The 10 Best Boat Trailer Lights of 2021
CZC Submersible Light Kit
Partsam Trailer Lights
Nilight Trailer Light Kit
Ian Fortey Updated on October 20, 2021.by
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Boat trailer lights are an integral safety feature for your boat trailer. When you’re hauling your jon boat down the road, no one can see your signal lights anymore. The trailer lights need to be bright and visible to anyone behind you. No one’s going to know if you’re stopping or turning otherwise, right? But when you’re buying new ones there are a few things that you need to keep in mind. This will help you make sure you’re picking the right lights for the job. Trailer lights may seem like an afterthought, but they are still important. Take the time to make the right choice the first time and you shouldn’t have to worry about them again. Let’s take a look at the important things to consider when choosing boat trailer lights.
Picking the Best LED Boat Trailer Lights
Now that you’ve seen some of the best options, there are things to consider. It’s good to understand why you need these lights and the best kind you can get. There are several things you need to consider when buying boat trailer replacement lights. Take a look at what you need to know and why to pick the best lights you can.
Type and Design
Often this aspect will be determined by the type of trailer you have. You can match the shape of your lights to the frame and how the lighting is most easily attached. But you will likely have some wiggle room. Most lights tend to be square, rectangular or round. There isn’t necessarily any hard and fast rule about that. If you like rectangular lights, go ahead and install some.
Typically lights are installed to keep a low profile. These aren’t party lights, after all. They serve a specific function and you’re not drawing attention to them. For that reason, things like rectangular lights are often a good choice. They’re small and they fit with the flow of most trailer designs. They don’t stand out because they’re not supposed to.
At the end of the day, the function of the light is just to provide light. Because of that, the shape is really cosmetic. As long as they work, the overall design doesn’t really matter.
The other thing you need to consider is which lights your trailer requires. You need lights that serve more than one function. Kits are best for including all of these lights, but this depends on the kind of trailer you have.
Any given boat trailer is going to need to have the following kinds of lights installed.
- Brake Lights: Boat trailer brake lights are the red lights that alert other drivers that you hit the brakes. These are arguably the most important safety features on a boat trailer. It’s not legal to tow a trailer that does not have working brake lights. If you stop suddenly and your brake lights are not functioning, a driver behind you may not have time to react. That could lead to an accident and even fatalities.
- Tail Lights: These lights illuminate when you have your headlights on. They are just indicator lights used in low light conditions. Drivers behind you will be able to see your trailer in lower light conditions. That’s why you always want these functioning the way they are supposed to.
- Turning Signals: A signal light is almost as important as your brake lights. These are typically amber and located to the left and right sides of your trailer. They indicate when you are making a right or left turn. They’ll also flash in an emergency when you put on your blinkers.
- Side Marker Lights: As the name indicates, these are lights on the sides of your trailer. These are usually amber as well. They help other drives see when you are approaching at an angle. If you are coming around a curve in the road, the rear lights on your trailer will not be visible. But a driver will be able to see these lights as you come around.
- Reflectors: These are required as well and help illuminate your trailer even if the lights fail. Reflectors pick up the lights of other drivers. These are not wired, however. As such they are not truly lights.
- Clearance Lights: So far all of the lights we have mentioned are for trailers that are less than 80 inches wide. If you have a larger trailer, you will need additional lights. These are for bigger boats like a yacht. Clearance lights need to be both forward and rear facing. Forward facing clearance lights are amber. Rear facing are red. These must be placed as far to the sides of the trailer as possible. Typically that means on the fenders behind the tires. Because your trailer is wider than normal, these alert drivers to the additional size.
- Rear Identification Lights: This is another kind of lighting required for larger trailers. In addition to the clearance lights, a set of three rear identification lights is needed. Usually these come as a set, a single bar of three red lights. The trailer light bar can be affixed in the center of the trailer at the back. You’ll notice any large rigs on the road have these lights. They’re even on large tractor trailers and 18-wheelers. The three rear identification lights are just to alert you of an oversized vehicle.
Installation and Wiring
When it comes to installing lights on your boat trailer, you have a couple of options. There’s always taking your trailer into a shop. You can get a professional to install the lights for you. They can do the wiring and make sure it all works. But that option is going to take some money. It may also be more inconvenient since you’re working on someone else’s schedule.
The other option is what most boaters opt for. That’s handling the installation and wiring yourself. Of course this can seem intimidating if you’re new to all of this. Wiring is especially intimidating for first timers. Many people fear they won’t know how to do it the right way. There’s also a general anxiety many people feel working with any kind of electricity and wiring. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Wiring the lights on a boat trailer is actually a fairly simple wiring job. Even if you have never wired a single thing in your life.
