Identifying Quality LED Lights for Kayaks

If you plan on putting strips outside of the kayak to illuminate the water and add visibility you will want higher end quality. Photo Chris Payne.
If you plan on putting strips outside of the kayak to illuminate the water and add visibility you will want higher end quality. Photo Chris Payne.

By Chris Payne

Installing LED light strips on kayaks is a growing trend. Some people add them because they look cool while others seek advantages such as bait attraction and added safety through greater visibility on the water. As LED light strips have become sought after, options have flooded the marketplace.

All LEDs aren’t the same. Let me break down some specifics.

Most of the LED light strips that are sold to fishermen and even kayak fishermen are either a type 3528 or 5050. These numbers derive from the size of the chip used to run the lights. 3528 lights have a chip that is 3.5mm X 2.8mm. A 5050 is 5.0mm X 5.0mm.

As you have probably guessed by now, a 5050 is brighter in almost all scenarios when compared to a 3528. A big part of this is because the 5050 has three LED chips in one housing as compared to the one chip per housing of the 3528.
Because of the size of the chip in a 5050, the number of LEDs per foot could be less than a 3528 but rarely is. Most companies sell 20-inch strips that have 30 LEDs regardless of the chip.

LED lights typically go one of two places, inside the boat or outside the boat.
If you plan on putting strips on the outside of the kayak to illuminate the water and add visibility you will want higher quality.

How do you differentiate between a quality LED strip and a less than desirable knockoff?

The first sign of quality is the chip type. Good lights will use 5050 chips. Next you’ll want to make sure those chips are protected. Can you touch the actual chip? If you can, pass on it. You need protection. A clear silicone filled jacket is a sure sign of added durability from limbs, rocks and docks.

Another thing to consider is the wire that is attached to the LED strips and the extra wire that may come with it. Is it marine grade? Are the connections heat shrink sealed? Is it tiny little 28 gauge wire? 22? 16? Remember the lower the number the thicker and usually more durable it is. A marine grade 20 gauge wire will outperform a non-marine grade 20 gauge wire in water applications. It may outlast a non-marine 18 or 16 too. If you plan to fish in saltwater, this is even more important.

A signal for quality that is often missed is the finish on the strip. There should be wires connected to the strip with a nice solder and some heat shrink to protect the connection. The silicone filled jacket should not have a bunch of bubbles in it. Also check the adhesive on the back. If it’s not at least 3M automotive adhesive strip, you should look at another option.

The biggest deterrent from purchasing quality is price. Lots of guys buy the cheap knockoffs off the internet every year trying to save a buck. They look great in the garage but after six months on the water, the cheap alternatives rarely work out. Plan to spend $100 and up on four quality strips. Leave the stuff in the automotive aisle for the land lubbers. Watercraft such as kayaks that get up close and personal with hazards, need durable, quality equipment.
Install quality and you’ll only have to install once.