Forward Spotlight Upgrade


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Most fish boats run both deck lights and forward lights. They use the deck lights for working at night and the forward-facing lights to see further in front of the boat better. Our experience from operating around commercial fishing vessels at night is their forward-facing spotlights can be seen from great distances. We sometimes find ourselves scrutinizing the radar image, searching for a brightly-lit boat “right in front of us”, that turns out to be sometimes more than twenty miles away.

We’ve also passed many ferries in Norway, British Columbia and elsewhere that run high-powered forward-facing spotlights to help them navigate at night. Most have the courtesy to shut them off them another boat is in front of them.

For many of the same reasons, we installed a forward-facing spotlight high on our stack during commissioning. The pictures below show the light mounting position with a marineboard shield to shadow the deck and avoid back-scatter. The commercial boats typically run 1,000 watts or well beyond, whereas we installed a 500-watt light.


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We loved the light, and considered it an important piece of safety equipment when running at night, but it had several drawbacks. First, the beam wasn’t as bright as we would like, so wasn’t helpful in spotting debris in the water. Second, the one bulb was a single point of failure and it burned out roughly once a year. Once the light burns out, we lose the spotlight until its safe to climb the mast and replace the bulb. Third, the light drew 4.2 amps from the 120V inverter and we often had to turn if off to have sufficient power left on the 120V system to run a kettle or the microwave.

We wanted to replace the light, but had been waiting for LED technology to evolve to the point where brighter lights with much less power draw were economical. Jerry Fraelic of N68 Grace of Tides pointed us to the Rigid Industries LEDs that his Nova Scotia fishing family have been using. They’re using the 40-inch version of these lights, and we don’t have an easy spot for a 40-inch light. But we realized that we did have room for 4 10-inch lights. While still in the eastern US, we assembled a module of the four lights, turned around our existing 500-watt light and mounted our four LEDs onto the back of the current light. This allowed us to use the existing the mount shield and light mounting hardware largely unchanged.

The following pictures show the construction process. We reinforced the mount for the light array and the marineboard shield with aluminum rods. And we also needed to add an extension to the marineboard shield to prevent the new light configuration from casting light on the deck.


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Stiffening Frame

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Light Mounts

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Assembled Light Array

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Light Shield Reinforcement

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Completed Package

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Completed Package Ready to Install

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Installed Light Array

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Installed Light Array Close-Up

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Extended Shield

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Extended Shield Close-Up

The original light was 120 volts, whereas this one is 12 volts. Fortunately the existing wiring was of a large-enough gauge to be able to deliver the 12 amps at 12 volts required by this lighting system. We moved the power source of the lighting from a 120V breaker to a 24-volt DC breaker that feeds a 24V-to-12V DC power converter to deliver the 12 volts needed. It was great to have 4.2 amps back available on the 120V inverter, and this light assembly is much brighter than the 500-watt halogen ever was. The old light was 8,500-10,000 lumens and the new one is 15,000 lumens. That’s 50%-76% more. The new lights also are more tightly focused, with better reflectors, so the package is considerably brighter due to these factors as well.

The series of photographs below show the new spotlight shining on a bridge a quarter mile away from our moorage in Norfolk, Virginia at various camera zoom levels. The reach of the light is impressive. We could easily read the bridge clearance with binoculars with the spotlight on, and struggled with the spotlight off. And even from a quarter mile away with no magnification, the spotlight picks out the bridge signs (circled in red in the third set of photos). We’ve found the same thing with distant navigation buoys, floats, birds and debris in the water—we can see things a lot farther away than we used to and with sufficient advance warning to take evasive action if necessary. It’s easy to spot an unlit buoy a half-mile to much further away.


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Light On, Full Zoom

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Light Off, Full Zoom

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Light On, Medium Zoom

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Light Off, Medium Zoom

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Light On, No Zoom

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Light Off, No Zoom

The new spotlight has been in use now for the last 23 months and over that time it’s performed well and not required any service of any kind. In the time we were up in Norway, we did considerable night running through challenging channels. The new light has been particularly helpful when working through these narrow channels at night and especially in dark or overcast nights. We like the low power draw of the LCD lights—the four lights only draw a combined 144 watts while substantially improving the reach of the forward light. Where the old design would burn out nearly annually, these four lights will run years without fault and, since there are four independent lights, we’re very unlikely to have a full forward spotlight failure. LCDs can now be applied with confidence in high-performance lighting applications.


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Spotlight Beam from Below

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Running At Night

 


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7 comments on “Forward Spotlight Upgrade
  1. Matt Baker says:

    Huge fan of Rigid lights. I have them in my truck for driving the Texas countryside where the many two lane roads are prowled by wild hogs, deer, and then of course…all of the oil field trucks. The lights just help so much. I am also getting ready to mount a few on my bay fishing boat for the very same reason as you.

  2. Glenn says:

    I ‘ve been wrestling with forward lights for my sail cat with a rotating mast and I think these are a great idea, either 6″ or 10″ – do you think the height above water matters that much? I was thinking of mounting them on each bow about 6’ off the water – too much back scatter?

    • No, I think that’ll work great. In many ways, mounting them low is a better approach. It’s easier to avoid reflections from on deck. The only downside is that close to the water is a very tough environment to operate electrical equipment in and you might see earlier failures. Many ferries adopt the approach you describe of lights down near the water line and it works great.

  3. Jamie says:

    Very cool. Good read.

  4. Dean says:

    That looks awesome. Is it steerable or do you have another light for moving around?

    • The forward light is straight ahead only without steering (other than by turning the boat). We have side lights for when we are close quarters with land and want to be able to see how close we are.

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