will show you the best light we’ve found.
    Another light to put on the stern at anchor is a garden light found at Canadian Tire called a Tear Light. It’s shaped like a tear, of course, and has a multiple colored light that is very bright. We found it helpful to find our boat in a crowded anchorage thanks to this light

    NOTE from Carolyn: the link went to the old model of the light; see the new one in my comment below.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 09 February 2017 Reply

      Thanks! I took a look at the page you included and couldn’t find that they were available for purchase. So I reached out to Nokero and they said that model had been replaced with the N233, available on Amazon (it costs about 20% less on Amazon than from the company):

  • Tami Klassen
    Posted at 10 February 2017 Reply

    I have solar powered warm white LED that I got from Amazon…

    there are other solar powered led similar at Amazon as well

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