Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

The Right Light


Elmore Electric

A properly-lit deck is a more worker friendly, and safer, environment. Photo courtesy of Elmore Electric. A properly-lit deck is a more worker friendly, and safer, environment. Photo courtesy of Elmore Electric. A properly-lit deck is a more worker friendly, and safer, environment.

Whether you're thinking about buying new deck machinery or planning to stick with what you have today, making sure that you have the right lighting to get the most out of your equipment – and your crew – is critically important. Lighting is an easy area to overlook when thinking about how to maximize your working deck's performance. The reality is that your crew doesn't just need to have excellent equipment on deck; they need to be able operate it quickly, accurately, and efficiently – in many cases for hours and hours on end. The better they can see what they are doing, the better they will perform.

So, what makes up the very best deck lighting? Why is simply mounting the most powerful lights available somewhere on the mast, house, gantry, or boom and aiming them at the deck not good enough? Here are a few areas to think about when planning how to best light your working deck:

The Right Amount of Light

While the US Dept. of Labor standards for lighting levels in shipyards or in longshoring dock areas call for between 50 and 100 lux of illumination, to create a productive and safe environment on a working deck requires at least 200 lux, with 400-600 lux desired due to the hazardous nature of the work being done and the rugged nature of the environment in which commercial vessels must operate. Lux is a measure of the amount of light landing on a given surface – for reference, lux levels of between 250 and 500 are common in offices or classrooms. Foot-candles are another commonly used measure, with one foot-candle equivalent to 10.75 lux. A good quality light meter displaying lux or foot-candle levels can be purchased for less than $100 – your deck light supplier should also be able to provide light readings as part of creating a lighting plan for your vessel.

With bulb-based lights such as halogen, metal halide (MH), or high pressure sodium (HPS), the amount of power required to drive these lights to reach 200 – 600 lux on deck can result in excessive generator loading and fuel consumption. As a result, few boats using these lights are capable of producing adequate light on deck for their crews. Newer and dramatically more efficient LED-based lights draw a fraction of the power for equivalent or greater light output (10:1 for halogen, 3:1 for halide and sodium lights, and 2:1 for fluorescents) – and last significantly longer with 50,000 – 100,000-hour lifespans. They are largely maintenance-free and in most cases can be lensed to land light exactly where it's needed. More on that in a few paragraphs.

The Right Color of Light

The color of a given light is expressed in temperature – specifically in degrees Kelvin (or K). Daylight measures ~5,000K, and our eyes are accustomed to seeing best in this color spectrum. Ensuring that your deck lights illuminate working areas in 5,000K daylight white color to match natural light will help to increase crew alertness and avoid fatigue.

In the past, many vessel operators have used sodium lights to illuminate the deck – believing that the highest amount of light available was the right solution. However, the distinctive amber color of sodium light (1,800K – 2,800K) results in poor true-color rendering on deck and an unnatural working environment for crew. Earlier generation LED lights swung the temperature pendulum the other way, with light color in the 6,500K – 7,000K range. This "blue white" light can be perceived as high glare and uncomfortable for many.

The Right Contrast Ratio

Contrast ratio is the measure of the difference between the brightest area of your deck and the dimmest area of your deck. Our eyes naturally dilate to the brightest available light, making darker areas appear to be even darker than reality – a good example is standing on a well-lit porch but seeing only blackness in the back yard. If your vessel's current deck lighting has hot spots and dark areas, your contrast ratio is likely 10:1 or more and your crew will be less productive as they pause to adjust their eyesight when work takes them in and out of the darker or shadowed areas.

A high-performance deck will have smooth, even light coverage spanning the entire working area, with minimal shadows or dark corners – and a contrast ratio of 3:1 or better. The key to getting even light coverage is based on light location and the shape of the light's output onto the deck. Placing a higher number of lower wattage lights around the deck and targeting the lights carefully will help drive better coverage. In addition, higher quality LED lights have lenses in front of each light source, enabling a more accurate targeting of the light – putting the light exactly where it's needed. Your deck light supplier can help you choose the appropriate lensing – or beam angle – of the lights in each location to maximize your deck's performance.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if you have state-of-the-art deck machinery or the original gear that came on the boat – if the crew can't see what they're doing, the equipment is not going to be as effective as it can be!

A few additional suggestions: as with anything targeted for use in the marine environment, look for non-corrosive materials (304 or 316 Stainless Steel for example), marine-grade coatings and connections, excellent waterproof ratings (IP65 to IP69K), and strong warranties (3-5 years ideally). Work with a reputable supplier who knows the industry, understands how your boat operates and has the expertise to help you create a lighting plan that fits your timing and budget priorities.

Joe Williams is the owner and CEO of Elmore Electric, a Seattle-based electrical services and products company serving the commercial marine industry.


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