What Every Boater Should Know About RGB Strip Lights

Silicone Encased LED Strips

RGB boat strip lights transform ordinary boat lighting into something special. The glow of the lights makes your boat look awesome. Additionally, it makes your boat safer to use at night. Because of this, you’ll have more quality time boating with your family and friends. LED boat light strips are waterproof, thin, and flexible. As a result, they are perfect for adding light wherever you need it.

There are two types of boat LED light strips. With each, a silicone sleeve encases the LED strips making them waterproof. This sleeve is the main difference between the different types of LED strips.

boat led strip lights

Under Gunnel Lights

With the first type, the sleeve is clear. It allows the light from the LEDs to pass through uninterrupted. As a result, you can see each individual LED.

One of the rules of good lighting is that the light source, the LEDs in this case, should never shine directly into your eyes. For this reason, these types of LED strips should be mounted under gunnels, in coves, or under the lip of a console.

Doing so reflects light off the sides and deck. As a result, these locations are bathed in light giving your boat an attractive glow that also makes it safer to use.

Neon light strips

Neon Light Strips

The second type of LED light strip has an opaque sleeve that diffuses its light. As the light from the LEDs scatters in all directions the strip glows like a neon light. For this reason, their light is softer and easier on your eyes. As a result, you can mount NEON lights out in the open. This gives you more options when lighting your boat.

Neon strip lights also come in two styles, NEON, and NEON Mini. The NEON is only .5″ wide by .8″ high. Because of its small size, you can use them almost anywhere you want to add RGB lighting to your boat. But, sometimes you need an even thinner light. For these times there’s the NEON Mini. This light is only .4″ by .4,”. It’s small size makes it an excellent choice for areas with limited space. It’s also a good choice when you want the light to blend in during the day.

Installing RGB Boat Strip Lights

What You Need

  • Waterproof boat LED strip lights
  • RGB LED Light Controller
  • Marine-grade 22 AWG 4-pin RGB wire
  • 18 – 22 AWG butt connectors
  • Crimping tool
  • Soldering iron and solder
  • Heat shrink tubing
  • Clear silicone caulk
  • Scissors
  • Light strip mounting channel

Marine-Grade RGB Wire

You must use marine-grade RGB wire when wiring RGB boat lights. Marine Grade wire looks silver. The silver color is from a tin coating that prevents the wire from corroding in the marine environment.

RGB wire has four wires bundled together. Each wire has either red, green, blue, or black insulation. They are used to control the red, green, or blue LED’s. The black wire supplies power.

Start With A Plan

Before you buy RGB light strips you should plan out your installation. Starting with a plan will make your installation faster and easier.

  • Decide where you want to install LED light strips
  • Measure to find out how long of a light strip you will need for each location
  • Decide where you will mount the light controller box
  • Is there a power source and ground nearby?
  • Look for a secure way to run wires between the control box and the first light strip
  • Also, look for a secure way to run wires between light strips
  • Measure each of these places to find how much wire you will need

Cut and Wire

Strip lights come in 8′ or 16′ lengths. Conveniently, they can be trimmed, separated, and wired back together. Doing so allows a single RGB strip to light several different areas of your boat. Once wired back together, they operate as a single light. This works for both under gunnel and NEON strip lights.

For instance, say you have two 4′ long areas on each side of your boat where you want to add under gunnel lights. In this case, you would take a single 8′ strip light, cut it in half, then mount one half on each side of your boat.

Trim Marks

Light strips have trim marks every few inches. To shorten a light strip simply cut along one of these trim marks with a pair of scissors. Then trim away enough of the sleeve to expose the tabs.

trim rgb boat lights

Run Wire

Next, you will run the wires. One set of wires connects the light controller to the first light strip. Other wires connect the light strips to each other. Where you run the wires depends on your boat. But look for a secure area that protects the wires from heat, water, and chaffing.

Solder Wires to Light Strips

The trim marks mentioned earlier also have color-coded tabs for connecting the wires. Solder the wires to these tabs for the most trouble-free connections. I’ve tried the clamp-down RGB connectors sold online but had poor results. There are a lot of great tutorials on YouTube about how to solder LED lights so I won’t cover that here.

Connect Wires Together

Use butt connectors to connect the wires from the light controller to the first light strip. Trim about 3/8″ of insulation from each wire going to the light controller. Do the same for the wires from the light strip. Slip a butt connector over one of the wires and crimp it down. Now, slip the matching color wire from the light strip into the other end of the butt connector and crimp it down.

Seal All Connections

You will use clear heat shrink tubing to seal all connections. To do this, place a 1.5″ – 2″ length over the wires before you solder or crimp them together.

Test your lights before sealing the connections. Hold the black wire to the positive post of a 9 volt battery. Then touch the red, green, and blue wires to the negative one at a time. If each LED lights you are ready to seal the connections.

