Monday, 19 March 2012

Let There Be Light!

Back in 1984 when Frank Butler and the good folks at Catalina Yachts built Iris, they were wise to use the best fittings mass produced at the time. For lighting of boats and RVs, nothing was mass produced more than the square, translucent plastic dome light. My father had an RV back around that time, and it was equipped with these same lights. They evoke a feeling of nostalgia. they are a "period fitting". They are ugly, inefficient, and generally make me sad.

In an effort to go uptown with a downtown fitting, I had tried to retrofit the lights with LEDs last year. The LEDs put out a harsh blue-white light that hurt my eyes if I tried to read under it. Certainly these lights were more efficient - I couldn't stand to be in the boat when they were turned on. I left them off as much as possible.

When I ordered the replacement power panel from Binnacle, I saw that 12V Xenon (or something) dome lights were on sale. I got tingly. I ordered 2. Sure xenon (or whatever) will draw more juice than LEDs do, but I can stand to have them turned on. And these lights were glass with brass covers; they looked like they belonged aboard a fine craft. As soon as the power panel was in I turned my attention to installing my new lighting.

What made these lights so groovey was that they had 2 bulbs in each light. One is a jillion watt white bulb, and the other is a dim red bulb. the white bulb is for reading or playing cards or pouring drinks. The red light is in case light is needed below while we are under way. The red light will protect your night vision, allowing you to see well despite the cabin being lit. Being dim, it limits how much you can actually do, and it may make red print (like warnings on charts) difficult to read, but gives you an option other than blazing white light.

The first step to installing the lights was site selection. The new lights were about an inch too large in diameter to fit the same holes that the old lights had been in, but I was never super happy with the location of the old lights anyway. Being where they were mean that any window leaks were routed through the light fixtures leading to corrosion and rust. They were also mounted low so that anyone sitting on te bench blocked the light from everyone else aboard. Looking up, I located a spot for the lights on the salon ceiling. This location is forward of, and above the benches so that if you are seated, you can still see. I think it is far enough over that no one will be cracking their head on the lights.

The first step in installing the new lights was removal of the old ones. Here is how the old light looked with its cover off and the screws no longer holding it in place. I had installed the LED with double-sided tape, and it held well, but the LED was generating some heat - a surprise to me. te original socket is badly rusted, and I have no idea what the yellow gunk around the fixture is from.

The hardest part of this job was probably cutting through the crimps that wired in the light. Whoever crimped those wires meant business. In any case after a couple snips, the crimps let go, and new connectors were put in place. It was at this time that I realized I only had a limited supply of wire left, and it was all white. Alas. Both the positive and negative leads will need to be the same colour. I also only had enough wire to install a single light. I did my most yachty work possible, with green plastic tape holding things in place until better supplies arrive. I will be needing some teak trim to complete this job.

Securing the light to the boat was more difficult than it ought to have been. Pre-drilling the holes for screws was easy, but for whatever reason, the screws wanted to break off in the holes. After a couple tries I got everything to stay in place, and the light was lit.

Yay!! A warm and inviting natural feeling light, far removed from the clinical blue light of the LED, and a red light for navigation at night. Now I just need to remove those zip-ties from that pop-top strut...


  1. "..for whatever reason, the screws wanted to break off in the holes"

    That happened to me too. This fibergrlass is like a rock when you do not drill a proper hole for the screws :-)
    Nice blog anyway!

  2. Thanks! Eventually I started cutting threads with a steel screw before putting in the stainless/brass ones. Seemed to help, but upsizing the drill probably wouldn't have hurt either!


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