Lighting Upgrade

Story and Photos By Bruce W. Smith

Installing a lightbar to illuminate the dock, stern, outriggers, or spreaders — will improve how well you can see aboard your boat.

TigerLight LED lightbar

At 4 a.m., your fishing buddies trudge down the dock with rods, cooler, and fishing tackle in hand. You flip a rocker on the panel. The stern of your boat and the dock around it are instantly bathed in light. Everyone gets aboard safely, gear is stowed quickly, and nothing is accidentally left behind on the dock. An hour later, you're at the hot spot, ready to start trolling. The same switch is flipped, making it easy to rig poles, drop downriggers, and set out lines with planer boards. The LED cube lights at the rear corners of the cabin easily illuminate the side planers' flags, while the aft-facing LED lightbar on top makes those off the stern pop even though it's still an hour before sunrise.

Having a good source of bright, diffused light is a boon to any boater who's serious about getting the most out of fishing at night or who often works on the boat long after sunset. Companies such as TigerLights, which builds LED lights for marine use in Tangent, Oregon, are a source for boat-owning anglers looking for U.S.-made products to help spread the light. We're not comparing products here, just citing these as an example of what you can do for your boat with this type of lighting.

In this installation, a tech has mounted a 10-inch lightbar, which outputs 5,700 lumens while drawing around four amps, and a pair of cubes, made up of six LEDs each, onto the hardtop. The smaller cubes throw 1,350 lumens apiece. Both lights have wide flood-beam patterns and draw very little current, making them ideal for marine use. The manufacturer says these lights have an IP68 rating, so they're shock-proof and water-resistant to more than a meter. (LEDs typically have a life of about 50,000 hours.) The owner of this new 2016 Hewescraft Pro V 200 Hardtop fishes the Columbia River and along the Pacific Coast.

Before starting a similar project, you'll need to find a location to place the two cube floodlights so their wide beams cover the rear deck but the lights themselves clear your head. The LED lightbar can be mounted on top of the T-top or hardtop so the wide, powerful beam is projected out beyond the stern. If you prefer, all three lights can be controlled by one switch, as the total draw is less than eight amps. This can simplify wire runs and limit the number of rocker switches you'll need.

  • Removing hardtop liner

    Drill hole in aluminum top

    1. Joe Eckroth removes the starboard half of the Hewescraft's hardtop liner in preparation to run the wires from the aft-mounted LED lights to the switch panel so wiring will be invisible.

    2. We liked having the cube floods tucked in the upper corners and positioned out enough to clear the curtain. The first step is to a drill a 3/8-inch hole in the aluminum top to mount each light.

  • Mounting hardware

    Drilling hole inside cabin

    3. TigerLights come with stainless-steel brackets and mounting hardware, although we used shorter bolts on this aluminum top. The light's brackets allow a variety of mounting options and adjustment.

    4. In this application, with a double-wall roof brace, we used a vari-bit to punch a hole through to the inside of the cabin so we could run the wire from each corner light. Eckroth runs the light wire through a grommet on each side to protect wire from chaffing.

  • Run wires through grommets

    Measure carefully

    5. The LED lights come with plug-in connectors and a full wiring harness. But we didn't need the harness or the plug ends, so we cut off the latter prior to running the wires through the grommets. After we ran the LED cube's wire through the grommets, Eckroth used heat-shrink butt connectors to splice them to a section of 16-gauge sheathed marine wiring.

    6. Taking your time to find center on the aft portion of the roof ensures a clean, professional lightbar installation. Measure twice. Drill once.

  • Position lightbar and drill

    Remeasure before drilling hole in headliner

    7. After the 10-inch LED lightbar is positioned, we drilled a single mounting hole for each bracket and bolted it in place. (We used two thin rubber washers under each bracket base to elevate the bar so the LED lights would just clear the lip of the rolled roof edge.)

    8. Dustin Raschein of TigerLights eyeballs a measurement to make sure the power lead from the LED lightbar enters on the inside of the hardtop under the headliner before drilling the hole.

  • Drill pilot hole first

    Make sure the connectors work

    9. We drilled a pilot hole first, then followed up with a vari-bit to drill through the Hewescraft's aluminum top. A grommet goes in to protect the wire from chaffing. We'll seal the wire/grommet with silicone after the install is finished.

    10. Always make sure the connections work before moving on to the next step in the process.

  • Feed wire through roof wiring channel

    Connect to light switch terminal

    11. Eckroth (right) feeds the wire through the Hewescraft's roof wiring channel while Raschein pushes it along the track down to the starboard-side console.

    12. Eckroth always attaches the LED light's ground to the bus bar that leads directly to the negative post of the battery, and the hot lead of the light wire, connected to the light switch terminal.

  • Using heat gun to seal all connections

    Pushing excess wiring in track

    13. We used a heat gun to seal all the butt connectors. It's good practice to use heat-shrink butt connectors when doing any type of marine wiring.

    14. After Eckroth did one last check to see if the lights were functioning properly, he tucked the wiring under the headliner and pushed any excess into the boat's roof wiring track. Then the roof headliner panel is screwed back into place, hiding all the wiring for a clean installation.

Avoid any lights, mounting configuration, or use that conflicts with the Rules of Navigation and other applicable rules on lights. Remember that other boaters may be navigating and relying on your lights, which they expect to be in compliance with the law, in order to safely navigate and safely maneuver relative to other boats. Also, avoid any use of the lights that interferes with your vision and the vision of crew who are keeping watch. When the installation is done, you'll have an abundance of aft-facing, wide-spread light at the touch of a switch.  

— Published: Spring 2016


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