Lopolight–Beware The Time Suck Of Complexity

JHH5II-19481

Let’s face it, there is never enough time to keep a boat that is actively out there voyaging in perfect condition:

  • to do all the routine maintenance;
  • to repair what’s broken;
  • to replace what’s too old to be trusted.

Or at least, there is never enough time if we actually want to see the places we visit and have a life outside of boat maintenance.

Therefore, we have to prioritize and be careful not to get distracted by the demands of the ever more complex machines that we clutter our boats up with. Complex machines that can rob us of time that would be better spent doing routine maintenance on the things that really matter, like our rig or engine.

Our LED tri-light has provided us with a five-year reminder of these basic facts. Let me tell you the sad story.

The Seduction

When we replaced our aging mast in 2007 we were just going to transfer our old reliable Aqua-Signal tricolour incandescent light. But then people pointed out that we could save a huge amount of power if we just sprung for an LED array tri-light.

Sounded great. And, after all, LED navigation lights had been around for a while, and magazines had raved about them. What could go wrong? We bought one. And not any old LED replacement bulb either. No, we bought the best and most expensive from Lopolight.

The Sad Tale

To date, five full years after the change, we have yet to have a usable mast head tri-light for more than a month at a time. We have been though three units that have all had a segment fail. And even when the light was working, it radiated so much RF interference that we would have to turn it off because of the static on the VHF.

The Time Suck

Lopolight and their US distributor have replaced all three lights without charge—good service. But that still means I had to spend hours in a bosun’s chair wrestling with the tiny wires and screws at full stretch. And the third time we replaced the light, Lopolight upped the fun quotient by sending a surge suppressor that had to be installed at the top of the mast.

I would guess I have a good 20 hours in this little game. That’s the same amount of time that it takes me to do a full annual service on our engine and generator! Oh yes, and Phyllis has a lot of hours invested sitting around waiting to let me back down, or yell for a tool. And, as I write, we are faced with a fourth replacement due to RF noise that makes the VHF radio unusable.

We Are Not Alone

These problems with the Lopolight are not the result of some strange LED killing phenomena that is limited to Morgan’s Cloud. Our friend Alisdair on the very simple and small Virtue sloop Sumara has had the same kind of problems.

It’s Not Lopolight’s Fault

Lopolight seem like a fine and responsive company. I’m not out to “get” them with this post. In fact, if you are considering a LED array light, I suggest you seriously consider Lopolight. If for no other reason than that they are the most experienced in the business and seem to be working hard to deal with the challenges posed by relatively new and complex technology. And the light is a beautifully made piece of kit. I also hear that the vast majority of Lopolight customers have had no trouble at all.

Lessons

  • Never buy complex new technology until it’s been used successfully for at least five years in the marine environment and ten years is better.
  • If you do select a new-tech item for a mission critical system, and navigation lights are nothing if not mission critical, make sure you have an old technology backup aboard. We do, in the form of our old incandescent deck-level navigation lights. Imagine the mess we would have been in if we had replaced those with LED arrays at the same time.
  • Stay away from fragile technology that needs special installation precautions. The new Lopolight requirement for screened cable and a surge suppressor makes me nervous.
  • Don’t let the manufacturer make it your problem. I can’t tell you the number of times a manufacturer of high-tech kit has tried to make us just about rebuild Morgan’s Cloud to solve a problem like this. (Lopolight did not play this game.) When they start that, I refuse to play. Make your product so it can survive and function on the average boat, I say.

Weigh The Risks and Rewards

Sure LED navigation lights are great, and the power savings are compelling. But on the other hand, would we have been better off to stick with our tried and proven incandescent light that had worked reliably for 25 years (I had one on the old boat) and only absorbed a total of an hour or so of my time changing bulbs in all those years?

To me, the answer is a resounding yes, at least until the ten-year-marine-use mark has been reached, particularly considering that we have been without a masthead tri-light for most of the last five years and we very nearly got hit by another boat when the port segment went out on the light without us noticing.

Comments

Do you have a story about a piece of high tech gear that has absorbed a huge amount of your time? Please share by leaving a comment.

{ 67 comments… add one }

  • Bob October 31, 2012, 11:55 am

    What was it Einstein said about doing the same thing again and again? Something seems odd when you use the phrase best and most expensive and a moment later we’re hearing about yet another replacement unit.

    We’ve found that the Bebi lights work just fine (http://www.bebi-electronics.com/index.html) and even when we were dismasted a few years ago the tricolor was doing it’s thing forty something feet below us until we cut the cord.

    Reply
  • Travis C. October 31, 2012, 12:24 pm

    I know for me, the biggest time-suck has been outboard motors. I’ve owned several, and each “new & improved” model seemed worse than the one before. Between proprietary parts, difficulties in getting spares, unique “just this one time” purchases to get the “ready to go from the box” engine mounted/started/etc, I’ve wasted more time than I care to mention with them. And recently, moving to smaller boats that use them for a primary propulsion train, it’s meant lost sailing time. I switched out my 23′ Aquarius’ outboard for a hefty electric motor and haven’t looked back. Sure, it was a trade-off in challenges, but I don’t mind never cleaning a carb ever again.

    Reply
  • Andre Langevin October 31, 2012, 2:09 pm

    OMG my boat is full of lopolights ! Brand new they are but i don’t want to get atop of the 57 feet mast to repair them :(

    Reply
    • John November 1, 2012, 9:34 am

      Hi Andre,

      Maybe it will not be a problem. I know a lot of people, including Colin who have used Lopolights for years without problems.

      Reply
  • Colin Farrar October 31, 2012, 2:29 pm

    Thanks for the advice, Jon. It’s interesting that Practical Sailor did a test of LED tricolor lights a couple of years ago, and they reported the Lopolight as one of the cleanest in terms of RFI. I can only imagine how some of the others would sound on the VHF!

