I recently did a mini-compare of spot lights for navigation of a channel with reflectorized (non-lit) markers. This is different than identifying obstructions within a few boat lengths. For my style of navigation, I prefer having a chart view well ahead of my boat as it improves my sense of situational awareness and serves to cross-check what I see on radar, so identifying channel markers 0.5-1.0 nms off is highly desirable. In short, think: navigating by paper chart versus highly-zoomed chart plotter. If you are the type that navigated via 'highway view' of a ultra-zoomed MFD, this may not be applicable for you. Just depends on what you are comfortable with. But it makes a different on how you would chose a spot light - long or short range view.
was a 3-year old Horizon 52 Power Cat with enclosed pilothouse and a joystick-controlled motorized spot light
ICW near Johns Pass, St Pete area of Florida on moonless night. Main purpose for me for a spot light is to see distant channel markers (1/2 nm away or more) for situational awareness. Narrow, bright beam is important.
1. West Marine hand-held rechargeable LED spot light
2. Permanent installed roof-mounted spot light, motorized controlled by joystick.
3. Three different MagLight options:
First, a new 3xD cell with native LED bulb
Second, an older 3XD cell with converted LED bulb to replace the origina
l incandecent bulb; and
Third, a rechargeable LED model (Amazon
The permanent mount spotlight
, despite being new and presumably high quality ($1.5m yacht with plenty of goodies) proved cumbersome to use as it was slow to sight using the joystick. Also had some light-scatter on the foredeck which was annoying. Helmsman preferred having a crewmember (his wife) use a hand-held at the bow.
hand-held was good and worked well - relatively bright and narrow beam. Negatives were it is a bit big and cumbersome and may be buried in a locker when you need it.
- Converted LED bulb in an older MagLight. Surprised me - noticeably less bright and not as narrow a beam as the new MagLight with native LED. Unsure whether MagLight changed the reflectors to work better with LED, or if the bulb itself is sub-optimized, but clearly not as good as either of the MagLight LED-native options.
- New MagLight (Battery operated). May be a little brighter and narrower beam than West Marine hand-held. For $26 on Amazon, a good buy.
- New MagLight with rechargeable battery. Very good mounting system with positive lock. Not quite as narrow of a beam or as bright as the battery-powered MagLight, but very close.
CONCLUSIONS AND OBSERVATIONS
1. "Lumens" is an indicator, but not consistent across brands.
2. Permanent mounted spot lights are difficult to adjust quickly.
3. The smaller 'tactical' LED lights (MagLights) will illuminate a reflectorized channel marker from a mile or more on a clear night.
4. Narrow beam is important for long distance marker identification
5. If your boat has an enclosed pilothouse or bridge, there is no practical way to use a hand-held spot light, thus the permanent mounted light on the roof.
6. As a side note, having a lessor-skilled person (spouse) using the spot light at the bow has it's hazards as that person often hits decks or railings with light. Assuming a husband/wife team who run with one person on the bow, would be very helpful to have the two switch places to see what the other person sees.
MagLight Rechargeable LED. Despite slightly lower performance, went with MagLight due to ease of mounting the flashlight which means it will serve multiple purposes. If I were to install a permanent mount for an enclosed pilothouse, would not be a motorized version, but one of the old-school manual ones as it is much more intuitive and faster than the motorized version (not to mention less failure prone).
The battery powered MagLight with native LED had the narrowest, brightest beam of the lot, though the West Marine hand-held rechargeable was pretty good too.