RGB LED Controllers – What’s Right For Your Boat?

By themselves, RGB lights are just a light with three colors. Not very interesting. To get the most out of your RGB lights they need to be paired with RGB LED controllers.

RGB LED controllers are at the heart of any great light display. Three colors turn into a dozen, twenty, or over a million with the right controller. But that’s not all, light controllers let you program your lights to do all kinds of fun and interesting things. Set how bright they are, fade a single color in and out, or fade between multiple colors. Some light controllers will even let you save light scenes that you can pull up with the touch of a screen, or even make your lights dance to music in multiple colors. It’s the light controller that brings your RGB lights to life.

What is a RGB LED Controller?

RGB LED controllers have two main functions.

  1. Change the color of the lights
  2. Control how the lights work

Changing Colors

Red, green, and blue (RGB) are the primary colors of the additive, or visual, light spectrum. Secondary colors are any color created by combining primary colors.

RGB controllers make secondary colors by blending together exact amounts of the primary colors. Precisely controlling the light from each LED lets you make almost any color you want.

Controlling Lights

LED controllers do just that, they control how your lights work. From setting how bright the lights are to syncing them to music it’s the controller that lets you set the mood or pump up the party. Light controllers make your boat’s lighting system more fun, exciting, and useful.

  • Turn the lights down for a romantic evening or up for safe boarding.
  • Fade a single color in and out.
  • Strobe a single color.
  • Rotate between colors.
  • Fade from one color to the next.
  • Control the speed lights fade, strobe, and rotate.
  • Sync the lights to music in a single color or multiple colors.

Light Zones

Some controllers have multiple light zones. A light zone allows you to control lights in that zone separately from lights in the other zones. For example, you can control underwater lights in one zone, overhead lights in another, light strips in a third zone, and courtesy lights in a fourth. Of course, you can always control all zones together as a single unit. You can even control several zones separately from the rest.

Shadow-NET® Makes It Work

Shadow-NET® is an NMEA 2000 standard developed by Shadow-Caster for controlling LED lighting. It allows the controller to talk to the lights and send them commands. These commands tell the lights whether they should be on or off, what color they should be, how bright they should be, and what lighting effect they should perform.

Shadow-NET® makes advanced lighting controllers possible. Because of it, you can control your lighting through a keypad or multi-function display. MFD light controllers give you an unlimited number of colors and much greater control over lighting effects.

With Shadow-NET® you can even control lights that can’t be wired directly to the light controller. For example, two or more underwater lights, spreader lights, or downlights draw more current than a light controller can handle.

To fix this, you simply wire the lights to their own power source, then, connect the lights to the controller through a pair of low-voltage command wires. Once connected, the controller sends Shadow-NET® commands to the lights through these wires.

The Shadow-NET® interface is built into all Shadow-Caster RGB LED controllers.

Three Kinds of RGB LED Controllers

Of course, not every light controller will give you unlimited colors or every function. The way the controller sends commands to the lights determines how much control it has over the lights. For this reason, the number of colors, functions, and how much control you have depends on the controller. There are four different ways to control Shadow-Caster RGB LED lights.

  • Standard Switch/Momentary Switch: All Shadow-Caster lights, except light strips, can be operated through a standard rocker switch. A rocker switch lets you set the brightness of the lights and change between 12 colors. Upgrade to a momentary switch for fading and color rotation effects. Light strips must be operated through a light controller.
  • Light Controller Switch: Add RGB strip lights to any boat without breaking the bank. The SCM-SNLC is an inexpensive way to control any brand RGB or RGBW light strips. But that’s not all. The built-in Shadow-NET® interface lets you sync RGB underwater lights, downlights, or spreader lights with your strip lights.
  • Light Controller Keypad: Control four zones of RGB underwater lights and deck lights through an easy to use keypad. Each zone can be controlled separately or in sync with other zones. Change the color and brightness of each zone. Control the speed and color sequence of fade and strobe functions. Even make your lights dance to music with three music sync programs.
  • MFD Controller: Control all of your boats underwater lights, deck lights, and cockpit lights through your MFD. Six zones , unlimited colors, four music sync programs, lighting scenes, complete control over fade, strobe, and more. It’s the ultimate in marine lighting.

