Boat Projects Forum

Stealth install LED drivers/controllers for boats

by annageek » 15 Nov 2015, 13:53

Posted on YBW, but thought I'd post here also, as I feel it's more applicable for small-medium boats than it is for medium- large boat owners.

For some time, I have wanted an RGB LED driver that I can install for the LED strips fitted in our cockpit. There are thousands available, many for under a tenner if you really want to go to the budget end of the market. But none seem to meet my requirements of being suitable for marine environments, and allwing for a neat and stealthy install (i.e. doesn't stick out like a sore thumb/uses same switchgear as the rest of the boat etc).

I therefore plan to design a single switch general purpose controller. The idea being that you dedicate an 'on/off' switch (in my case, the existing Carling switch that currently just turns on/off power to the LED strip controller). It would work as follows:

1. Switch on, and the lights come on (either in their last setting / standard colour / low level red 'safe light' - not sure which is best, but possibly it could be pre-selected by an internal switch at time of install).

2. To change colour, toggle the switch off-on quickly and the colours gently scroll. You can either leave the colours scrolling, or perform another off-on toggle to freeze the scrolling on its current colour.

3. To change the brightness (not really an oft-used function in my opinion), double toggle the switch (off-on-off-on) and the brightness gently fades in and out. An off-on toggle will freeze the brightness on its current level.

The toggling sounds cumbersome, but with a rocker/toggle switch, is actually reasonably easy/practical.

Critically, this will driver will have sufficient input filtering in order to prevent conducted emissions messing about with VHF radios (a common problem with the cheaper LED drivers, in my experience) and will be encapsulated with flying leads for waterproof splicing into connections to eliminate any corrosion/ingress protection problems. Based on other similar products I've developed, I expect the cost to buy would be around £40-60

Would this be of interest to others? Is it too limiting/seem like too much of a faff to install? Is there anything else that would make this more worthwhile?

I'm am going to make a one off, because I want one. I'm not expecting to scale it up massively, but even if there is a small market (through eBay or whatever) then I would like to go the extra mile to make a polished 'product' rather than a one off DIY job.
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by mlines » 15 Nov 2015, 15:08

I am afraid I bought mine for a few pounds complete with remote control from eBay. Its the size of a large postage stamp and entirely shrink wrapped.

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by _Ed_ » 15 Nov 2015, 15:25

Why not use LED strips with internal drivers that you control via serial data stream. I did a project for McLaren earlier this year that used tons of the stuff. I have to admit I have not checked out RF emissions on them however, but that shouldn't be a problem.
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by _Ed_ » 15 Nov 2015, 15:27

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by annageek » 15 Nov 2015, 16:01

mlines wrote:I am afraid I bought mine for a few pounds complete with remote control from eBay. Its the size of a large postage stamp and entirely shrink wrapped.

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I know the thing. I've had a few of them in the past. The cost under £5 including shipping from China. My problem with these is the quality isn't great, and I've had one almost take out one channel of my LED strips when it lost current regulation (hardly surprising or the cost). The bigger issue (for me) though, is the remote! It's always getting lost/wet and therefore is no use in a boat's cockpit, in my opinion. Generally, although it works, and has worked for me thus far, the whole solution just isn't geared up to a marine environment. Even if you pay a bit more to get better quality, I still don't think it buys you much when you install it in a salty environment, as they're designed to be installed under kitchen cupboards and things - not on boats.

Why not use LED strips with internal drivers that you control via serial data stream. I did a project for McLaren earlier this year that used tons of the stuff. I have to admit I have not checked out RF emissions on them however, but that shouldn't be a problem


Its a good idea actually, although it still doesn't solve the interface problem. It'd certainly make the head end more straight forward though if I went down that route.

Good stuff on the McLaren install though! How on earth did you get involved with that project?
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by _Ed_ » 16 Nov 2015, 01:06

Do you have any access to any kit to see if it is actually a problem in the first place? You don't need to keep resending data, so the noise after if anything is only on the psu lines (easy to deal with) or generated within the chip itself. If I had access to a spectrum analyser I'd do some tests for you. I spose I could just fire some up and see weather it affects the noise on my hand held at home.

As for the job, as always not what you know... A friend of mine owns an events company, they contracted me in to do this for them.

This is another video (well it shows both actually) of one I did for them to be used by Ericsson a couple of months ago. I did the PCB and psu/distribution for them. Made a few prototypes and they then assembled the rest whilst I was away..

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by annageek » 16 Nov 2015, 20:05

Do you have any access to any kit to see if it is actually a problem in the first place[/quote?

Funnily enough, I'm probably one of the few women in this world who happens to own a storage scope, which also has an FFT function that I could use. That said, I simply powered the LED drivers from a separate battery and the problem went (almost) completely away, so I'm virtually certain it's mostly conducted switching noise causing the problem. In fairness, it's not a huge problem, and I could never be bothered to sort it out, as we will never have the LEDs on at any time we'd need the VHF. It still bugs me though!

As for the job, as always not what you know... A friend of mine owns an events company, they contracted me in to do this for them.


Clearly so! I'd love to have a freelance job like that come my way! I would go out looking for that sort of thing, but as I work full time as an electronic design engineer, I'd find it difficult to devote any of my spare time to do more of the same (except DIY jobs for myself, of course). That said, many of my DIY projects stall due to lack of enthusiasm on my part. I blame work!
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by _Ed_ » 17 Nov 2015, 11:18

You may have some joy with FFT on a scope to see what kind of emissions are generated, certainly on the power lines. Not sure how this will help into translating it to interference unless a harmonic sits in the middle of the VHF band. Really you need some kind of spectrum analyser with a small antenna to measure near field emissions. I have an old analogue one but it only goes up to 250mhz.

If it goes away on battery power then its dead simple just stick the PSU in a metal box with RF blocking caps and a choke and the problem should go away. :)

Fortunately I am my own boss, and whilst it has many many negatives, one of the positives is being able to take on and fit in other jobs like this around it. In 2015 the contact work made up a fairly significant amount of my income. Out side of that like you I have tons of unfinished mini projects, but winter is here now and its now the time to catch up and when things are quieter try to finish some of them!!
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