Center the shrink tube over the connection and heat it with a heat gun or small torch. This will shrink the tubing onto the connections creating a watertight seal..

Mounting RGB Boat Strip Lights

The easiest way to mount LED light strips is to first install a light strip track. Once installed the light strips snap into the track. The track not only secures the strips, it keeps them in a straight line.

Screws hold the track in place. But it’s a good idea to add a bead of silicone caulk to the back of the track to hold it in place. It’s also a good idea to add a glob of silicone to the inside of the track every few inches. Doing so helps secure the light strips in place.

RGB LED Light Controllers

It takes an RGB light controller to make RGB LED strip lights change colors, dim, and do fun things like pulse or fade. The light controller is housed inside a waterproof box that gets mounted inside a console or other secure area. The light controller is then operated in one of three ways. With a switch, keypad, or multi-function display.

The switch, keypad, or MFD are used to tell the controller what you want the lights to do. For example, change color, brightness, or strobe. But it’s the circuits inside the light controller that make the lights function.

Easy and Secure Installation

RGB boat strip lights, and other low power RGB lights are wired directly to the light controller. The controller supplies power to these low power lights. A fuse protects each zone of lights

Their wires feed through cable glands that are then tightened down to make a water-tight seal. Inside the box are four snap-down terminals that match the colors of the wires. Snap each wire into its matching terminal for fast, easy, and mistake-free wiring.

High-power lights, such as underwater lights, get wired to their own power source. These lights draw too much current to be wired directly to the controller. Instead, they are controlled through a thin pair of wires from the light controller. These control wires send the signals that tell the underwater lights what you want them to do.

The difference between light controllers is in how you operate the lights and how much control you have over the lights.


Shadow-Caster SCM-SNLC
Single Zone LED Controller

Switch-operated RGB light controllers are the easiest to operate and the least expensive. They are a great way to add RGB lighting to smaller boats.

With this system, a switch both powers and controls the light controller. The light controller contains the electronics, color-coded connectors, and control wires. The switch can be a standard ON/OFF switch or a momentary switch.

An ON/OFF switch lets you set the brightness and change between 12 preset colors. When you first turn the lights on they start off dim and then get brighter. Quickly toggle the switch to set the brightness. Toggle the switch again to change to the next color.

Momentary switches have three positions, ON/OFF/(ON). The (ON) position works like a button. It allows current to flow through the switch while it is being pressed.

Holding the momentary button down changes the brightness. Quickly press and release it to fade a single color. Press it again to fade multi-colors and again to rotate between all colors.

Switch-operated light controllers sync all RGB lights together.


Shadow-Caster SCM-MFD-Kit

Keypad-operated light controllers replace the switch with a keypad. Each button on the keypad has a specific task.

On/Off: Simple enough.

Zones: There are four zones of lights. Each zone controls a separate set of lights. For example, zone one can be underwater lights, zone two overhead lights, zone three strip lights, and zone four courtesy lights. Each zone can be controlled by itself or synced with other zones.

Color: Twenty colors are available through the keypad controller. Choose your base color by pressing the white, red, green, or blue button. Then use the Previous or Next buttons to scroll to the exact color you want.

Brightness: Push the Up button to make the lights brighter or Down to dim them.

Sync: Sync your lights to the music playing through your stereo system. There are three music sync modes to choose from. Single Color Pulse, Multi-Color Pulse, and Multi-Color Frequency.

Modes: Modes include Single Color Fade, Multi-Color Fade, Multi-Color Change, and Strobe.



MFD light controllers display lighting controls right on your boat’s multi-function display. Menus and sliders replace buttons. Because of this, choosing settings is quick and easy. As a result, you have much greater control over your lighting.

6 Zones of Lights: Having more zones means you can control more lights. For example, split your strip lights into forward and aft sections or upper and lower decks.

Unlimited Colors: Sliders replace pre-set colors. This allows you to set each zone to the exact color you want.

Easy Brightness Control: Sliders are also used to control brightness. Using sliders makes setting brightness levels faster, easier, and more intuitive.

4 Music Sync Modes: Multi-Color Falloff, Single Color Pulse, Multi-Color Pulse, and Multi-Color Frequency.

Modes: Single Color/Multi-Color Fade, Multi-Color Change, and Strobe. Additionally, you can control the speed and color sequence for fade and strobe modes.

Unlimited Lighting Scenes: Scenes are a way to save your favorite lighting configurations. Set your lights to how you want them then save that configuration as a scene. Later, you can recall that scene with the push of a button.

RGB Boat Strip Lights

RGB boat strip lights are a core part of any boat lighting system. They not only make your boat look awesome, but they also make it safer to use at night.

Because they come in different styles and sizes they can be used on almost any boat. Even better, they can be paired with several different light controllers. This allows you to build a lighting system that is as simple or complex as you want.

I hope you found this post useful. If you did please share it with your friends and fellow boaters on your favorite social media site.