The Right Light

Lighting a boat isn’t like lighting a home, the needs are different.

Del Viento- lights

This is one of the five new lights. If it weren't for the mark left from the old teak pad, it would look like these lights were built for the boat. Fortunately, in removing the teak pads, we learned that we may be able to remove this popcorn finish on the cabin top as easily as wallpaper--we just need to have it tested first to be sure it isn't asbestos.Michael Robertson

Lighting a boat isn’t like lighting a home, the needs are different.

Do you regularly look under your couch or bed for a can of refried beans? Is your dining room table also a game table, workbench, countertop, and desk? Do you spend whole nights awake in your house, reading and going about your business, but with only red lights on? Do you have an electrical meter on your wall that you check regularly to see how many amps you’re consuming? Is your ceiling less than a foot above your head?

On a boat, lighting deficiencies are magnified. Since the day we bought Del Viento, I've pursued more light, less light, better quality light, red light, improved light efficiency, and attractive fixtures in our cabin.

General Lighting Fixtures

When we bought our boat, general lighting came from four overhead, circular, plastic fixtures. These were mounted throughout and each had a single on/off switch and delivered plenty of cold, harsh light. Two were inoperable. The 9-inch fluorescent bulbs of the remaining two sucked almost 2 amps from our house bank, models of efficiency in 1978. But that was then.

As of this week, general lighting aboard Del Viento comes from five Alpenglow 9W LED fixtures. Their white light color is warm and pleasant and can be delivered at a low or high setting. The lights feature a second switch that controls a red light, also at a low or high setting. Each light consumes three-quarters of an amp at its highest setting. They cost $139 each—a real value.

Del Viento came with six reading lights; we wish there were more. Four of these lights are traditional metal lights with the bell-shaped shade, two were nice looking lights with a teak base and teak shades. All of these consumed a lot of power—and for hours at a time as we read by them or used them for ambient lighting. Because they were incandescents, their shades got hot, really hot. On the teak lights, the shades were very small and the bulbs protruded a bit, resulting in several cases of burnt fingers.

We started by replacing the incandescent bulbs in the traditional metal fixtures with LED bulbs. For these four lights, this has been an acceptable fix, eliminating the power consumption and heat issues. (But not a complete fix, as it introduced other issues—I’ll explain this in a future post).

But for the two teak lights, this fix wasn’t possible as the shades were not large enough to accommodate an LED bulb. And because these two lights were also falling apart, we replaced them, again going with Alpenglow.* This time we bought two of their dimmable (a unique feature in this kind of light), LED reading lights. The light is a very warm white, they use little power, and the dimming feature isn’t something we sought, but is now something we appreciate. These things are awesome and if money were no object, we’d replace all of our reading lights with these.

Task and Ambient Lighting

I bought inexpensive LED strip lights at IKEA. Their profile is about 1/8 inch and they are extensible. I’m considering attaching several in series and mounting them behind trim in the galley to illuminate the counter spaces. If that works well, I may do the same in the main cabin, but with a rheostat to dim them. We’ll see.

I knew that improving our lighting down below would be a welcome improvement. Celebrating Christmas in our cozy cabin this year, I remembered that for years I worked in offices with cold, unflattering light and that I appreciated evenings at home with my incandescently illuminated wife, kids, and surroundings. It’s good to be home.


I__n our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at