Pontoon boats are ideal for a sunset cruise or entertaining friends under the stars. With wide-open deck plans and plenty of comfortable seating, they are the perfect place to relax.
A nice feature of this Bennington pontoon is the LED lighting package. You will find many new pontoon boats with LED sidelights, deck lights, and underwater lights as standard or optional equipment.
These can be single-color lights or RGB color-changing lights depending on the make and model. Low-end models come with no lighting or single-color LED lights. In contrast, high-end pontoon boats include single-color or color-changing LEDs.
Either way, LED lighting adds a serious “cool factor” to a pontoon boat that attracts plenty of attention at the marina and on the water.
Color-Changing Pontoon Boat Lights
As mentioned above, high-end pontoon boats usually have better lighting packages. Frequently, these include RGB, (red, green, blue) LEDs and a light controller.
RGB LEDs are different than other lights. A group of three LEDs, one red, one green, and one blue work together to produce a rainbow of colors.
A light controller precisely controls the intensity of each LED to create different colors. Naturally, better light controllers give you more colors. But they also allow you to change the brightness of each color and even cycle through different colors.
Often, low-end pontoon boats and older boats have no LED lighting. But this is not a disadvantage. It’s an opportunity. With a small investment in time and money, these boats can have a lighting system as good as or even better than what comes from the factory.
In this post, I’ll show you how to install led strips on a pontoon boat as sidelights. In future posts, we’ll expand on this project to include accent lighting and underwater lights.
LED Pontoon Boat Sidelights
As with factory lighting, you have two options for pontoon boat sidelights. Single color or color-changing.
Single-color LED strip lights are cheap and easy to install. Mount them to the underside of the deck on each side of the boat then wire them to a switch.
What You Need
- Waterproof LED Strip Lights: A silicone sleeve protects the LEDs from water while tinned wire prevents corrosion.
- Silicone Mounting Brackets: Inexpensive and easy to use. Place them over the light strips silicone sleeve and fasten them in place with two screws.
- Drill with Phillips Head Bit
- Switch: Single color lights use an ON/OFF switch.
- Extra wire, butt connectors, crimping tool, and heat shrink.
Wiring the Light Switch
To begin with, you need a switch to power the lights. Oftentimes, boat manufacturers build boats with an extra switch. If this is the case with your boat, that switch can be used to power the lights.
Look for a power wire coming from the back of the switch. Often times it is red, but it could be one of several other colors as well. Knowing the color of this wire will make it easier to find in the next step.
Wires are often bundled together at the switch panel and routed to a central location. Follow this bundle and look for un-connected wires the same color as the wires from the switch. Use a test light to verify that this is the wire from the switch.
In the event, your boat does not have an empty switch you will have to add one. The video below gives you the basics of how to do that.
Wiring LED Strip Lights
First, turn off the power at the main battery switch and remove the negative cable from the house battery.
Next, run wires from the switch to each side of the boat. Use a multi-wire butt connector to split the single wire from the switch into two wires.
Crimp the small side of the butt connector to the wire from the switch. Crimp the wires from the lights to the other end of the butt connector. Use heat shrink to seal the connection.
Run one wire to each side of the boat. Use a butt connector to connect that wire to the power wire of each light. Again, crimp and heat shrink the connection.
Finally, connect the negative wires from the lights to the boat’s negative bus bar. Again butt connectors and heat shrink tubing connect the negative wire from the lights to the wire that runs to the bus bar. Crimp a ring connector to the end of the wire for a secure connection to the bus bar.
With all wires connected it is time to test the lights.
- Check for a fuse at the fuse block.
- Reconnect the negative cable to the battery.
- Set the main battery switch to on.
Flip the switch to make sure the lights come on. If not, disconnect the power and check your connections.
Finally, you can mount the light strips to the underside of the deck using silicone mounting brackets. The brackets fit over the light strips and are held in place using two screws. Don’t over-tighten the screws as this can damage the bracket.
Color-Changing Pontoon Boat Sidelights
Color-changing pontoon boat sidelights are more expensive and complicated to wire than single-color lights. But, if you want a truly awesome lighting system it is worth the expense and effort.
