The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Lopolight—Beware The Time Suck Of Complexity


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.


  • 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.


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.

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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 ( 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.

Travis C.

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.

Andre Langevin

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 🙁

Colin Farrar

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.

Dick Stevenson

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


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.


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.


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.

Jim Patek

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!).

Doug Anderson

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


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 their products and service. They agree with Bob.

Dick Stevenson

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


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).

George Woodward

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.”

Dominik Assig

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

Paul Mills

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.


Colin Speedie

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


Dick Stevenson

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

Colin Speedie

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



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


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.



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.

Matt Marsh

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.


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.



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.


Erik Snel

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

Kind regards,


Neil McCubbin

We put LED bulbs in our old aquasignal tri-light about 5years ago.
Bought from
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

Pierre Lang


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.


Bob Tetrault

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 ?

Jan Moeller

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.

I welcome your comments.

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

Bob Tetrault

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.