‘Upgrading’ a mystery masthead LED tricolor/anchor light

19 Mar

My LED combination masthead tri-color and anchor light (whew!) recently arrived. It came from an ebay source that seems to have disappeared and strangely enough ebay won’t even show me the transaction history.  The light itself bears no identifying markings and came with no papers, not even a receipt. Unsurprisingly, it’s not perfect.

Electrically it seems convincingly constructed with a heavy, solid casing for the LED bulbs and proper fasteners but the construction of the housing has a couple seriously weak spots. The heavy bulbs are held on by just these two tiny screws going through the copper sockets which are screwed into the plastic.

There is no way this would hold up to violent motion at the masthead.

 Fortunately all it needs to be reasonably solid is a couple bolts with washers on either side. I drilled it on my drill press for convenience but a hand drill would have worked just as well.

Now the light socket is securely bolted to the housing and won’t be able to work itself loose. Nylon locking nuts (Nylock nuts) ensure the bolt can’t loosen. There is the added benefit that now I know for sure that my fasteners are stainless steel.

The lower bulb was a little trickier because I couldn’t thru-bolt the socket which is raised up on  plastic fins with empty space between them.

 Instead I drilled and tapped them to accept a beefier 5mm bolt but this deformed the plastic a bit and won’t be as secure as the top. Also in retrospect it probably would have been stronger to just screw into the plastic rather than tapping it. Still, I think it’s enough reinforcement to keep things in place.

 Tapping plastic isn’t going to be all that strong. It would be best to go back and install a couple proper through bolt in between the fins, using a stack of washers or similar for a spacer.

As the mounting holes on the light were wider than my mast cap I needed some sort of attachment plate. This I cut out of the same $20 piece of scrap stainless I’ve been using for months.

 Going slowly with lots of cutting fluid the stainless cuts easily. A chop saw (with metal cutting blade) or angle grinder would also make short work of this 1/8″ plate but might burn the SS.
 I didn’t want to have to countersink half the bolts with my wobbly drill press so I just offset the light from where the plate bolts to the mast cap.

So there’s the slightly improved version of the $40 nameless tricolor. Many questions remain. Are the LEDs well constructed? Is the housing strong UV-inhibited plastic? Are the conductive rails stainless or properly protected? Like so much marine hardware there’s no way to know this stuff unless you pay a premium for a  brand that has earned its reputation. For $40 I’ll be happy as long as this gets me through a year or two. When it breaks it will be a lot easier to spend $200 on a quality replacement if it’s the only boat part I have to buy that month (and by then it better be!).

This article was syndicated from Safe At Harbour But Meant For The Sea: DIY Sailing with Paul Calder


  1. Lee Cumberland

    Hey Paul,
    They are indeed still selling this tricolor. I did indeed buy it, as I am a sucker for these projects. I’m going to copy what you did to strengthen your light as well as add some Marine LED bulbs to chill out the power consumption a bit. Can you update me on the long term durability and lessons learned from this little lamp? Thanks!

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