Completing the switch from incandescent to LED

So many LED options to choose from...
There are so many LED options to choose from…

While walking by the Fisheries Supply booth at the Seattle Boat Show last week, I noticed their display of LED interior lights and thought, “Boy am I glad we finished that project.”

That’s right, it’s done. This winter we finally completed the changeover of our interior lights from incandescent to LED. It took a while, but now that we’re fully running on brighter, less power-hungry lights, I feel like a great service has been done for our boat and for the occupants of its once excruciatingly cave-like interior.

Why LED?

LED lighting is no secret to boaters anymore. It seems that every new boat has them as standard equipment and many used boats on the market have been fully upgraded from incandescent to their energy-saving brethren. And it makes complete sense.

When we bought our 1984 Grand Soleil 39 Yahtzee over three years ago, all of the exterior lighting had been switched over to LED, but all the interior lighting remained incandescent. At anchor, we’d switch on a few of those old, hot incandescent bulbs and literally watch them drain our batteries. Many of them eventually burned out. Plus, they just didn’t light up the space very well and even though we have a fairly open layout down below, Yahtzee seemed cavernous at times.

After doing some research and number-crunching into switching our fixture’s existing bulbs to LED or just buying new fixtures, we decided to go ahead and do the complete upgrade of fixtures. While doing my homework, though, I discovered that even though LEDs are brighter, longer lasting and draw far less power, a classic knock against them is that they can be too bright and white, which can create an uncomfortable look and feel down below.

Digging deeper into this critique, I learned about what to look for in how bright the new LEDs actually are and that all lights fall onto a scale known as the Kelvin Color Temperature Scale. According to the very informative website,, the scale is defined as…

“A measure of the color of a light source relative to a black body at a particular temperature expressed in degrees Kelvin (K). Incandescent lights have a low color temperature (approx. 2800K) and have a red-yellowish tone. Warm white LED Lamps have a color temperature between 2700-3500K. Lamps rated between 5000K and 6000K are viewed as white, while lamps above 6000K tend to have a blue cast.”

The Kelvin Scale (courtesy of
The Kelvin Scale (courtesy of

Despite this news, and finding out that the new lights I was looking to buy would certainly be brighter and whiter, I was willing to take a chance on LEDs. My question was, “How much brighter and whiter would they really be?” Plus, with the old incandescents our boat seemed to be very poorly lit, so I was actually looking forward to the extra light that new LEDs would emit.

The LED dome lights make for great overhead lighting
LED dome lights make for great overhead lighting on our boat (Photo courtesy of

When we made the decision to go with LEDs down below, we looked at all sorts of lights and prices, and decided to piece meal the project from cabin to cabin using Dr. LED Red & Warm White Dome Lights and 8-inch Under Cabinet Red & Warm White Lights.

The Dr.LED dome lamps that we went with (and many other interior LEDs) have a color temperature of 3000K. We started the project by just replacing a few of the incandescents in the main saloon and wow did they make a huge difference with the amount of light they put out, but also with how little energy they consumed. And after fully installing all the new LEDs, we haven’t found them to be too bright and have actually appreciated the extra light they provide — which seems to be a cleaner and more modern feel than our old incandescents.

Porter standing under the new Dr.LED dome light over our nav station.
Porter standing under the new Dr.LED dome light over our nav station.

For those who prefer the more traditional ambiance of incandescent lights, I didn’t find many LEDs that were lower on the Kelvin Color Temperature Scale, but they’ve got to be out there. Also, it seems that with some creative placement of the fixtures as to dampen the amount of light they give off or by installing dimmers, you could keep that traditional feel you might be looking to maintain. We added an oil lamp to our lighting options this winter and it provides a nice warm, traditional glow in the saloon that we enjoy.

We also like having the red option when we don’t want or need there to be very much light in the cabin, but mostly the red is great to have with children aboard. Porter loves using the red above his bunk as a nightlight, and when we go into Magnus’ cabin in the middle of the night to change a diaper or cover him with a blanket, we’d rather turn on a soft red light than any eye-scrunching white one.

Porter sleeping under the glow of his red light
Porter sleeping under the glow of the red light

The Install 

The actual changeover from our old, power-hungry incandescents to LED was easier than I anticipated. Porter and I got our tools out and each time we replaced a light I got faster at the process.

Part of the reason we chose the Dr. LED dome lights was because they had the same footprint as our old lights. In many cases the screw hole patterns were the exact same, so the actual labor involved was little more than unscrewing the old fixtures, clipping the old wires, stripping them and then attaching the new wires with butt connectors. We then screwed the new fixtures in place, tested the lights and were done. It was that easy.

I was a little worried about installing the new under cabinet lights because the old lights they were replacing were smaller and had an unusual screw-hole pattern that I wasn’t sure would match up with the new brackets.

The under cabinet lights have proven to be far better then their 1980s-vintage counterparts. (Photo courtesy of
The under cabinet lights have proven to be far better then their 1980s-vintage counterparts. (Photo courtesy of

We put the 8-inch under cabinet lights in each head and they were just as straightforward to switch out as the dome lights. Fortunately, no new holes were necessary to mount them and the covers on these seem to dampen the white light some.

Though LEDs might not be for every boat and boater, overall, our switch to the new lights has been a successful one. We use far less power while at anchor and the LEDs light up Yahtzee’s interior spaces much better than the old incandescents. And while there are certainly lots to choose from, I’m happy with what we decided to go with.

6 thoughts on “Completing the switch from incandescent to LED

    1. Hi Thor,
      We decided to go with new fixtures because the old ones were original (1984) and many were corroded inside and out. We also wanted a cleaner and more modern look.

  1. How do you find the dr LED lights compare to incandescent or oil in terms of warmness?

    We ripped out our LEDs about 5 yrs ago and switched to all oil, but now that we have a little one we worry about a curious little boy getting too interested in open flames!

    1. The LEDs put out virtually no heat whatsoever. We actually got the oil lamp so that we’d have something to put out a little heat (other than our heater) in the early mornings and evenings.

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