To paraphrase a famous thought experiment: if a beautiful boat can’t be seen at night, is it really beautiful at all?
As LED technology improves, boat owners are increasingly interested in installing bespoke lighting solutions that showcase their vessel from all its best angles. Apart from being wildly photogenic, there are additional benefits to all this brilliance: good exterior lighting improves the overall ambience on board, makes it easier to navigate and enjoy the water at night, and also attracts marine life – ideal for luring bait during fishing trips, or observing nature in action.
UK-based company OceanLED has been leading the charge on underwater lighting solutions since its founding in 2005, and has grown to become the most popular and most widely distributed marine lighting brand in the world. The company’s current range of marine LED products suit a vast range of leisure vessels, from 3-metre RIBs up to the world’s largest superyachts.
The company’s long list of prestigious clients includes the world’s largest trimaran, 84-metre White Rabbit, and record-breaking 183-metre explorer REV Ocean, scheduled for a 2022 delivery. OceanLED marks itself out from the crowd with its comprehensive range of lights that employ exclusive “advanced reflector optics”.
This angling technology creates sharper beams and a further-reaching ‘halo’ effect around a vessel than alternative lighting solutions. For example, the company’s latest “Explore E8” series of lights produce a top beam angled at 90°, alongside a 20° side beam. Positioning the beam carefully like this in the water allows for minimal fading, and creates a significantly greater illuminated area.
These advanced optics also allow installation of lights into hulls with more extreme angles, such as sailing yachts, where it was previously impractical to fit underwater lights.
Hong Kong-based On Board Marine Group (OBMG) has represented and distributed OceanLED in Asia and the Middle East since 2016. OBMG provides electrical system integration, design, installation and product distribution, and represents over 40 brands from the marine industry.
Blair Hellyer, sales manager for OBMG, explains to Asia-Pacific Boating how OceanLED has become a “standard fit” on many high-end European production vessels.
“We see many of the lights on our clients’ boats here in Hong Kong and throughout Asia,” she says. “Together with OceanLED, we are now able to offer a full end-to-end service for these customers. Previous projects involving OceanLED are wide-ranging, including new builds, refit, dock/marina lighting, architectural lighting and superyachts.”
Hellyer says there has been a recent uptick in interest in underwater lighting within Asia-Pacific’s new build and retrofit market, as clients are increasingly seeking to stand out from other vessels. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated this trend further, with owners spending more time on their yachts in 2020 as a haven from the situation.
“Since taking on distribution for OceanLED, we have seen the refit market increase as current boat owners are wanting to add personal touches to their vessels and catch up with the new releases,” Hellyer explains. “In the newbuild market, underwater lights used to be a fancy add-on – we are now seeing that they are becoming standard fit to almost all new vessels, whereas the add-on is now a full wrap of lights, rather than the usual transom fitting!”
More recreational fishing vessels in Asia-Pacific are also fitting lights. “These are fantastic for attracting fish and making the vessels stand out,” adds Hellyer. “Even if they are not being used for fishing but just attracting fish, they are great entertainment for children on board and setting the scene at night.”
Naturally, all such projects are customisable in some aspects – and owners in the region are increasingly looking to get more involved. Many factors influence the final look, from the placement of lights to angling, all of which must be considered.
The initial conversation with any client will involve discovering the lighting effect they wish to achieve. This effect can include an aft wrap, quarter wrap or a full wrap of the vessel, in blue, white or multi-colour. “OBMG has in-house engineers who can also assist on this to make sure this process is as seamless as possible,” says Hellyer.
“For larger yachts that require weld-in lights or that are to be built to a classification, every light fitted must be carefully selected to match its position in the hull so that the desired light effect is a perfect halo once the light housings are welded in place.”
The in-house engineers will use 3D-CAD (Computer-Aided Design) programmes to match the correct type and angle of light to the location in the vessel structure. “Working closely with the naval architects ensures that there are no issues with the placement of the lights or service access,” says Hellyer. “Often, a challenge of a full wrap can be negotiating internal fuel and water tanks, and for this reason, OceanLED has lights that can be accessed from the outside of the hull by a diver, if internal access is restricted or not available.”
Hellyer says, since partnering with OceanLED, OBMG has noticed that clients in Asia-Pacific are becoming far more involved in the overall look and feel of their vessel, and increasingly seek to stand out and make a statement. “We get requests from clients that have seen a vessel with an OceanLED blue halo effect and would like to have something similar, but maybe more lights, or would like to have colour-change and DMX capability.”
DMX refers to “Digital Multiplex” – a standard lighting control protocol used across the industry. Depending on the project, owners can fully control their lighting effects using either a standard DC switch, the ‘OceanDMX’ touch panel controller, or simply the free smartphone app. “OceanLED has many options when it comes to underwater lighting,” says Hellyer. “We can tailor all aspects of the customers’ requirements, ensuring the best possible solution engineered to the highest fully certified quality and ensuring the client can achieve the effect that they want.”
In addition to boat lighting, OceanLED is also expanding its architectural applications. Before 2020, the company had been working closely with several marinas in Asia-Pacific that were looking to add dock/marina lighting.
“With the current situation these projects have been put on hold, and we are hopeful to kick-start these again in 2021, once vessels and people can move more freely within the region,” says Hellyer. “OBMG is currently completing a private dock lighting project in the Middle East, as the client wanted the ability to showcase his vessel as well as helping to navigate his dock at night.”
For these applications, marina or dock lights are not only about creating a visual display but are also about showcasing a marina and the beauty of the yachts that are docked there. “[Marina/dock lighting] does create a nice ambience and makes a marina stand out from its competitors,” says Hellyer.
“The lights totally change the mood of the space: where there once was a dark area, there now is an illuminated guide, showing the pathway and the edges of the platforms. This makes for a safer space, increasing security by adding light and by accentuating walkways. Fish are also attracted to the lights giving the marina a feeling of being alive and healthy.”
The challenge of adding lights to a dock or marina differs from a yacht project. Each has their considerations, Hellyer says – from mounting solutions (the company offers both fixed and floating dock lights) and matching lights to water clarity and colour, tidal heights, power supply availability on the dock, down to the desired visual effect – such a complex confluence of individual factors gives every project a different set of requirements.
“Recently, we have completed two resort projects in the Maldives, where the brief was to showcase the natural beauty of the surroundings, attract marine life at night and create a harmony between the ocean and villas, whilst not being ostentatious,” reveals Hellyer. “Working very closely with the lighting designers we were able to use the OceanLED X series – which can be used in and out of water – to give the desired effect they requested in the brief.”
The lenses on OceanLED lights have a Tritonium coating that forms a non-stick layer, making it difficult for marine growth to adhere to the lens and allowing for easy cleaning. That quality should prove particularly useful for REV Ocean when it begins its scientific voyages around the world. The state-of-the-art explorer is on a mission to create more awareness, develop new and sustainable maritime solutions, conduct groundbreaking science and collect plastic waste from the entire marine ecosystem – from the coastal zone to abyssal depths, and from polar regions to the tropics.
The REV team chose to partner with OceanLED partly due to the company’s experience in extreme environments, including polar conditions. And these lights could prove an essential part of the vessel’s work for years to come. “As REV will be conducting research at night, it has proved vital to have lighting for both operational purposes and scientific needs, rather than the lights just being required for their aesthetic quality,” Hellyer concludes.