Choosing the Right Cabin Lights for your Boat

Marine Lighting

Just like your home, the lighting in your boat’s cabin has a huge impact on its appearance, mood and function. Poor lighting can make it appear dull, outdated and difficult to complete tasks that require strong lighting. If your lights are too bright, it can look stark, sterile and a little hard on the eyes.

Achieving the right mix of lighting can make all the difference to your time spent on the boat so we made this guide to help shed some light (excuse the pun) on what you need to know when selecting cabin lights for your boat.

Types of Cabins Lights

Cabin lights come in various shapes and sizes for different applications, however there are a few basic traits that make individual lights better suited to certain applications in a cabin.

The beam angle of a light that’s determined by the lens greatly affects the spread of light. Downlights (similar to the ones installed in the ceiling of a home or office) typically have a wide 90° spread optic to fill large areas whereas spot and courtesy lights have a narrower angle to focus or direct light. Examples of the latter would be reading lights or strip lights that can be placed along the side of the cabin or near entrances to illuminate dark corners.

Additionally the lens and diffuser play an important role in determining if a light is a spot or a spread light. Spread lights usually have a patterned lens and diffuser for even distribution of light over a wide range of surfaces. Spot lights tend to have a clear lens and flat diffusers so they can send the light out in a more concentrated manner.

If you’re using LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights, you’ll also need to work out the amount of lumens needed for a room. Lumens are the measurement of light from a distance and all lights have their own individual lumens rating. There are many lumen calculators available online we recommend using for a more precise calculation.


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Colour temperature of lights is measured in kelvins and the higher the temperature, the whiter and brighter the light. Daylight equals 8,000 K; sunlight equals 5,600 K; office fluorescent equals 4,000 K; incandescent equals 2,800 K; and a candle flame equals 1,800 K. Anything inside a cabin is usually suited to warmer colours like the 3000 K range while cooler white colours in the range 5,000 K are more recommended for the exterior of the boat.

Having a mix of lights that are adjustable gives you the most options for enjoying the right light no matter what time of the day it is or the task you are completing.  

LED V Halogen V Fluorescent Lights

Since the introduction of LEDs, boats can enjoy well-lit cabins for hours longer due to their low-power consumption compared to the old incandescent bulbs. LEDs come in all shapes and sizes so you can go out in your boat at night safe in the knowledge you have a reliable, efficient, long-life light source that won’t drain your battery or overload the circuit.

LED lights are used in many situations, but marine-grade LEDs are needed to withstand the salty environment without corroding.   

Halogen and fluorescent lights dissipate the light whereas LED lights can be easily directed to one spot. Halogens can give out twice as much light as old incandescent lights and last three times longer however they last a fraction of the time compared to LEDs. Another major drawback to halogen lights is the amount of heat they emit. This causes the cabin to heat up unnecessarily, are a potential fire risk and can burn the skin on contact.

Fluorescent lights are still favoured by some people due to their efficiency over halogen lights. That being said, they still can’t beat the efficiency of LED lights and ongoing developments in this field mean halogen and fluorescent bulbs could one day be a thing of the past. In the context of cabin area though a fluorescent does have the power to provide adequate area lighting.         

Retrofitting your Lighting

Incandescent lighting is still used in some older boats and as they corrode or become damaged, replacing them with LEDs is a good option. If you are replacing incandescent lights, look for LED’s that can be housed in the same light fixture. This will save you time and money retrofitting your boat’s lighting.

Planning your boat’s lighting will ensure you get optimal coverage and save you from unnecessary holes and wasted money during installation. Having a variety of adjustable lights gives you the most options for enjoying the right light in your boat’s cabin and interior at all times of the day and night.

If you have any questions about the right lighting for your boat or its installation, call Boat Accessories Australia on 1300 308 161 or send us an email.  

Category: Marine Lighting

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