    We have Lopolight bow and stern lights, and if I add a masthead tricolor I’ll go with incandescent, based on your experience.

    Reply
    • John November 1, 2012, 9:39 am

      Hi Colin,

      Good point. What I should have said in the post was that our Lopolights have been RF silent when first installed, but get noisy with time. It seems to be part of the failure modality.

      Reply
  • Dick Stevenson October 31, 2012, 4:19 pm

    John, Interesting article. I have been looking at Lopo lights for a few years for the simple reason, but did not buy for the probably misguided reason that they just look too small. I got LED lights for the Aquasignal tricolor and have been very happy with them for 2 years now (anchor light is LunaSea LLB-25nm-24-SY, side lights LLB-25NT-24-00). Interestingly, the red/green lights are actually red and green, not a white light going through a red/green lens. Quite bright and so far quite reliable. Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    Reply
  • Steve October 31, 2012, 5:18 pm

    Hi John,
    On our last boat we put the Lopo tricolor on top of our mast. Went bad on us in Tahiti and the U.S. distributor had us a new one in a week. That one I believe is still working with the new owners of the boat.
    After the Lopo failure I was talking with a Belgium Cruiser who claimed he had worked for a marine consumer product company and they had tested the Lopo Tricolor back when it first came out. What he said was that it was the actual HF of the SSB that would blow the Lopo light out in their tests. Not sure if that is true but that tri color like you said is very complex for an LED light. I never researched if tests had been done in Europe on the lopo tri color. Maybe some one here might know more.

    Reply
    • Steve November 1, 2012, 4:09 pm

      I did a bit of searching after my post on the Lopo light and SSB transmitting. Could not find anything on the Lopo light site about the SSB problem. Many posters on other websites claiming Lopo tricolor failure and many with no problems at all.
      One poster on the SSCA website who had a failure claimed that Lopo light had told him there was a problem with SSB transmitting high inductive voltage. He also said that as of 2010 Lopo claims to have corrected the problem with the filter they now supply.
      If all this is true I’m wondering if most of the failures were SSB related and those who say they never have had a problem with the tricolor do not have SSB.
      I really liked my Lopo light but now I’m considering one of the other tricolor systems on the new boat.

      Reply
  • Bjarne October 31, 2012, 7:40 pm

    We have a Lopolight masthead light on our boat and there was a (somewhat minor) issue with it when we got it. I e-mailed them twice with a picture of the issue and never got a reply. So I am not impressed.

    Now, after a couple of years, the light is not working any more. That may be due to my splicing of the wire or something else, I will find out when I take the mast off soon.

    Reply
  • John Rushworth November 1, 2012, 7:50 am

    I use this in UK http://www.mastproducts.com/bay15d.php and it is fine after 3 years. I like your post though AAC. I am a great fan of keep it simple. To the extent, I am in the process of going electric drive. See http://www.facebook.com/ElektraYachts

    Reply
  • John November 1, 2012, 9:43 am

    Hi All,

    Thanks for the first hand experiences with LED nav lights, both Lopolights and others, please keep it coming. This is the kind of information that really helps the voyaging community.

    Reply
  • Jim Patek November 1, 2012, 10:56 am

    I am with Alchemy on this one. Looked at Lopolight in NZ. The retrofit looked like too much effort. Waited a couple of years and installed an LED bulb replacement in the Aquasignal when they came out in Europe in 2009 (or so) and have had no problems. Maybe you should just put the Aquasignal back on while your mast is down and forget about it. Jim (S/V Let’s Go!).

    Reply
  • Doug Anderson November 1, 2012, 12:42 pm

    Spot on! I only replaced mine once. Then switched to MISEA lights and could not be happier!

    Reply
  • Alex November 1, 2012, 1:30 pm

    Recently Yachting Monthly tested navigationlights. The aqua signal S34 ( 24 V) was the best (the 12V version -S33 – was not tested).

    If you can not spend that amount money they advise the ASAP Bi-Colour LED Navigation Light (White Case / 12V).

    I also read many good things from long distance sailors about http://www.bebi-electronics.com/index.html their products and service. They agree with Bob.

    Reply
  • Dick Stevenson November 1, 2012, 2:08 pm

    Re Bebi LED lights. This is a few years old, but when I looked into Bebi products I loved the concept (see history) and those who had the lights spoke highly of them, but to use in a tricolor, you had to do some wiring which I would have to have done from a bosun’s chair. Can’t remember the details. May be different now. Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    Reply
  • Enno November 1, 2012, 3:27 pm

    Hi John
    I had to restore the entire electrical system on my old boat some years ago due to corrosion almost everywhere. That was about 2007. I installed a bicolor Lopolight at the bow and a Hella NaviLED pro engine running light and stern light. The Lopolight got a segment fail after some months. I got it replaced without problems and it worked until I sold that boat.
    My current boat got AquaSignal LED navigation lights at deck level and a tricolor in the mast. I never had problems with Hella or Aquasignal lights. I never noticed any VHF interference either but will test more thoroughly the next days.
    Maybe Lopolights is to blame rather than the entire technology witch is imho pretty well tested and used almost everywhere these days.
    I´m very much focused on saving electricity rather than producing it. In this context LED is the way to go for navigation lights i think.
    Btw.: I would be careful with LED bulbs in lanterns made for indecent bulbs. White LEDs do not produce a continuous spectrum as indecent bulbs do, so the apparent color might change. Colored LEDs might not mach the color of the filter causing a drop in intensity.
    I think there was something about that in the Yachting Monthly article Alex mentioned above.
    LED light bulbs used on boats must be voltage (or rather current) regulated. LEDs are sensitive to over current witch shortens live expectancy dramatically. Most dedicated LED navigation lights are rated up to 10-30V and can even be used in 24V systems. These are supposed to be virtually maintenance free (if working as advertised).

