Boat Lights: LED, Versus Halogen, Versus HID

LEDs have generated a lot of interest among boaters over the last several years due to their high efficiency, powerful output, and unheard of longevity infohatworld

Although early LED offerings were lacking in light quality and lumen output, rapid advancements in LED lighting technology have for all intents brought LEDs up to par and now they are considered a superior alternative to almost every other type of light source. This is not to say that traditional light sources are no longer worth consideration, but as LEDs continue to increase in quality and output, justifying the use of other lighting designs is becoming harder and harder to do. To see just how effective LEDs have become, let’s take some time to compare some performance averages across the three main types of standard boat light types.


Halogens have been a longtime favorite among boaters due to their good power and affordable purchase price. There is often some confusion as to whether or not a halogen bulb qualifies as an incandescent light source, but the basic design is the same, only halogens contain added halogen and or bromine gases. The addition of these gases causes a reaction with the tungsten filament which results in vaporized tungsten being re-deposited on the filament as the lamp is operated. This increases the longevity of the lamp and allows it to run at higher temperatures, which in turn improves the color quality and overall lumen output of the bulb. However, halogen bulbs are as we mentioned, at their core a basic incandescent design, and like all incandescent bulbs are highly inefficient and relatively short lived. Some specs for a typical 50 watt halogen bulb commonly used on boats are listed below.

17-20 lumens per watt output.

2800-3400 Kelvin color temperature.

Lamp life 1700 – 2500 hrs.

Color rendering index 100.

1,500 to 2,000 hour operating life.

Very hot operating temperature.

Fragile wire filament can break under abusive conditions.

HID-Metal Halide-

HID bulbs produce light differently from halogen or LED light sources and represent some of the most powerful types of lighting available. Most HID bulbs used onboard boats are of the metal halide variety, which produces high output combined with good color quality and good longevity. HID lights are more commonly used in spotlights due to their intense output, but also see significant use in spreader applications where larger amounts of deck area need to be covered with substantially high lumen levels. HID lights produce light by creating an arc within a glass bulb that ignites gases and metallic salts to create a plasma ignition, in turn creating intense light output. HID lights are very efficient, have good longevity, and like halogen lamps produce large amounts of heat. For applications requiring the most powerful light output possible, HID systems are at the top of the list. The following are some basic performance specs for a typical 50 watt HID bulb.


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