DIY color-changing LEDs for pontoons - for $50

CLDave

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Here's a fun project to add exterior Pontoon RGB (color changing) LED lights. I did a ton of research and saved over a grand - total cost was under $50.
IF your boat is pre-wired for external lights (mine had the external package for the Swingback, but no pontoon lights installed), this is an easy mod. Some mild wiring, soldering and waterproofing is all it took for this project in my case.

All you need is the right connector - in this case:
The LEDs come in 16-foot lengths (three 5-meter strips), so you need to cut the third strip in half and solder together. I used heat-shrink tubing along with silicone to waterproof them.

The strips then stick on the inside of the rub-rail (that's how the factory does it - my neighbor's Benny is fully loaded and he let me look around to check it out).

The plug connects to all 4 wires as shown in the photos. Note that some of the pics were "test fit" trial-runs where I simply placed the pins in the factory plug to make sure it worked. As I noted my neighbor's boat is fully wired and I was able to match colors directly, and got lucky on the first try.

Best part is that the color-changing interior Mood lights and the external lights all sync perfectly with this setup! Both are 4-wire 12V, and the RGB dims, changes color and runs identically to the factory-order ITC units.

I'm not sure how durable this setup will be since it's only IP65 water-resistant, but I ordered a second set so I have another if this one goes out. In the month it's been installed it has worked flawlessly.

Next year I'll add the underwater lights. My boat isn't pre-wired for these, but there's a spare switch I can use to hook it up. Enjoy :)Screen Shot 2020-09-17 at 1.16.39 PM.pngScreen Shot 2020-09-17 at 1.14.54 PM.pngScreen Shot 2020-09-17 at 1.15.27 PM.pngScreen Shot 2020-09-17 at 1.15.48 PM.pngScreen Shot 2020-09-17 at 1.16.25 PM.pngScreen Shot 2020-09-17 at 1.16.39 PM.png
 
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Michiman

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CLDave, thanks for sharing. Is there a fairly easy way for a electrically challenged individual to determine if his boat is "pre-wired" for external lighting?
 

CLDave

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CLDave, thanks for sharing. Is there a fairly easy way for a electrically challenged individual to determine if his boat is "pre-wired" for external lighting?

Yes - if you have plugs as seen in the first picture (orange) under the bow on both starboard and port sides, you're golden. If you don't have RGB option I'd guess the plug would be a 2-prong instead of 4-prong. Good luck!
 

sunedog

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The strips then stick on the inside of the rub-rail (that's how the factory does it - my neighbor's Benny is fully loaded and he let me look around to check it out).

How did you attach your strips to the inside of the rub rail? I used 3M double sided tape sold to the auto body market to affix trim pieces to cars. Mine have been on two seasons and have done "OK". I did have about a 3 foot section hanging down at the rear last season that I had to re-tape.

I'm not sure how durable this setup will be since it's only IP65 water-resistant, but I ordered a second set so I have another if this one goes out. In the month it's been installed it has worked flawlessly.

Hope you have better luck than I did with IP65 rated LED's. I put them on my former Bennington and they only lasted a season. The ones I bought for the current boat are rated IP67.

Great write-up! Thanks.
 

CLDave

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How did you attach your strips to the inside of the rub rail? I used 3M double sided tape sold to the auto body market to affix trim pieces to cars. Mine have been on two seasons and have done "OK". I did have about a 3 foot section hanging down at the rear last season that I had to re-tape.

Hope you have better luck than I did with IP65 rated LED's. I put them on my former Bennington and they only lasted a season. The ones I bought for the current boat are rated IP67.

Great write-up! Thanks.

I used the provided 3M tape, and so far (one season) they've held up well. I cleaned the rails with rubbing alcohol prior to installing - hopefully that will keep it clean.

So far so good on the LED durability - they don't really get wet on the underside of the decking (same place installed by the factory), so hopefully that will help.

Thanks!
 

bjpell

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So you put the heat shrink over the wire out of the way, soldier the wires, cover in dielectric silicone grease, then slide over the heat shrink wrap and heat them up? I've never used silicone to make a connection waterproof so I'm curious as to what type, how you applied it.
 

CLDave

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So you put the heat shrink over the wire out of the way, soldier the wires, cover in dielectric silicone grease, then slide over the heat shrink wrap and heat them up? I've never used silicone to make a connection waterproof so I'm curious as to what type, how you applied it.

Exactly - except I used waterproof silicone (regular caulk-style) around the ends not dielectric (which I'm guessing would eventually wash away).

The steps I took:
  1. Slide the heatshrink tubing onto one side of all wires (I did each wire individually, and then one big tube for the end result)
  2. Solder each individual wire, and slide the heatshrink into place on each wire, shrink to fit
  3. slide the final/outer tube into place - slide a bit past center, apply silicone, slide back a bit past center the other way, apply silicone, center, and final heat
  4. Let dry, test for correct operation, and install
Good luck!
 
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