    Reply
  • George Woodward November 1, 2012, 5:05 pm

    I am using a masthead LED tri colour light by Hella Marine installed earlier this year. No problems so far but I have asked them to comment on your reservations. As I remember even more expensive than the Lopo (!) but designed to provide through wiring and a mounting a standard marine mounting on top. Planned for VHF aerial but perfect for a Maretron wind sensor which with no moving parts cuts out one reason anyway for going up the mast. Pre purchase advice was very good
    “The top of the mounting shaft of the NaviLED Trio has an M12 thread. The mounting shaft itself is hollow, so you would be able to run a cable through there without problems.”
    http://www.hellamarine.com/en/products/navigation-lamps/tri-colour/2-nm-naviled-trio-tri-colour-led-navigation-lamp.html

    Reply
  • Dominik Assig November 2, 2012, 1:29 am

    Dear John,

    My name is Dominik Assig and I work in the role of Sales Manager Europe here at the Hella marine HQ in Auckland, New Zealand. I have been in contact with Mr. George Woodward (who wrote the previous comment just above my one here) and he made me aware of this blog entry.

    It has been very interesting for me to read about your experience with the tri-light of one of our fellow manufacturers of LED navigation lighting.

    I am very interested in putting one of our Hella marine NaviLED Trio LED tri-colour lamps with integrated anchor light to the test on your boat. Since releasing this lamp in September 2009, we have sold over 2300 of these units. Warranty returns so far? Literally zero. Furthermore, we have never had any complaints with regards to electromagnetic compatibility.
    Please get in touch with me with your address and I will get one of these underway to you. Having read your voyage log, I am aware that you are not a ‘take the boat out for 3 hours on a sunny Saturday afternoon’ kind of yachtsman, so I am quite curious to find out how our unit will stack up.

    I am looking forward to hearing from you.

    Best Regards
    Dominik Assig

    Reply
  • Paul Mills November 2, 2012, 5:03 am

    Hi all

    I have LED replacement bulbs that fits into my standard tri light and another in the anchor light. They have worked seemlessly for the last 3 years, drawing virtually nothing. however, I have needed to replace 3 of the standard bulbs in my motoring lights – which I have retained because I think they are brighter – and the skinflint in me recognises I am not worried about consumption with the engine on….

    Down below I have LED’s everywhere. Recently I replaced a couple that had died after being bashed by overexuberant boy play down below. The latest generation ones are brighter and anicer light. So, Lopologht issues apart I am a real fan of LED’s.

    Paul

    Reply
  • Colin Speedie November 2, 2012, 8:06 am

    Hi All

    As John mentioned, we have used our Lopolight tricolour/anchor light at the masthead for five years now, and it’s never given us a problem. I suspect it might not be quite as bright as when new, but it’s very hard to tell. When sailing in open waters at night it’s the only light we use, but when in busy waters (port etc.) we go back to the bow and stern lights which are all incandescent. And as these are the lights we use when under power we couldn’t/can’t see much advantage for us in going to LED’s there – the alternator will be running, so the cost and complexity just don’t seem worth it.

    Whilst we’re enthusiasts for LED’s internally, there’s a slight concern over installing LED’s in ‘old’ incandescent housings, and that’s whether they are legally compliant after the change. Many LED outlets couldn’t promise us that when we asked, and for that reason alone that rules them out for us. In the event of a collision at night, that might well be a question that an insurer might ask…….

    Best wishes

    Colin

    Reply
  • Dick Stevenson November 2, 2012, 8:42 am

    Colin, I am not sure how much SSB work do you do and whether that might be a consideration? Dick

    Reply
    • Colin Speedie November 2, 2012, 8:51 am

      Hi Dick

      Interesting that you should ask, as I was talking to Steve (see above) about this last night, and as to whether this might be a contributory factor with premature failure of masthead LED lights.

      And the answer is that we don’t do any – we have no SSB. So maybe there’s something in this?

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
  • Giancarlo November 2, 2012, 1:29 pm

    Ciao,
    on our boat the most time consuming and frustrating are for sure all pc operations :downloading nav software,sycro with chart plotter,sql server,installing drivers etc…in the same amount of time i could have improved my now very bad sexstant technic to ”perfection,,
    And even more stupid(myself) is that afhter days spent with team wiuer, expensive international phone calls and everything is running i do not enjoy all the fancy options
    I must also be honest and say that when is time to do rigging-works i can spend days and days with out say one ”vaffanc,, totally enjoing upgrading and petting my boat

    I m also one of the many lopo serial replaced,i m now on my 3 complete set ,hope for the best with the new all pre -wired,no more need to play with the watch maker size washer and sreews on a boonsun chair and may be without top mast- steps ,like me
    Giancarlo

    Reply
  • Axel November 2, 2012, 6:40 pm

    I have a led tricolor/anchor light from Orca Green Marine. No complaints about the light, they remain strong after four years. But interference with vhf and ais transmission and reception is a serious problem.

    AIS reception is often reduced to a third of the range when tricolor is turned on. I still believe I see everything within at least ten miles, but it is a serious reduction of the effect. I don’t know what the effect is on the transmission of my own ais data, but expect it to be similar.

    For the vhf I don’t really know how much reduction there is in range. Often I will hear noise, turn off the tricolor (and turn on the deck level lights with ordinary bulbs), and be able to hear what the other boat is transmitting. Sometimes I can hear a coastal station, but still need to turn off the tricolor in order for them to hear me.

    I have tried reducing the interference with a ferrite placed over the wire, close to the light, but it has not helped. Likewise, moving the ais antenna to the aft pulpit (in stead of sharing the antenna at the masthead through a splitter) has not helped ais reception.

