The $100 Masthead TriColor Navigation/Anchor Light

Couldn't afford a new Aqua Signal tricolor navigation and anchor light, and also couldn't afford the amps used by its incandescent anchor light. So I figured to make my own and adapt an LED anchor light to save on night time wattage. Trying to use LEDs for your tricolor can be cost-silly, averaging about $250 for just the tricolor bulb to do it properly. Main problem is that it takes a lot of LED bulbs to generate the 20 watts of light needed to meet USCG tricolor brightness requirements (visibility at 2 miles).

As a compromise I decided to combine an LED anchor light and an incandescent tricolor. The result was a functional combination light which cost about $100. What I ended up with was a Davis MegaLight ($43.00 from SailNet) mounted on top of an Aqua Signal Series 40 Tricolor ($55 on EBay). A little 3M 5200, some clear silicone chalking, and a couple hours of head scratching.

Removed the Aqua Signal's aluminum top plate, use a 1" spade bit to drill a receptor hole for the protruding base of the Davis light. Only drilled through the plastic top on the Aqua Signal light, leaving the aluminum reflector inside largely whole. Then used a smaller 3/8" bit to drill through the interior reflector to run the Davis' wire through. Gooped the hell out of the 1" whole with clear silicone and let it dry. Then used 3M 5200 to glue the Davis to the top of the Aqua, after roughing up the area good with sandpaper.

The 2 side screws held an aluminum top plate on the Series 40 light, saved for skull repair like in "Master & Commander". The little diode thingie extending from the LED socket is the photocell.

Ran the Davis wire through to the base of the tricolor light, gooping it with more silicone inside and using the silicone to glue the wire to the side of the tricolor lens. Ran it down the front seam between the red and green lenses, dabbed more silicone, and coiled the excess around the base of the tricolor innards. You need to keep that extra wire there so you can remove the tricolor lens to replace its 20w bulb.

Already had a run of brand new 16/3 wire run through the mast (and a second run of it for a mid-mast steaming/deck light combo). Cut about a 12-inch piece of 16/3 and used it to make a pigtail and fit that pigtail tightly in the wire stress relief on the bottom on the Aqua Signal housing. I ran a small jumper wire off the tricolor ground terminal and spliced it to the Davis ground wire, then to the feed wire ground. Then mounted one of the hot wires to the tricolor base, the remaining hot wire was spliced onto the Davis feed. Common ground, each circuit powered and switched separately.

The Davis MegaLight has some of the most tiny wires you will ever find on any boat. And since they are stranded it takes a delicate touch to splice them to the mast wire. After a lot of chin scratching and net searching I found the "professional" solution of how to splice them together. That solution is described below.

The white around the seam is 5200.

The holes on the bottom of the Aqua Signal light did not align with the holes on the Davis light mounting bracket, so I just used a small stainless screw with locknut to mount the assembly to the bracket. Not elegant, but will withstand anything this boat will encounter. It is not intended for bluewater -- this is a sweetwater boat. It there's weather enough to tear that sucker off there I doubt the boat will still be underneath it anyway.

The pigtail of 16/3 wire extended about 10 inches out the bottom of the Aqua Signal housing. That was plenty to splice it to the mast wire, silicone and heat shrink the join so its completely waterproof and well supported from work-hardening from any mast/wind movement.

It works. Please do not write and tell me the anchor light is supposed to be under the tricolor instead of on top of it. I could not find any USCG reg requiring it and figure the lake cops won't either. It looks better on top anyway, and the USCG is all for cool style.

If you'd like to try doing it yourself, grab a drill & glue and have at it. Some tips I'd offer are:
  • Keep at least 12 inches of pigtail off the end of the Davis MegaLight wire harness. More is better than less. You will need the extra to splice the tiny Davis wires to the mast wire.
  • I gooped the base of the MegaLight with silicone thinking I'd seal it all up nice and tight. Don't do that. The socket on the MegaLight is one of those spring jobbies and the wire needs to move vertically about 1/2-inch. When you goop it with silicone you freeze it in place it its "high" position -- so you can't get the LED bulb to seat in its socket. Trust me on this one -- let the 3M 5200 glue holding the MegaLight to the tricolor keep the water out. It will.
  • To splice the tiny Davis MegaLight wires to the mast wire, or any set of grossly dissimilar gauge wires, here's what you do:
    1. Strip each wire's end gently twist them together. Insert this ends into ONE end of a yellow 12/10 butt splice connector and crimp.
    2. Fill the un-used end of the butt splice connector with silicone and let dry for 15 minutes or so.
    3. Slide a small tube about 3 inches long of heat-shrink tubing over the butt splice connector, fill its un-used end with silicone and heat it to shrink.
    4. After shrinking the tube will goosh silicone out the un-used end. Wipe it flush and let it set.
    After it sets I like to goop more silicone into any remaining open nooks and crannies. You end up with a totally watertight and well supported splice.
  • Do not use electrical tape for anything. This thing will be sitting on the top of the mast all summer, being cooked in the sun. Electrical tape will just come loose and turn into a gooey mess. Do not trust it when silicone and heat shrink tubing are available cheap at any hardware store.


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