LED navigation lights - brightness and disturbance

The RYA has succeeded in gaining agreement for the development of a new standard for LED navigation lights.


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Last month we reported that there is still no internationally accepted performance standard for testing LED navigation light sources for recreational craft.

The RYA has been working on this issue for some time and we are pleased to report that we have now been successful in gaining agreement at the International Standards Organisation (ISO) that a new standard for LED navigation lights for small craft up to 24m should be developed.

Working Group 19 of ISO Technical Committee 118 agreed to this at meeting held on Monday 25 June. The process could take up to three years but at the end of it we hope that there will be a credible benchmark to assure the recreational boating public that LED navigation lights are of adequate quality and will give reliable service for many years.

Part 1 Navigation lights: Can they be the wrong colour?

Effect of the elements on LED navigation lights

LED colour needs to be maintained within the boundaries of the COLREG colour requirements, however it is important to be aware heat and cold can cause the LED colour to shift over time. So it is important to check your LED lights to ensure that they are still correct.

LED failure can be caused by voltage spikes, shorting or mechanical failure inside the lamp due to moisture, impact, shock and vibration. Some manufacturers have invested significant time and effort to ensure their lamps can withstand the harshest environments without degradation or failure. Other manufacturers may not have been so diligent.

Excessive heat can cause LED brightness to decline significantly due to inadequate thermal and electronic control. This could mean that after time and the elements a two-nautical mile LED lamp may only be bright enough for a few hundred metres.

Electromagnetic disturbance

The electronic circuitry that regulates the current of the LED over a range of input voltages protects it from spikes and reverses polarity.

However, unless this circuitry is filtered the electromagnetic disturbance generated by the LED light power source may exceed a level which could prevent other electronic equipment on board from operating as intended.

Although all LED lights are required to comply with the EU Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive, simplistically such interference can only be minimised by good design and filtering, but it will never be completely eliminated.

Physical separation is the easiest and often most effective protection. If you have fitted LED navigation lights at the masthead only centimetres from your other aerials, then this might well affect the performance of other electronic equipment.


Do not assume that LED units that claim a string of ‘approvals’ comply with a performance standard. Such approval may be no more than confirmation that LED navigation lights conformed to the technical detail of COLREG72 when simply switched on at full power.

They do not necessarily indicate rigorous testing or that they will continue to conform and perform over time. A CE mark may mean nothing other than compliance with the EU Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive.

In general LED units cannot be serviced; light degradation and reliability are important considerations that do not feature in COLREGs requirements.

So what should I buy?

It may well be that the latest LED light sources, including surface mount LEDs and those involving phosphor conversion perform more than adequately. However, unless it can be shown that they have been tested or meet a performance standard then it can be difficult for potential buyers to make an informed selection.

That said some manufacturers do undertake long term LED performance testing and some but not all now use EN14744* as the basis for assessment and certification.

It is therefore worth doing a bit of research. Nevertheless, it is an inescapable fact that decent LED units are not a ‘cheap’ option but the cost may be acceptable compared with the lifecycle costs and the obvious advantages.

Now it is up to the industry and the International Standard Organisation to act to agree an internationally acceptable standard that gives a clear indication of LED suitability.


* European industry sponsored its own standard, EN 14744, for inland navigation and sea-going vessels, recreational craft of 20 m and over and recreational craft of less than 20 m that must comply with the CEVNI rules. However and surprisingly, EN14744 is not applicable to navigation lights on recreational craft less than 20 m in length that need to comply with COLREGs