As boaters, we all know that as the sun goes down, the importance of safety rises. When boating in the dark, navigational lights and other lighting features become vital. However, these lights can sometimes bring extra side-effects that all boaters should be aware of.
Our friends at the United States Coast Guard recently put out an alert about how certain LED lighting fixtures can sometimes interfere with VHF radio and AIS reception, putting boaters in unnecessary risk as they head out at night.
While strong radio interference may not be immediately noticeable, it’s imperative that all boaters ensure their lights are not causing interference. To do so, follow these Coast Guard-approved steps:
- Turn off LED light(s).
- Tune the VHF radio to a quiet channel (e.g. Ch. 13).
- Adjust the VHF radio’s squelch control until the radio outputs audio noise.
- Re-adjust the VHF radio’s squelch control until the audio noise is quiet, only slightly above the noise threshold.
- Turn on the LED light(s).
- If the radio now outputs audio noise, then the LED lights have raised the noise floor. (Noise floor is generally the amount of interfering signals / static received beyond the specific signal or channel being monitored.)
If the noise floor is found to have been raised, then it is likely that both shipboard VHF marine radio and AIS reception are being degraded by LED lighting.
In order to determine the full impact of this interference, the Coast Guard requests those experiencing this problem to report their experiences to Coast Guard Navigation Center. Select “Maritime Telecommunications” on the subject drop down list, then briefly describe the make and model of LED lighting and radios effected, distance from lighting to antennas and radios effected, and any other information that may help understand the scope of the problem.
As boaters, it is our responsibility to ensure the safety of ourselves, our passengers and other boaters at all times. With that in mind, remember to be extra careful when selecting and using LED lights on your vessel. The last thing you want in an emergency is weak VHF reception.