By Steven Bull
LED lights are now the standard in just about everything. They’re cheap, they’re bright and they don’t draw a lot of power or generate much heat. Because of that, their applications are virtually endless. Many boats, though, predate the LED revolution, that’s okay. It’s not too late to join in!
Go Green Marine, a Canadian company, has made it really simple to get in the game with a strip-light package that retails for $59.95. In addition to the five-metre strip of 60 LEDs per metre, backed with 3M tape, the kit comes with a remote to choose from 20-preset colours and multiple flash and fade features, and a power plug with wires to connect to your 12V system.
The strip is covered in a thick, clear, rubbery plastic and is water-resistant so no special care is needed if you’re hosing down the area near the lights. It’s not waterproof, mind you; so don’t mistake these for underwater lights.
The package doesn’t include everything you need. You’ll need some wiring (as there are only a few inches on the power transformer) silicone and, for safety’s sake, it’s a good idea to include a five-amp fuse. All in, this project costs around $100 which, given the colourful and modern upgrade, is an absolute bargain. Plus it’s not overly complicated or intimidating. Bonus!
Measure and plan out where you want the lights to go. You’ll have to determine whether you can use a single strip or if you’ll need to cut it and attach using connectors.
For our install, this was done by taping the strip lighting along a path, just under the cockpit seats. To make sure the seal is as solid as possible aim to keep the strip level. It can bend and curl over itself like a roll of tape, but “turning” it laterally doesn’t really work.
You may luck out and have no obstructions, but for us there was a six-inch speaker in the way. That meant cutting the strip and “jumping” the gap. Check the package, as you may need to purchase additional connectors with the same four-wire set-up. Once you have the right amount, it’s fairly straightforward to make the “jumps.”
Every few inches along the strip you’ll see a dotted line with copper pads. Use everyday, household scissors to snip the strip, then carefully peel the clear rubber covering back just enough to reveal the copper spots and cut the clear rubber off.
The connectors have plastic caps that snap open revealing metal shoes that will slide onto the copper. Make sure they line up properly and are all the way into the connector before snapping it closed. Test the connectors at the end. Then you can use electrical tape or silicone to seal them and keep moisture out. Wait until you’ve done the wiring though, because you don’t want to discover you haven’t put the connector on correctly after you’ve sealed it off.
Peel the 3M tape off the back of the strip and press it into place. You may need to use some tape to hold it in place during the process, but you’ll secure it more effectively when you’re done the wiring.
To do that, first decide where to mount the transformer. You want it out of sight but close enough that the sensor can easily be “seen” by the remote.
In this case we connected it to the underwater lights. That meant drilling a hole in the floor to access the engine room and then fishing the wires through the hole.
Down below, there were already wires running along the path we planned to use. We added a terminal ring to the end of the black, negative wire making sure to slide the shrink tube section over the wire beforehand. Once you’ve crimped and secured the ring, blast the shrink tube with some heat. That will give you a watertight seal and it can be secured to the negative bus bar to ground it.
We wired our LEDs into the same power and switch as our underwater lights. That involved using a connector and wiring the red wire from the transformer box up above to the underwater power, then sealing it with more shrink tube. It’s here, between the transformer in the cockpit and before connecting to the underwater light power, that we installed the five-amp fuse.
We used zip-ties to secure the wires and prevent them from flopping around and getting near heat sources. Once the wires were secured, they were connected to the transformer box in the cockpit. To do this, they had to be trimmed to the appropriate length then the connectors were crimped and shrink tubed.
Once the fuse was popped in, we switched on the power and the lights came to life!
If you’re satisfied with the set-up, the wiring is working and the strip adjustments are complete, secure everything by running a thin line of silicone along the top and bottom of the strip and around the ends. This will ensure it’s as watertight as can be.
Then it’s just a matter of trial-and-error with the remote to find the combination of colour and flash and fade options that work for you.
If you have a basic knowledge of wiring and all the equipment on hand you can do this in a few hours. If you’re a beginner, don’t shy away! Just take your time and give yourself the better part of a day so you’re not rushed. With that in mind, this DIY is for everyone.
This project is featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Boats&Places.