Deck Forces of U.S. Coast Guard Buoy Tenders Save Time by Deploying LED Lights

By Bob Trapani, Jr.

LED Lights
Photo courtesy of Carmanah Technologies

LED lights like these manufactured
by Carmanah Technologies in British
Columbia, Canada, are the next
generation of beacons for lighted
aids to navigation

Light emitting diode (LED) beacons are the new “rising stars” in the aids to navigation (ATON) world where the search for a more efficient, cost effective light never ends. Though still in somewhat of an experimental phase, the United States Coast Guard is deploying an ever-increasing number of LEDs in the field as technological alternatives to traditional incandescent lighted ATON.

LED technology has been around now for decades, however it has only been in the last six years or so that this state-of-the-art advancement has achieved sufficient enough intensity to be deemed effective as a guiding light along America’s waterways.

During this time the Coast Guard has experimented with a variety of LEDs manufactured by companies such as Vega Industries of New Zealand, Carmanah Technologies of British Columbia, Sabik Oy of Finland and BWT Lighting of Delaware, in an effort to obtain the finest available LED technology to safeguard the mariner and recreational boater alike.

Carmanah Technologies produced the first self-contained LED beacon for Coast Guard ATON, which the USCG has widely experimented with on buoys and light towers throughout the country over the last couple of years. Carmanah’s innovative LED beacon allows for the optic’s light, batteries and solar panels to be housed in one fascinating self-contained unit that requires nearly no maintenance by servicing personnel.

USCG personnel installs LED
USCG Photo

New self-contained LED lights like this
Carmanah beacon make for a much
more efficient installation for Coast Guard
deck force crews on board buoy tenders

What do the deck forces working aboard U.S. Coast Guard buoy tenders think of this revolutionary aids to navigation advancement? In a nutshell, LED beacons are time and cost savers all the way around – from servicing the optic underway to all but eliminating the need to contend with an array of external components that traditional incandescent operating systems required.

Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Paul Dilger, commanding officer of the Coast Guard 175-foot “Keeper Class” coastal buoy tender ABBIE BURGESS, whose home port is Rockland, Maine, touches on the advantages of the LED over an incandescent optic like the 155-mm lanterns that have been utilized in recent decades on ATON such as lighted buoys.

CWO4 Paul Dilger
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

CWO4 Paul Dilger,
commanding officer of the

“As far as servicing the LED in the field, there is not too much to do besides ensuring the solar panels are clean and programming the beacon’s proper characteristics with a TV-like remote,” says CWO4 Dilger. “The remote device tells us the LED’s battery percentage and completes a self-diagnosis of the optic for us.”

CWO4 Dilger goes on to say, “All this takes a matter of a minute or two versus the 10 minutes-plus that was required to service the incandescent 155mm lanterns, not to mention all of the other work required to maintain the old systems. To replace a failed LED while on station serving a lighted buoy, personnel simply unbolt the once-piece assembly and bolt a new one back on -- then make sure it is programmed properly, and off we go.”

Presently the ABBIE BURGESS, which operates from the waters off Boothbay Harbor along the mid-coast of Maine up to the Canadian border, deploys LED optics like the Carmanah on 5’x11’ and 8’x26’ buoys, as well as the rugged ice hulls that serve in some of Maine’s most exposed waterways during the harsh winter months.

As much as LED technology will save the Coast Guard money, it will also enhance safety for buoy tender deck force crews and save precious storage space aboard ship. LEDs even aid in the ever-conscious effort to become more environmentally friendly by eliminating the need for external lead-acid batteries that store the solar energy for optics like the incandescent 155mm lantern.

USCG Photo

The 175-foot Keeper Class coastal buoy
tender ABBIE BURGESS (WLM-553),
homeported in Rockland, Maine

“If / when we have all of our lighted buoys changed over to LED technology, life for the deck force will indeed be better,” notes CWO4 Dilger.

CWO4 Dilger goes on to say, “We will also not need to maintain a supply of battery racks and battery boxes. In addition, we can eliminate the external incandescent solar panels and the solar panel stands. As far as servicing the new LED lights, as I mentioned before, zap with the “ray gun” (remote control device) and read the results. It should reduce the servicing time of a lighted buoy by 20 to 30 minutes.”

A 155mm lantern and LED beacon
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

155mm incandescent lanterns
(right) are slowly being
supplanted by new LED
lights like this Series 702-5
self-contained Carmanah
Technologies' beacon

The LED industry as a whole is working very hard to overcome the one obstacle preventing this technology from completely sweeping its counterpart, the incandescent lighting system, into the pages of ATON history – that being the issue of brilliance. Currently, the effective range of LED lighting is approximately 3 to 6 nautical miles.

“The jury may still be out as the Coast Guard continues to conduct visibility testing of the various LED lights,” says CWO4 Dilger. “Some are brighter than others, with Carmanah Technologies working to improve upon the intensity of some of their LED lights. I think the general consensus though is that LEDs are here to stay. The maritime community likes the higher intensity light, especially as the background lighting along the coast continues to get brighter.”

The incredible reliability, overall cost effectiveness and its near maintenance-free operation has ushered the LED beacon onto the prime time stage along America’s waterways. When in the not-too-distant future scientific technology creates a light emitting diode that can shine with equal or greater brilliance to the present incandescent technology, then there will be no question that these fascinating new beacons will be universally embraced with fervor. As technological advances in the 21st century go – don’t blink, because the LEDs day as kings of lighted ATON is fast approaching!


Vega LED Optic
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

beacon manufactured
by Vega Industries
of New Zealand

USCG Photo by
Petty Officer Mike Hvozda

This ice hull LED
is manufactured by
SABIK Oy of Finland

BWT LED Beacon
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A BWT 104 beacon
by BWT Lighting
of Newark, Delaware


USCG personnel installs an LED beacon
USCG Photo by PA3 Annie R. Berlin

Chief Kat McSweeney prepares
to install a Carmanah LED on a
buoy during an evolution on board
the cutter JUNIPER

Carmanah LED beacon
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A Series 601 LED beacon manufactured
by Carmanah Technologies,
British Columbia

To learn more about LED beacons...

Created: March 2007