SCM-SNLC

The SCM-SNLC is a switch-operated LED light controller used with RGB/RGBW light strips. It works with either a standard, ON/OFF switch or a momentary switch. This controller gives you 12 pre-set colors and basic control of the lights. How much control you have depends on the type of switch you use.

ON/OFF Switch

  • When you power the lights on they gradually increase in brightness. Quickly toggle the switch to stop them at your desired light level.
  • Quickly toggle the switch again to change from one color to the next.

Momentary Switch

A momentary switch has three positions, OFF/ON/MOMENTARY. Moving the switch to the momentary position sends a signal to the lights that is used to control them.

  • Hold momentary down to dim or increase brightness.
  • Quickly press and release momentary to change between functions.
  • Functions include fade a single color, fade between all colors, and rotate between all colors.

Who Needs This Light Controller?

Shadow-Caster designed the SCM-SNLC as an inexpensive way to control RGB and RGBW LED strip lights. Use it with any brand of RGB /RGBW strip lights. Additionally, it will sync Shadow-Caster RGB underwater boat lights, down-lights, or spreader lights with RGB strip lights. Use it to add RGB accent lighting to pontoon boats, bowriders, and center console boats. It will even control accent lights in your boat cabin or RV.

Setup

The SCM-SNLC includes the light controller only. It does not include a switch. If your boat does not have an unused switch you will need to add one. Also, for greater control of your lights, you should upgrade to a momentary switch. Contact Underwater-Lights USA to purchase a momentary switch.

The switch both powers and controls the SCM-SNLC. First, you must wire the switch directly to the controller. The switch supplies power to the controller. Next, you wire the strip lights to the color-coded connectors inside the controller. Finally, connect your boat’s other RGB lighting to the controller through the Shadow-NET® command wires.

SCM-ZC-KIT

The SCM-ZC-KIT is a four-zone light controller for boats that don’t use a multi-function display. The lighting controller is operated through a remote keypad. The keypad is wash-down rated so it can be mounted at the helm or other convenient location.

There are several advantages to using a keypad.

  • More colors: With the keypad you’ll have 20 pre-set colors.
  • Four zones of control: Control your underwater lights, light strips, overhead lights, and courtesy lights in separate zones to create a beautiful light display or set them all to work together.
  • More lighting effects: Strobe a single color, fade a single color, fade through all colors, rotate between colors or sync the lights to music.
  • Greater control over the lights: Choose a zone, change color, brightness, lighting effect, and the speed at which the light effect changes. All with the push of a few buttons.
  • The keypad has a simple, intuitive design that makes it easy to operate.

Setup

The SCM-ZC-KIT includes an SCM-MZ-LC Multi-Zone Lighting Controller, SCM-ZC-REMOTE keypad, and a 1m Shadow-NET® communication cable.

The remote keypad mounts inside a 3″ diameter hole at the helm or other convenient location. Because it is IP66 washdown rated, you can mount it in areas exposed to rain and splashing water. The communication cable connects the keypad to the light controller. It sends commands from the keypad to the controller and provides power to the keypad.

Mount the SCM-MZ-LC Multi-Zone Lighting Controller inside the helm or bilge. It includes the following features.

  • Secure screw down connectors for power and ground wires.
  • 4 sets of color-coded snap-down connectors for RGB/RGBW lights.
  • Each set of connectors has it’s own fuse. (up to 15 amps)
  • Shadow-NET interface to control Shadow-Caster underwater, down, and spreader lights.
  • 3.5 mm female audio jack for connecting Music SYNC.
  • Cable glands for all wires.
  • Communication cable port.

Who Needs This Light Controller?

The SCM-ZC-KIT is for boats that don’t have a multi-function display. Lights are controlled through the simple-to-use keypad. This makes it an excellent choice for pontoon boats, center consoles, bowriders, cabin cruisers, or even yachts.

SCM-MFD-KIT

The SCM-MFD-KIT works with your boat’s multi-function display. As a result, you’ll have absolute control of your boat lighting.

