RYA Cruising Manager, Stuart Carruthers, looks at the development of an international standard for LED navigation lights.
A couple of years ago I wrote two consecutive articles for the RYA magazine on the pros and cons of the LED navigation lights that were on the market at the time.
Clearly the obvious advantages were reduced power consumption and increased longevity; the not so obvious down side was there was no internationally accepted performance standard for testing LED light sources for recreational craft.
That meant there is no way of knowing that LED navigation lights would perform satisfactorily through their service life. What you bought might look fine to you; but problems with colour, and cut off arcs could well confuse the watch keeper on the bridge of a large commercial vessel coming your way at 20 knots plus!
A recent comment from a member about the inadequacy of LED navigation lights bought on eBay has prompted me to write an update on what is happening in the international arena and to provide a reminder for members on the potential problem points to consider before parting with their money.
To recap, a draft ISO standard for navigation lights was published in 2003 but was never ratified because of differences between the types of incandescent bulb used by the North American and European markets and thus the opinions of US and European industry on the ISO standard working group.
As a result, European industry sponsored its own standard, EN 14744, but this is not applicable to navigation lights on recreational craft less than 20 m in length that need to comply with COLREGs.
Apart from cut off arcs and correct colour, there are a number of other problems that can affect LED light sources that must be assessed against a technical standard if they are to provide assurance for the user.
For example, heat and cold can affect the LED colour which needs to be maintained within the boundaries of the COLREG colour requirements. LED must be protected from voltage spikes, shorting or mechanical failure inside the lamp due to moisture, impact, shock and vibration. They may also interfere with other electronic equipment on board if not filtered.
Some manufacturers have invested significant time and effort to ensure their LED navigation lights can perform in the harshest environments without degradation or failure. Other manufacturers may not have been so diligent. Fortunately there is light on the horizon.
For the past two years the RYA has been working through the European Boating Association (EBA) to develop an International Standard that specifies requirements and testing for navigation lights with permanently fixed LED light sources for small craft of up to 24 m LOA.
The development for this is now complete and it is due to be launched for its final approval vote. Once it is published, LED navigation light manufacturers will be able to use it on their products to show their lights give an assured degree of performance and provide a credible benchmark to assure the recreational boating public that LED navigation lights are of adequate quality and will give reliable service for many years.
It may well be that the latest LED navigation lights currently available perform more than adequately and those that have been assessed using EN14744 certainly will. However, the introduction of the new standard will provide an easily recognised means for potential buyers to make an informed selection. Nevertheless, it is an inescapable fact that decent LED units are not cheap. However, the cost may be acceptable compared with the lifecycle costs and the obvious advantages of knowing that something is performing as it should.
Stuart Carruthers, RYA Cruising Manager
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