    I live with the problem for now by accepting reduced range, by using the deck lights when required, and sometimes by hourly switching to the deck lights for a minute to see what appears on the AIS. Not ideal, but I am very happy with the low energy consumption. My plan was to upgrade to a Lopolight at some point – I am very disappointed to hear the troubles reported about them here.

    Axel

    Reply
  • Enno November 3, 2012, 6:53 am

    I could not find any VHF interference from my Aquasignal Tricolor/Anchor light.
    I had no SSB on my previous boat and still got a segment failure on the bicolor Lopolight. So at least in my case I can rule this reason out.
    Btw. my tricolor uses 300mA and my deck level lights use 340mA. So the primary reason for a tricolor (one bulb rather than 3) is not really valid any more. Still good to have some redundancy though.

    Reply
  • Matt Marsh November 3, 2012, 9:53 am

    One word: Capacitors.

    That’s my guess. Without seeing the LED controller circuit board, it’s hard to say for sure. But I think it’s quite likely that there are a few electrolytic capacitors in the power supply circuitry. As they start to deteriorate, you get RF interference. When they finally rupture, the whole thing goes dead.

    I’ve seen it happen on many other devices, and I know several engineers who are now reluctant to specify small electrolytics at all- the global supply chain for them has been contaminated by low-quality junk that, in the absence of a mil-spec certificate, is indistinguishable from the properly built variety.

    There are several types of solid-state capacitor that, while a few cents more expensive, come from a more reliable supply chain and are now the preferred choice wherever possible.

    Reply
    • RobertB November 4, 2012, 10:14 am

      Hi Matt,

      Yea, probably some sort of caps issue; however, I wouldn’t rush to the crap supply chain bandwagon so quickly. Any decent manufacturer knows how to source parts to avoid this most of the time. Electrolytics are flaky by nature (hence usually the culprit in power issues), so there are many mechanisms of failure that seem more probable to me before blaming the part manufacturer. That said, I agree Polymer caps (assuming that’s what you meant by solid state) are preferable, if possible to use.

      My first guess would be heat and/or ripple killing the caps (as every engineer reading this says duh :) The inconsistent nature of the problem could point to crap parts. It could also point to grounding/shielding in boats, which is very inconsistent. This very important and very complicated subject doesn’t get much attention, other than simplified rules of thumb. It might be why Lopolight switched to shielded wire. Consider that a mast mounted VHF antenna has 40 or 50 ft of coax running parallel to wires that power a unit that is inherently susceptible to current problems (LEDs). Add that many manufacturers use inappropriate coax and then add all that other stuff run up the mast in parallel. Seems to me the nav light wires would be a noise magnet (pardon the pun :) Granted this is what the caps are supposed to take care of, but maybe it’s just too much. With all of the electronics “stuff” on boats and the myriad approaches to installation, I can’t imagine the pain of being a marine electronics designer….and I can’t imagine being able to predict and solve for all of the potential EMI issues.

      My point being I don’t think it is as simple as a poor choice of parts. But it’s just another point of view.

      Cheers,
      Robert

      Reply
  • RobertB November 4, 2012, 10:49 am

    I think I would argue John’s case not so much on the grounds of the gear (nav light in this case) itself being the time suck complexity, but that the integration of any piece of technology into a “particular” boat may have unpredictable consequences. This is regardless of the individual complexity of the new (to your boat) item. This article could also have been written about a well proven piece of technology that didn’t happily coexist with the existing systems configuration once it was installed.

    Which reinforces rule #3 from the 40 rules list – Don’t install anything new for 12 months before a long voyage.

    Robert

    Reply
  • Erik Snel November 4, 2012, 6:11 pm

    Interesting read! I have used the Nasa Supernova 3-color for 4 years and I have experienced no problems at all.

    Kind regards,

    Erik

    Reply
  • Neil McCubbin November 5, 2012, 10:33 pm

    We put LED bulbs in our old aquasignal tri-light about 5years ago.
    Bought from svhotwire.com
    No problems seen. Still working

    BTW the old incandescent anchor light cost us 10 minutes engine running time per day, when in Bahamas winter.
    The led costs well under a minute

    Reply
  • Pierre Lang November 8, 2012, 8:04 pm

    Hi,

    I bought 3 Lopolight in 2006 (red, green, white). Each year (2009, 2010, 2011) one of those failed. Lopolight replaced them for free. Each time the next version was a bit better designed and an additional external regulator was shipped for free. So we can say that the Lopolight support and warranty is perfect.

    But this situation is not normal for a 50.000 hours products life !
    In case of failure, the unit cannot be repaired.

    In the past (2003), I developed commercial LED bulbs for replacing the incandescent bulbs into old navigation lights. The project was canceled for some unrelated reasons. However, it was the go way to solve the problem, because in case of failure of a bulb, it was easy to replace it by any bulb, using LEDs or not.

    If I should rewrite the story, I would buy an old fashion light based on a BAY15 sockets and replace the old bulb with a LEDs bulb. So I could be free to easily replace any failing bulb or switch to a better LED bulb if the technology makes it better.

    Pierre

    Reply
    • Bob Tetrault November 16, 2012, 8:36 pm

      John, I have to admit up front I haven’t read all 32 posts on this subject but want to comment so that others do not assume only a few of these go bad. I too, bought the most expensive light fixture of my career when I overhauled my main mast. They had just come out, had good reviews and the mast was on the ground. The first one failed within a month, filling with moisture through the tiny wire run. Like you , the US distributor provided a replacement that looked modified so we changed it out. A couple years later we noticed some flickering and went through the drill again. Then last summer we had the RF noise that renders the VHF useless as you describe. Now the noise is gone but so isn’t the white sector. I was ready to throw in the towel and write off the experience when you commented. Do you see evidence that modifications have been made on the latest version or are we setting up yet another disappointment ?

