BY ANDREW PARKINSON Get Your Shine On
‘Plug-and-play’ doesn’t even begin to describe what yachtsmen can achieve with today’s LED technology.
As a kid growing up in the sleepy boating village of Niantic, Connecticut, I spent many summer evenings down on the boat. These were among the most tranquil memories of my youth. As the sun set over the hilltops and the aroma of fresh steamers and melted lemon butter permeated the air, the only light along the docks came from the dim galleys of other yachts and the rhythmic flicker of blue propane flames lapping at the bottoms of pots hanging off cockpit rails.
Fast-forward about two decades, and much has changed: Those cool flames of yesterday are almost invisible against the backdrop of highpowered, light-emitting diode (LED) underwater lights. Almost every yacht seems to have them— save for a few purists still holding out—and according to Zack Savage, partner at LED consulting firm SLS Custom, the options and prices have never been better.
“Probably the coolest thing about LED today is price,” Savage said. “The products have become much more reasonable, and there’s more competition coming into the market because of it, which is driving the price down even further. It’s challenging everyone to up their game. In the early days of LED, companies could get away with producing less quality because there wasn’t much competition. Today’s LED market is much more driven by quality and price.”
Four years ago, a 10,000-lumen underwater light—the brightest available at the time—cost around $3,500. Today, a 10,000-lumen light retails for $1,600 from Underwater Lights Ltd., with
higher-quality components and capabilities in essentially a plug-andplay installation.
“The price of high-quality materials—aluminum, bronze, brass— has plateaued, and though it’s still expensive, it makes more sense to people to invest in those materials to deliver a high-quality product,” Savage said. “Whereas early LED lighting was a novelty of sorts, today it’s one of the frst things people ask for when buying a boat.”
And with demand for LED growing at a frenetic pace, so is the technology itself. Today’s LED systems are controlled with smartphones, timed to create a show with music, set to fip on and off even if nobody is on the yacht, and a whole lot more.
“In the superyacht sector, we’re seeing more requests to wrap underwater lights all the way around the boat—a halo effect—and also full exteriors and interiors with LED,” Savage said. “Almost every new build we spec out in Europe and America nowadays is asking for that.”
Retroftting older yachts is also a rapidly growing corner of the business, with modern LED lights replacing high-intensity discharge (HID) underwater lights in easy, plug-and-play applications, such as the one employed recently on a 500-foot vessel. “The crew were able to do it themselves while the boat was afoat,” Savage said.
As for over-the-top LED installments, Savage has seen his fair share. In the case of one particular 450-foot superyacht, handrails were reftted to incorporate LED rope lighting. Now, those handrails can change colors depending on the owner’s mood.
While I’ll always appreciate the darker, starry-sky nights that I grew up with in Niantic Bay, I have to admit that there’s a lot to like about 10,000 lumens at half the price—especially when they become part of the yacht’s design, making the vessel look even more like a foating piece of ever-changing art.
“People want their boats to stand out,” Savage said, “and some owners are willing to spend a lot of money to get the lighting just how they want it.”