The Best Uni­ver­sal Light Dim­mer for Your Helm Only Costs $4.95

Passage Maker - - Post Script - BY PETER SWANSON

In the last is­sue we dis­cussed the best light­ing prac­tices for night run­ning— mainly us­ing dim white rather than red light for night­time nav­i­gat­ing. An­other im­por­tant thing to con­sider when run­ning at night is how to pro­tect your night vi­sion from fel­low boaters who are, well, not quite as en­light­ened.

Sailors like to com­plain that power­boaters are too quick to shine their search­lights, and it’s an opin­ion that I share. No one likes to have a bright light shined in one’s eyes while op­er­at­ing a boat be­cause it de­stroys night vi­sion.

My the­ory for the over­re­liance on search­lights is that many of th­ese power­boat skip­pers use them be­cause they have al­ready lost their own dark adapta-

tion. This is not a com­ment on any­one’s com­pe­tence. The rea­son that sailors bet­ter main­tain their night vi­sion has more to do with sail­boat helm de­sign. Nor­mally sailors are work­ing with a sin­gle dark­ened screen at the helm and a cou­ple of gauges, so they are not faced with any­where near the num­ber of mul­ti­ple small light sources found on the bridge of a trawler.

De­liv­ery cap­tains know this. When we’re go­ing to move a power­boat at night, we use blue painter’s tape to cover the myr­iad in­di­ca­tor lights, which taken to­gether can ruin the dark adap­ta­tion of a hu­man eye. Big stuff like a ma­rine mul­ti­func­tion dis­play can be turned down to nearly black, and PC nav­i­ga­tional soft­ware can also be dimmed to black even if the lap­top it­self can­not.

It’s all the other stuff that gets you— in­stru­ment panel switches, in­verter sta­tus dis­plays, shifter and thruster lights, etc. And even if a screen is dimmable, say on the VHF ra­dio, the process is un­likely to be in­tu­itive. On a sail­boat, most of th­ese an­cil­lary pan­els are down be­low, not in your face at the helm.

As one de­liv­ery vet­eran told me, run­ning at night should be safer than dur­ing the day—there is less traf­fic and fewer dis­trac­tions, and it’s more likely that the other boaters out there with you are the ex­pe­ri­enced types. But if you’re not elim­i­nat­ing those pin­pricks of light at the helm, you might be the one too quick to reach for the search­light.

Let this sink in: You’ve spent any­where be­tween $35,000 and $100,000 to pop­u­late your helm with modern elec­tron­ics, but your 2018 uni­ver­sal dim­ming so­lu­tion is ana­log—a $4.95 roll of tape.


If it seems wrong to solve a boat­ing dilemma by pay­ing less than $5, don’t worry. There are other more com­plex so­lu­tions cur­rently in de­vel­op­ment. Shadow- Caster LED Light­ing is a Florida com­pany that makes those whizzy underwater lights so fa­vored by the sport­fish crowd. Founded by Jeff Pound and Brian Rogers in 2007, Shadow- Caster is work­ing on de­vel­op­ing a way to in­te­grate a ves­sel’s light­ing sys­tems to make it eas­ier to pre­serve night vi­sion (with­out us­ing any ad­he­sives). Rogers said, “One of our vi­sions when we started the com­pany ten years ago went like this: Okay, any­body can make a light­bulb, but if we can in­crease our value by mak­ing in­te­grated light­ing con­trols, then we’ve [got] a

busi­ness model.”

To in­te­grate light con­trols, Shad­owCaster had to de­velop a stan­dard­ized com­mu­ni­ca­tions lan­guage, and that is the prov­ince of the Na­tional Ma­rine Elec­tron­ics As­so­ci­a­tion, the al­liance of man­u­fac­tur­ers that de­vel­oped the NMEA 2000 stan­dard that lets dif­fer­ent ma­rine elec­tron­ics de­vices talk to one an­other. When Shad­owCaster ini­tially pitched the idea of light­ing in­te­gra­tion to the NMEA five years ago, the no­tion ran up against some ini­tial skep­ti­cism. But in the face of an LED light­ing rev­o­lu­tion, the stan­dard-set­ting or­ga­ni­za­tion fi­nally got on board. A work­ing group com­posed of ma­rine light­ing ex­ec­u­tives was formed in Fe­bru­ary 2017.

“We have seen a huge in­crease in the [num­ber] of lights, LED or non-LED, that are be­ing in­stalled on ves­sels of all sizes and types,” said Mark Ree­de­nauer, NMEA pres­i­dent and ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor. “As the mul­ti­func­tion dis­play more and more be­comes the com­mand cen­ter of the boat, there is a clear need for a light­ing con­trol page on th­ese dis­plays in the

not-so-dis­tant fu­ture.”

Rogers, who chairs the work­ing group, says there are eight pro­posed pa­ram­e­ter group num­bers (PGNs) that can send in­struc­tions from a cen­tral con­troller to a boat’s NMEA 2000–com­pat­i­ble light­ing sys­tem. This can in­clude dim­ming and chang­ing the col­ors of the lights or the du­ra­tion of a func­tion. For lovers of lux­ury, in­te­grated light­ing con­trols can turn a boat into a float­ing mood palace.

For pas­sage­mak­ers, it will pro­vide the frame­work for uni­ver­sal dim­ming. Who knows? Though a true uni­ver­sal dim­ming con­trol may take a while to reach the mar­ket­place, we may some­day be able to se­lect any or all the lights at the helm—big and small—and dim them us­ing an app on our phones.

Ex­pect to hear more about NMEA’s progress by the end of the year. In the mean­time, keep on tap­ing.


Whether you are look­ing for su­pe­rior fea­tures or light­weight con­struc­tion, the Gen­er­a­tion line of lux­ury yacht ten­ders de­liv­ers. El­e­gant Euro­pean styling and a wide body sport hull re­sult in a de­sign that will ex­ceed your ex­pec­ta­tions in func­tion and com­fort. Su­pe­rior crafts­man­d­ship and un­par­al­leled per­for­mance make the Gen­er­a­tion the per­fect yacht ten­der for any ap­pli­ca­tion.

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