      Reply
      • John November 17, 2012, 9:40 am

        Hi Bob,

        Interesting that you have had almost exactly the same experience. Right now the situation is that we have an 18 month old Lopolight (our third) that is working, but with so much RF that it is unusable.

        Back in the spring Lopolight in Denmark promised me a new light, that would be modified to fix this issue, when we hauled this fall, as I was sick of bosun chair replacements. I wrote to them a month ago asking that the replacement be sent, but expressing no urgency, since we would not need it until spring. To date, they have not answered–disturbing.

        Reply
  • John November 17, 2012, 9:48 am

    Hi All,

    Thanks for all the great comments.

    One thing that seems to stand out is that Lopolight have been experencing a far higher failure rate than I was led to believe. This is disturbing and casts a long shadow on my paragraph titled “It’s Not LopoLight’s Fault”. I will write to them and ask for their side of the story, but for now, I can’t recommend thier lights.

    Reply
  • Jan Moeller November 17, 2012, 12:20 pm

    Dear All,

    I am the managing director and one of the founders of Lopolight – so that you are warned to my bias.

    Working navigation lights are essential to our safety at sea, and defective navigation lights are not only disturbing to the crew and passengers – it is really dangerous.

    It is permeating from this thread that we have had issues with defective lights, true.
    We are, and have been, dealing with this, both on a individual level and on a design and manufacturing level.

    The facts we are finding is that Lopolight products manufactured until the summer of 2010 had a higher than acceptable failure rate. We are replacing these lights under our 5 year warranty – and as mentioned above – this process is uncomplicated and quick.

    All Lopolight products produced from august 2010 and onwards have a virtually zero failure rate apart from the recent VHF problems witnessed by a select few customers.

    In reality we have had 7 lights show up with this issue over the last 2 years. Despite having some of these working lights returned to us, we have not been able to replicate the issue. We are still working on this.
    Therefore the owner of this thread have not had an answer.
    Actually we now have a VHF receiver mounted on the production line, every Lopolight is screened for noise several hours while testing, none have been found in the 6 months this has been operating.

    What remains (remember that i am biased) is that we have solved our product quality issues and dealt successfully with (most of) the customers that were seeing defect lights.
    We have test results, both from accredited test labs and absolutely unaccredited boating magazines – that places Lopolight as silent and safe to place close to antennas.
    We are building more than 10.000 lights per year, and I am proud to say, to owners that are happy with what they receive.

    We remain committed to improving safety at sea, we do nothing else but navigation lights – so our livelihood is completely dependent on us delivering a solid product to you.

    If any of the readers of this should have a defective Lopolight to claim as warranty please go to http://www.lopolight.com/service

    I welcome your comments.

    Best regards,
    Jan Moeller
    (a sailor for 40 years with 100.000+ nm sailed including a circumnavigation singlehanded non-stop)

    Reply
    • John November 17, 2012, 3:06 pm

      Hi Jan,

      On the whole a very good and fair response, I think. As I said in the post, this is complex technology, and there will be problems no matter how hard the manufacturers work to correct them.

      One suggestion. In all my dealings with Euro Marine Trading I was led to believe that our problems, going right back to 2007, were very unusual. From your comment, and others on this post, apparently this was not in fact the case. We voyagers have become so used to being told that we are “the only one to have the problem” by manufacturers that it is becoming something of a bad joke. It would be much better for you and EMT to have been up front about the fail rate and asked us to work with you to solve it.

      Having said all that, I will now remove the update I added to the post this morning retracting our recommendation on Lopolight.

      Reply
    • John November 17, 2012, 3:19 pm

      Hi Jan,

      The key thing to understand about the VHF noise failure modality is that, as Bob T points out, the light starts out RF silent. It is only over time that it becomes noisy. So, no amount of testing on the assembly line is going to find this problem. Some how, over time, the circuitry in your light, in some rare cases, degrades or gets damaged, in such a way that the light becomes RF noisy.

      It seems to me that you need to have us return the lights from the field so you can analyze them at the factory.

      Also, there is no point in us checking our VHF radio circuitry, as you suggested in your email to me directly. This is an open and shut issue. Like in Bob T’s case, turn on the light, loud static, turn off the light, no static, there is no ambiguity. Our friend in England has the same experience.

      It does seem amazing that of the “seven” owners with this fail mode three of us know each other personally. Frankly, I think that the fail rate of this noise modality is in fact much higher than you conclude. Perhaps many so affected users have simply given up and gone on to another light.

      Reply
  • Bob Tetrault November 17, 2012, 1:02 pm

    Now that I know there have been modifications I will once again install a replacement if another can be sourced under warranty. I recently wrote to Euromarine Trading asking if there had been modifications if not than I was done with the brand. The changing out of bulbs/fixtures and the surprise failings are exactly what we voyagers are trying to avoid when purchasing these light fixtures. To Jan, to help with your researching the noise issue. My RF interference only showed in the present fixture and only just prior to a sector failure. Of course I didn’t know it was about to fail so stopped using the tricolor months ago. The interference manifests itself by triggering the squelch and any modulation has to be pulled out of the noise. Cutting power to the light immediately restores normal reception. Seems a humid or foggy day/night brings it on. Hope this helps. I agree the replacement policy is stellar, the dependability and mast top splicing are the issue for me.

    Reply
  • John November 17, 2012, 3:39 pm

    Hi All,

    In light of the above comment from Jan at Lopolight, we will follow Bob T’s example and give it one more try. This time, we will install the new light with two filters–the last time they only sent us one two wire filter, leaving one wire unprotected. We queried, but did not get an answer–and also change out the cable in the mast for screened (a new requirement in the manual).

    I think that what we can all learn from this is that this stuff is much more complex than it appears at first blush and if we are going to mess with it, particularly in the first five years, be prepared for challenges.