RGB light strips have four wires. Red, green, and blue wires supply power to the LEDs. Black is a common ground. Again, look for waterproof RGB light strips encased in a silicone sleeve with tinned wires.
A waterproof RGB light controller is a must. Look for one enclosed in a watertight box or sealed housing.
Several different types of LED RGB light controllers are available. To keep things simple I am only going to talk about a basic controller that uses an ON/OFF momentary switch to control the lights. One nice thing about this type of light controller is that it will control your sidelights, deck lights, and underwater lights together.
There are two parts to this system.
- RGB Light Controler: This is a watertight box that houses the electronics and acts as a hub for wires from the lights and the switch.
- ON/OFF/Momentary Switch: This switch has three positions. On, off, and momentary. An example of a momentary switch is a doorbell. Pressing the switch closes a circuit and sends an electrical signal. Releasing the switch opens the circuit and the signal stops.
Wiring RGB Light Strips
The switch mounts at the helm. It draws power from a fuse block and grounds to a negative bus bar. Three wires, power, ground, and control, connect the light controller to the switch.
The RGB light controller has three snap-down terminals to accept the wires from the switch. These terminals are color-coded making wiring easier. The controller has four, color-coded terminals for the wires from the lights as well. Red, green, and blue terminals for the power wires and black for the ground.
RGB strip lights have three power wires, red, green, and blue, along with a black ground wire. **Power wires from the lights must connect to the correct terminal. Red to red, green to green, and blue to blue. It is recommended you use red, green, and blue wires from the lights to the power box.
When all of the wires are connected turn the power back on and test the lights.
Depending on your light controller, you should be able to change colors, dim the lights, and cycle them between different colors. Check your owner’s manual for how to operate your light controller.
Once everything is working properly the RGB light strips can be mounted to the underside of the deck.
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Have a question? Leave a comment or contact me at the email address below.
4 thoughts on “DIY Pontoon Boat Sidelights”
I have a 2005 Bennington 2575 RL I/O that I WILL be installing some RGB LED lights on the sides this spring. What brand should I go with? A local Bennington dealer mechanic recommended TH Marine but they’ve been on backorder with their longer length RGB model forever now. TIA!
Yes, it is hard to find RGB waterproof light strips in lengths longer than 16.4 feet. I sell RGB LED light strips made by Shadow-Caster. Here is a link to the light strips and here is a link to the least expensive light controller I sell.
My light strips are RGB, IP 67 waterproof, with 60 LEDs per meter. They come in 8′ and 16′ lengths. To run them the entire length of your boat you would need to splice together an 8′ and 16′ section. Actually, I would buy 3, 16′ sections and cut one in half. It’s cheaper that way.
Splicing them together is easy to do. Solderless RGB light strip connectors are available. Buy from me and I will include everything you need. An end cap, two connectors, and two clear heat shrink tubing.
1) First, cut one of the light strips in half. The strips have cut marks every 50mm. That will leave you with an 8′ section with a wiring harness on one end and another 8′ section without a wiring harness.
2) You will have to remove the wiring harness. Cut the heat shrink tubing lengthwise and remove it, then unclip the wiring harness from the light strip.
3) You will also need to remove the end caps from the two remaining 16′ light strip sections.
4) The connector clips onto the light strip. No special tools are needed.
5) Slide a piece of the heat shrink tubing over one of the light strips.
6) Place the open end of one of the 16′ light strips into the connector making sure the positive on the light strip lines up with the positive on the connector. Snap-down the cover. Do the same with the open end of one of the 8′ sections.
7) Test to make sure all the LEDs have a good connection with a 9-volt battery. Hold the black wire to the positive terminal of the battery then touch the red, green, and blue wires, one at a time to the negative terminal. Each color should light. If they don’t then squeeze the clip together and try again. The clip can be opened and the light strip repositioned if needed.
8) Now slide the heat-shrink tube over the connector and apply heat until it seals the connection.
9 volt??? Boats use a 12volt system
Yes, most boat electrical systems are 12 or 24 volt. 9 volts is the minimum amount of voltage needed to make the lights work.