  • Unlimited colors
  • Six zones of lights
  • Four versions of music sync
  • Control the speed and color sequence of fade and strobe
  • Store and recall a limitless number of lighting scenes

Lighting Scenes

Lighting scenes are a way for you to save a set of light settings and then recall them for later use.

For instance, you can have one scene for when you are driving the boat at night and another for when you are boarding. A third scene can be set for night fishing and a fourth for relaxing under the stars.

Holidays, romantic evenings, your favorite sports teams colors, you name it. Come across a pleasing combination of colors? Save it as a scene and return to it with a tap on your MFD! You can set a scene for anything.

Setup

The Shadow-Caster SCM-MFD-KIT includes a Multi-Zone Lighting Controller and MFD Communications Bridge along with a standard ethernet cable and 1-meter Shadow-NET® communication cable.

It is compatible with most major MFD brands including Garmin™, Simrad, Lowrance®, B&G, Raymarine®, and Furuno.

Setup is easy. There is no additional software to install or complex configuration required. Wire your lights to the light controller and the light controller to the bridge. The bridge then connects to your MFD’s network interface. Turn your system on and it instantly recognizes the Shadow-NET® interface. Now step through the on-screen prompts to set up your lighting.

Who Needs This Light Controller?

The SCM-MFD-KIT is for boats with a multi-function display who want the ultimate in marine LED lighting. It is best for larger boats and yachts that already use a multi-function display to control their boat systems.

The Future of RGB LED Controllers

The future of RGB LED controllers is here.

In September 2021 Shadow-Caster premiered the world’s first NMEA 2000 RGB controller, the SCM-LC Light Commander. It’s the first RGB LED controller to follow the newly released NMEA Lighting Standard. This standard allows the SCM-SL to connect directly to an NMEA 2000 backbone and be recognized by the network.

Because of this, the SCM-LC can be operated through both a multi-function display and digital switches. It can also be operated with the Shadow-Caster Light Commander Mobile app through optional Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connectivity. Other features include the following.

  • Lights connect to the controller through Deutsch style conneectors
  • Power: Supports over 600 watts of RGB lighting
  • “Digitally fused” over current protection circuits
  • 15 amps per RGB(W) zone, 60 amps max
  • 10 to 30V input range
  • Supports 4 channels of RGB or RGBW Lighting
  • 6 separate zones of lighting control – expandable to 18 zones by connecting multiple units
  • Standard 6 Physical Switch Inputs for instant on operation and control.
  • 3.5mm female audio input for music sync
  • Optional Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connectivity to support Shadow-Caster Light Commander Mobile app

What’s the Best RGB LED Controller for Your Boat?

As we have seen, RGB LED controllers come in 3 basic styles.

  1. Switch operated: RGB/RGBW light strips need a light controller to work. The simplest, and least expensive way to add RGB/RGBW light strips to a boat is with the SCM-SNLC. Not only will it run your light strips, but it will also sync them to your other RGB boat lights. Upgrading to a momentary switch allows you to dim, fade, fade between colors, and rotate between colors.
  2. Keypad operated: If your boat doesn’t have a multifunction display, but you want more colors and greater control over your boat’s RGB lights, there is the SCM-ZC-KIT. The remote keypad is waterproof and easy to operate. It gives you four zones of lights, more colors, better control over fade and color rotation, and lets you sync your lights to music.
  3. MFD controller: If your boat has a multifunction display, but doesn’t have an NMEA 2000 backbone, then the SCM-MFD-KIT will give you the ultimate in marine lighting. With it you will have six zones of lights, an unlimited number of colors, be able to choose what colors you fade or rotate between, and the speed of the fade or rotation. You will also have unlimited lighting scenes and six music sync modes. It truly is the ultimate in marine lighting.
  4. NMEA 2000 Controller: For boats with both an MFD and NMEA 2000 backbone there is the SCM-LC Light Commander. It combines the advanced features of the SCM-MFD-KIT with the ease of installation of the NMEA 2000 network.

Contact Me For More Help

I hope this post helps you figure out what RGB LED controller is best for your boat. If it did, please share it with your friends and other boaters on your favorite social media platform. If you have any questions or would like help choosing the best lighting system for your boat fill out the form here and I will be happy to help.