    Reply
  • Sverre November 18, 2012, 6:05 am

    Radio interference from LEDs is a general problem explained better than what I can in this article:
    http://www.emcrules.com/2011/07/radio-interference-from-led-lighting.html

    The Royal Yachting Association has involved itself in this and other issues to do with LED navlights and have published these two articles on the subject:
    http://www.rya.org.uk/newsevents/news/Pages/NavigationLightsCanttheybethewrongcolour.aspx

    http://www.rya.org.uk/newsevents/news/Pages/LEDnavigationlights-brightnessanddisturbance.aspx

    What transpires is that there are problems with LED navlights and as of now lack of standards both for testing and performance, which leaves me as a potential buyer in the dark about whether the product will work satisfactorily and whether it will comply with future regulations. But the energy savings offered by LEDs makes them very attractive and I hope the industry will do its bit to speed up the regulatory work so that we get internationally agreed standards in place asap.

    Reply
    • John November 19, 2012, 8:26 am

      Hi Sverre,

      Thanks very much for the great links, although the second does not seem to work.

      I found the RYA paper (third link) particularly interesting. Their point that just because a light is certified to pass colregs requirements, it does not mean that it will do so in less than optimal conditions, is particularly disturbing.

      Reply
  • Sverre November 19, 2012, 10:01 am

    Apologies for the second link not working. Hope this one will:
    http://www.rya.org.uk/newsevents/news/Pages/NavigationLightsCantheybethewrongcolour.aspx

    This article deals with the possibilities of led bulbs behind conventional navlight lenses showing wrong colors and/or exceeding their sectors.

    It seems to me that private enterprise has developed led navlights faster than what regulators have been able to keep up with. Now the RYA has gotten an undertaking from the ISO that a proper standard will be in place by mid 2015 which, I hope, will be just in time for the A40…

    Reply
  • Scott Carle November 29, 2012, 11:56 am

    I have converted both my last two boats to all led lights both inside and outside navigational and had no issues with RF interference. I keep looking at the tough as nails purpose built led nav lights but haven’t been willing to spend that much money on them. I always just buy a replacement bulb for the existing fixtures. So far I have only had replace one in about 6 years of usage on both boats and that was an interior bulb. 14 to about 20 dollars per bulb depending. I can run 12 interior 120 + lumen lights down below and all the running lights and use less than 2 amps of current.

    I have the feeling I’m out on the lucky side of the bell curve to have had that little problems with my setup.

    Other than my bow running light bulb that I purchased from west marine for 25 dollars or so all my bulbs have been sourced through superbrightleds.com. They sell some nice bulbs with adapter bases that allow you to adapt to many different existing fixtures. Pretty standard stuff though nothing proprietary to them that I’m aware of. The only one to have died on me was one in the galley. I’m pretty sure it was a component failure on the ICB due to a faulty component. Other than that one we have been running the other 8 interior leds for almost 4 years with zero issues.

    This is a write up of the first LED’s I installed years ago on my Beneteau F235. They were cheap waterproof fixtures and of the hard white light variety that was a bit annoying.
    http://www.scottcarle.com/wordpress/?page_id=466

    Changing the bulbs out on the mast head for the same boat many years ago.
    http://www.scottcarle.com/wordpress/?page_id=462
    Overview of bulbs and where I got them over the years posted on the Downeaster Yachts website.
    http://downeasteryachts.com/forums/cruising-corner/led-lights/

    I Thought I had a better write up of replacing the lights in my current boat but just the brief blurb was found :)
    scott

    Reply
  • RC Collins March 21, 2013, 12:04 am

    John,

    Tanks for the reminder. I had my Lopo die on me last summer. It’s in the barn somehwere and was quite expensive so I really DO need to send it back and get a replacement. In the interim, after it failed, I swapped it out for an AquaSignal LED (couldn’t wait) and it has been working fine. Again thanks for the reminder and I will send mine back…

    Reply
  • Andre Langevin July 24, 2013, 5:39 am

    Two of my lopolight has died during the travel of this summer cruise, the stern and the starboard. By chance the company is top for replacement and they didn’t even ask an invoice (just a picture showing the serial number). I guess their internal statistics says it all….. they might have a 5 or 10 % failure rate over 5 years. But the lights are great, they are highly visible – you can’t look at them close even on a bright day. Praise to Lopolights for being honest and providing this great service.

    Reply
    • Dennis olsson August 10, 2014, 6:00 am

      My new Dehler 39 was equipped with Lopligt and all of them was broken after five years. Bad luck they said when I called them in Denmark. You can buy new ones for half price they said. That will cost me 700 euro I said. Take it or leave it they said. In your advertisement you say that Loplight will run for 50000 hours. Mine had only runned for 50 hours. My boat is stored inside every winter and I only sail four weeks every year . And Loplights answer is “Take it or leave it”, that is my experience of Loplight.
      /Dennis

      Reply
      • Jan Moeller August 11, 2014, 4:46 am

        Dennis,
        I have been reviewing our communications with you.
        I can confirm the facts you present.
        You will probably agree with me that in 5 years a lot can happen on a boat that potentially can harm electronic equipment.
        We agree with you that the Lopolights should last longer than they did for you, this is the reason why we offer a replacement light at 50% discount.
        We do take this very seriously and do all we can to service all our customers quickly and cordially. I am sorry that you did not felt our service to be satisfactory.
        Best regards,
        Jan, Lopolight

        Reply
        • John August 11, 2014, 10:45 am

          Hi Jan,

          I’m sorry, but I disagree with your position on this. Given that you claim a life of 50,000 hrs for the light, five years in not nearly good enough (unless it was burning 24×7). Denis says 50 hours total. That combined with the known and frequent problems you have been having with the lights demands free replacement in my opinion.

