Those advantages are obvious, but what else should you expect from your masthead lights? Rugged reliability, for one thing. We shouldn’t underestimate the vibration and brutal motion at the masthead in a seaway and your navigation light has to cope with all that. So, super-solid construction and a strong fixing system should be on the list.
A reliable photoelectric cell to switch the light on at dusk and when daylight fades in storms and fog, and off again when normal light conditions return, is a big advantage. Also, a tall light as opposed to a squat profile ensures the light won’t be masked from some angles by the mast upon which it’s mounted. If you use a lamp like a hockey puck, it might be a good idea to elevate it somehow.
Another factor, a big issue with LEDs, is interference with VHF radio and AIS reception. When you switch on your masthead light you don’t want to hear crackling on the radio and you don’t want your AIS information to go walkabout. You’ll want a guarantee from the manufacturer that this won’t happen. In my role as a Metz VHF antenna system provider, I’ve been banging on about this for years. Navigation lights and antennas share a tight spot at the top of the mast and they must be compatible. As recently as August 2018 the US Coastguard was warning about the proliferation of difficult or failed VHF radio communications as a direct result of LED interference. It is the voltage regulating circuit that’s the culprit and even expensive LEDs may have the sort of buck regulator that oscillates at a frequency which blocks VHF transmissions. Check yours!
LED navigation lights are a great innovation for the sailor, providing excellent performance and miserly power consumption. There are many brands on the market, be sure to choose wisely.
1 December 2018: Salty John has now concluded a deal with OPTOLAMP to stock their range of LED masthead navigation lights. These excellent lights tick all the boxes. Have a look at saltyjohn.com for more details. Should be in stock by Christmas.