There was a time when we got to the boat ramp that we would remove our trailer lights before backing boat and trailer into the water. To prevent the lights from being dunked and their internal metal fittings from instantly corroding, we had mounted the fixtures with wing nuts on the bolts and installed separating connectors in wires. Then, a few years ago, we started switching our fleet of trailers over to LED lights and have been very happy with their longevity, even when dunked with every launching.
LEDs, light-emitting diodes, provide bright lighting for trailers, much brighter than incandescent bulbs, making trailer lights more visible even during daytime towing. This is especially important with tail lights tucked under overhanging boats, making them harder to see. Research has shown that LED lights reach full brightness milliseconds faster, which translates to as much as 16′ more braking distance for vehicles following at 65 mph. And LEDs are less susceptible to failures caused by vibration while traveling down the road, and have a much longer life than incandescent bulbs, as much as 100,000 hours.
Our friend John built a beautiful Penobscot 14 and, worried that someone might drive into the back of the boat, added vertical and horizontal light strips to the back end of his trailer. We have also opted for supplemental lighting and attached LED lights to the top of our trailer’s guide posts. Our friend Eddie owns a boat-trailer business, and has sold many red LED light strips to folks who use them to make light bars that attach to a boat’s transom, providing additional lighting. He recommends adding a second plug to the vehicle’s wiring harness, and giving the light bar its own plug and wire so it can be easily disconnected and connected at the ramp. LED lights, because of their low amperage draw—one-tenth of incandescent equivalents—can be added to the trailer lighting without overloading the towing vehicle’s circuit and fuse. A four-way plug and wire to the light bar provides the ground.
When shopping for LED trailer-light kits, look for fixtures with submersible, sonic-welded housings, even though most LED trailer lights have sealed diodes and electrical components that can stand a dunking at the ramp whether the housing is sealed or not. Housings can be permanently sealed because the LEDs have such long working lives and won’t require replacement. It is usually easiest to buy an entire kit that includes wire and plug, as these parts degrade with age. Make sure the wire is long enough for your trailer. If the wires are enclosed by the trailer frame parts, use the wires as you would an electrician’s fish tape to pull the new wires through.
Some kits include amber clearance lights for trailers equipped with them; white LED back-up lights are also available for towing vehicles with connectors equipped with a wire to power them.
LED trailer lights have kept us free from unexpected interruptions to boating outings, will save us plenty of lost time troubleshooting inoperative trailer lights, and have cleared out a glove box once full of spare incandescent bulbs.
Kent and Audrey Lewis maintain a fleet of five trailers to haul around a small armada of mess-about boats. Their adventures are blogged at Small Boat Restoration.
Submersible LED boat trailer lights are available from many automotive, marine hardware, and online retailers. Kit prices range from $20 to $40.
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