          Reply
  • Ed Kelly April 23, 2014, 1:38 pm

    John, We found this topic on your Lopolight experiences doing a boolean search (due diligence for these high priced investments). We are having to get a RED Nav light to replace a prior OGM that served us well since 2009, but gave up coming down the Channel. Moisture somehow leaches in thru the wiring I suspect. I was thinking of LOPOLIGHT for the Red Port light for our next 8 months in the Atlantic and a crossing at the end of the year. HAVE YOU HAD ANY OTHER EXPERIENCE WITH LOPOLIGHT SINCE YOUR LAST POST IN THE END OF 2012? Thanks. Ed

    Reply
    • John April 24, 2014, 10:44 am

      Hi Ed,

      No, no more experience as yet since our boat has been out of commission since late 2012.

      Lopolight have sent us yet another replacement light. This one has the surge suppressors pre-wired and also comes with enough screened cable to cover the distance from the top of the mast to the switch panel. Lopolight swear blind that this, and some changes they have made to the basic design, will solve the problem once and for all.

      We will report once we have used to for a while over the coming summer.

      Reply
  • Alex August 10, 2014, 8:11 am

    I’m convinced that certainly the old Lopolight were not reliable, certainly when you consider the price. I changed to Aqua Signal AS34. It was the best in a test from Yachting Monthly several years ago, which included also the Lopolight.

    The different color separations are very good, good visibility and no interference. Where de AS40 was a reference for traditional bulbs, the AS34 is that also for LED lights in my opinion.

    Reply
    • John August 11, 2014, 10:40 am

      Hi Alex,

      Thanks for the real world experience Alex. As you say, Aqua Signal was always the standard in incandescent lights. We are giving the Lopo one more chance (our 4th light) based on the assurance from Jan that the problems are fixed. If this one dies, we will switch to Aqua Signal.

      Reply
  • Marc Dacey August 11, 2014, 1:19 pm

    I’ve got Aquasignal 40s on the pilothouse, and I’ve salvaged and rehabbed an Aquasignal 40 tri-light for the mast top…but I put an Imtra LED light in it. I have no doubt, having bench tested it, that we’ll be seen at 2 NM or greater. As we are 39′ 11″ on deck, I didn’t need to have the 12 metre or better 25w lights, but if you’re going to have lights, why would you have dim lights?

    Reply
    • John August 11, 2014, 5:32 pm

      Hi Marc,

      You should be aware that there is, I think, quite a bit of doubt about the efficacy of installing retrofit LED white lights in enclosures designed for incandescent bulbs.

      While I’m no expert on the subject, I think I’m right in saying that those that are warn against this practice and advocate that the only LED navigation lights to use are those specifically designed for the purpose with appropriately coloured arrays of LEDs.

      Bottom line, this might not be a good place to cut corners and “rehab”.

      Reply
      • Marc Dacey August 12, 2014, 2:02 pm

        I have heard that, John, and it’s taken under advisement, as I am no expert, either. But it’s been fun to rehab a decent light and maybe it can go on a stick on the stern, instead for emergency use….Of nearly equal importance (to me, and only because I have bright pilothouse nav lights) is the issue of RF interference from replacement LEDs or indeed any LEDs in mast-top nav lights (anchor, tri and the illegal, if handy, strobe). My impression is that one’s VHF/AIS can be significantly degraded if the antenna is too close to an “RF-leaky” LED, and this has to be a consideration for us, as it’s very likely we would be “seen” via AIS transceiver quite a bit before even RADAR and certainly before eyeball might notice us offshore.

        Reply
      • Laurent August 13, 2014, 7:50 am

        I think that rehabilitating bulb-type nav lights with leds can create 3 types of prolems.
        1- short life-time due to insuficient protection of “led bulbs” enclosed electronics from marine environment.
        2- incorrect colors or light intensity in the filtered color (red or green…) due to differences between bulbs and white leds color spectrums
        3- radio interferences.

        I understand that :
        - for point-1 : if it seems good (if it last “some” time..) it is good (basic “led bulbs” integrated electronics are well enclosed, plus I have some doubt about electronics’ marine protection in “specialised” nav lights).
        - for point 2: if it looks good, it is good (for some combination of tinted glass and “led bulbs”, colors might be inadequate or intensity level might be insuficient, so it is worth trying with one “led bulb” before buying the whole set, but this kind of problem is easy to notice just trying the leds with your red and green nav lights glasses…)
        - for point 3: I don’t think that this problem is more acute with nav lights than when using basic “led bulbs” in the accomodation lights. Might be so at mast head if leds are within centimeters of antenna. I am not certain that most led-dedicated nav-lights are much better than basic “led bulbs” in that case.

        Reply
        • John August 14, 2014, 9:34 am

          Hi Laurent,

          I believe the other problem is poor cut off between the segments due to the configuration of LED bulbs. The Aqua Signal incandescent bulbs have a special long vertical filament.

          I’m also not at all sure that a simple “look and see” test is appropriate in this case when dealing with a piece of safety equipment that also has legal ramifications in event of a collision. Or to put it another way, I would not want to be in a court of inquiry explaining that I had “rehabbed” a navigation light with a bulb other than the one the light was certified with.

          Reply
          • Marc Dacey August 14, 2014, 2:15 pm

            Wow…a tough crowd. OK, if the retrofit is stored for merely emergency/spare purposes, and I don’t want a Lopolight, have any esteemed readers evaluated this model? http://www.lunasealighting.com/products/detail/ultra-light-led-navigation-light-fixture/led-navigation-fixtures-and-bulbs

            I have an opportunity to acquire one at a chandlery closeout at a reasonable price, but it’s not a “big” brand.

          • John August 14, 2014, 6:50 pm

            Hi Marc,

            Yup, we are a tough crowd, but it is a safety item with legal issues too.

            If it were me, I would bite the bullet and do it right with the Aqua Signal LED light, which seems to get good reviews. I just don’t think this is a good place to be messing with rehabs or closeouts.

            Originally I would have said Lopo, but after the last five years of frustration, not so much. Hopefully our latest Lopo fixes the issues that inspired this post and I will be able to recommend Lopo once again.

  • Dick Stevenson August 15, 2014, 3:26 am

    Marc,
    I have had good luck with the LunaSea LLB-25NT-24-00 in my Aqua Signal tri color for years now. Good intensity, good color, no problems. It is a shame that legal anxieties dictate decisions, but I agree with John so if I were buying new, I would get the street legal tri.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    Reply
    • Laurent August 15, 2014, 7:48 am

      In my opinion, we don’t need “street legal” sailing boats unless we want to sail them on public road system (kind of amphibian…).
      More seriously, although nav-lights must meet some criteria of intensity and visibility, as far as I know there is no certification requirement today for nav-lights of french-registered small sailing yachts. For instance, you may install US products without restriction while US certifications are nearly never considered legal in France and while most US product manufacturers are just not interessed by french certifications and don’t have them.
      I’m not a specialist of latest french government regulatory diarheas and I might be wrong on this point, so I am interessed in knowing how bad the situation is today on this particular point in Europe & North America….

      Reply
      • John August 15, 2014, 5:49 pm

        Hi Laurent,

        An interesting point on being “street legal” and an interesting debate with a lot of different ways to look at the issues. Normally I don’t like to get too fixated on regulations for recreational yachts. But in this case, as I understand it, we are dealing with the COLREGS which do have, I think, force of law in most countries. Also, there is a civil liability and insurance issue here.

        What I’m driving at is that in the event of a collision there are going to be a lot of different parties all trying to fix and escape blame and the associated financial and legal liability. My thinking is that having modified a certified device like a navigation light–no matter who the certifying authority was–is going to put one in a vulnerable position when the finger pointing starts, as it inevitably will. I can also see an insurance company refusing a claim on such a “technicality”

        Reply
        • Laurent August 15, 2014, 6:49 pm

          I understand that french courts don’t make that subtle difference between non-certified equipment, equipment certified by a body that is not accepted by french courts (all or most US certification bodies..) and equipment certified by a body not accepted by french courts and later altered without re-certifification by same body. For them equiment must be certified or not, and certified equipment must be certified by a french goverment accepted certification body, which excludes most US equipment available in France.
          So, I undestand that US-certified equipment can be a real problem on french registered boats, wherever french regulations ask for certified equipment, and, I understand that altered, not recertified formerly US-certified equipment should not be treated differently by french courts than never-certified equipment, or than equipment certified in China or elsewhere.

          I understand that US courts might not share this kind of logics, and that those point can be very tricky and expensive in case of errors, but I understand that all our liberties are pretty much reduced thoses days, the large ones as well as the small ones, and it looks like we might still have the small liberty of using old revamped nav-lights instead of the expensive ones sold by guys who happen to please some government employees….

          But the real question is: do COLREGS rules demand certified nav-lights for small sailing yachts, in US and in Europe (we are not speaking of commercial ships…), and by which certification body, or bodies. If they do, it seems obvious to me that US-certification is most probably not considered as valid in France, and I sincerely doubt that Lopolights have got french-accepted certification, which might become a very big problem for french users of this kind of equipment. It might be a very nioe idea if this site could dig a bit further into this complex issues….

          Reply
          • Jan - Lopolight August 16, 2014, 3:56 am

            Laurent,
            Certification is indeed a tricky point. Without wanting to add much to this discussion I can inform you that Lopolight has the European ‘Wheelmark’ certification (issued by MCA by Lloyds Register) which is the only certification that is valid in european countries in these EU times, so France is covered.
            Whichever brand you end up choosing, please make sure that it has proper national and international approval – and please do not alter them after purchase as this will remove any approval.

          • Laurent August 16, 2014, 8:10 am

            Jan
            I just googled the web about nav-lights certifications with classic bulbs or leds.
            According to info on sites like STW or hisse-et-ho, I understand that nav-lights of french (or europeans ?…) boats are supposed to comply to specification EN14744 about range of visibility and to specification EN60945 about electronic noise.
            I understand that this compliance doesn’t need to be demonstrated by seller before sale (no certification required…), but boat owner must be able to prove this compliance when required, for instance by a court. This compliance can be proved by any certified independent laboratory.

            It looks like many french sailboat owners have refitted older nav-lights with leds without much concern for that, and I have not seen any comment about administrative or legal trouble they might have got because of that.

            But, for those who want bellt and braces, it looks like one french distributor of “led-bulbs” (“Marineled”) looks very concerned by this kind of compliance problem and was involved in compliance tests of his led-bulbs with “Voile et Voilier” news-mag and the French Navy, and succeeded in proving the compliance of its leds in some (most?..) classic incandescent-bulbs nav-lights older enclosures.

            His prices seem reasonable (about € 12 for shuttle type led-bulbs…) and it looks like he is quite willing to send copies of whatever compliance-proving documents might interess his customers
            So, I understand that french sail-yachts owner can install any led-bulb in any nav-light and test if colour, intensity and marine-environment protection are OK, and then stay informed about the harsness of french courts and administration on this kind of issues (seems to be quite low those days….), or buy “Marineled” led-bulbs sets with complete certification documents, which should not be much more expensive than “no-brand” sets.

            I guess that situation is probably not very different in the US

          • John August 17, 2014, 8:12 am

            Hi Laurent

            Thanks for doing that research. Sounds to me like a voyager that retrofitted with the Marineled bulbs would be covered, and would be considered, in the event of an accident, to have been duly diligent.

            The other conclusion I would draw is that since Marineled and the other parties to the testing went to all that trouble, there is indeed a potential issue with at least liability involved in retrofitting with a bulb that has not been so tested.

            Thanks again for putting in the time to find that useful information

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