Some wiring kits are clearly designed for experts. These ones can include very complex wiring systems. They also offer instructions that are harder to understand. Obviously this is something to avoid if you’re not comfortable with this kind of work. Instead, opt for some of these much simpler kits. The quality of the product is just as good as the more expert brands. You won’t be buying an inferior product at all. But what you will get is a simple wiring job with very clear instructions. If a kit includes all the hardware you need, the job becomes so much easier. If you need to buy additional hardware, that needs to be factored into the value. And not just in terms of dollars and cents but time. If you have to go to the hardware store to pick up something, that’s a potential waste of your time.
Remember, if you want to do this yourself but feel stuck, there are solutions. Use an online walkthrough if the instructions are too vague. Sometimes watching a video on YouTube makes everything so much easier to understand. Actually seeing how it’s done rather than reading it can be very helpful. And there are lots of videos out there. They may not have your exact trailer or lighting kit, but that may not matter. The general principles are the same.
Also, if you’re rewriting an existing trailer that had lights, you can use the same wiring. This can save a lot of time and effort.
The thing you need to remember about boat trailer lights is where and how they work. These are not your average, everyday tail lights. Most of us are not backing our trucks right into a lake or the ocean, right? But these lights on your trailer are going to be exposed frequently to such conditions. That means they need to be able to stand up to corrosion better than usual. If you boat in saltwater, this is even more of an issue.
Plastic coverings are able to withstand most environments, including water. But the wiring inside and the hardware is the issue. That’s why you need to make sure you’re buying marine grade LED lights. Look for lights that have an IP67 rating and are DOT approved. These will be the most rugged and able to withstand the elements better than others.
We’ve seen more than one boater who tried to swap a regular tail light onto a boat trailer. Maybe one broke or shorted out and that was all they had in a pinch. It might help you get from Point A to Point B but that’s it. If you plan to keep using your boat trailer as intended, you need the right lights that can handle the work.
This is a spot where you need to make sure you’re buying marine-grade materials. The plastic coverings over your lights should be able to stand up to immersion in water. If the case isn’t waterproof and your light shorts out, that’s a problem. Cheaper lights and kits are not always made for marine purposes. Don’t forget that there are dozens of kinds of trailers out there. Many of them can use lighting kits interchangeably. But most are not intended to actually go in the water. For that reason you need to make sure you’re looking at the right product before you put time and money into it.
Standard light coverings are often water resistant. They need to withstand things like rain and splashes from puddles. But as a boater you know that water resistant and waterproof are very different things. Make sure yours are water tight and designed for this specific job.
You’re going to want to go with LED lights for this job, in our opinion. Luckily, we’re at a point now where LED lights are more affordable and more efficient. LED brightness can easily rival that of traditional bulbs. And the light is directional, so the LEDs can be pointed right where you need the light to be.
Keep in mind when you do buy these lights that the range of brightness can be very high. You don’t need LED lights that rival the sun. Get the most efficient can you can that do the job you need them to do.
Are LED Trailer Lights the Only Kind?
LED lights are becoming the standard today but that hasn’t always been the case. Incandescent bulbs have long dominated the industry. That’s because they were the first bulbs ever invented. In fact, the incandescent light bulb dates back to around 1802. That’s a heck of an old bulb. And many people still use them in their homes today. You can find them in cars, trailers, houses and more all over the world.
LED bulbs are light-emitting diodes. They use energy far more efficiently than an incandescent bulb. And many people are surprised to learn they were invented in the 1960s. This is surprising give the timeline. It’s only really been in the last decade or so that LED lights have become the dominant tech for most kinds of lighting.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that LED lights really became commercially viable. That’s because there weren’t white LED lights available before that time. When they were created they were red and then blue and green followed. Eventually a range of colors were produced. But white lights didn’t exist until scientists coated blue lights in phosphors. That kicked off the LED industry for commercial and residential uses. That was when they became a viable option for things like your boat trailer.
LED lights are a far better option for lighting than incandescent bulbs. An incandescent bulb needs 60 watts to do what an LED bulb can do with 10 watts. This is due to how energy is used by each. Much of the energy in a traditional incandescent bulb is lost as heat. That’s why changing a light bulb just after it burned out could be a precarious task. If you’ve ever tried and burned your fingers on the bulb, that’s why. But LED bulbs convert very little energy to heat. Instead, they are able to focus almost all the energy they use into producing light.
Because LEDs are so energy efficient, it’s easy to see why they make good trailer lights. You need little power to get the same brightness. And the lack of heat makes them ideal for working in small spaces. You don’t need to worry about the heat affecting the plastic casing of the light. That means LED lights can be made smaller but just as powerful.
Most trailers that are older can still be easily adapted to using LED lights. You just need to swap the lights and fixtures for a new LED kit. Installation is often a simple job.
If you still wish to use incandescent bulbs, that is not a problem. You can find many sizes of incandescent bulbs on sites like Amazon or in marine stores to replace old bulbs. The big upside of incandescent bulbs is that they are incredibly cheap. A pack of several bulbs won’t set you back too much money at all.
The drawbacks to incandescent bulbs are several.
- Lifespan. An incandescent bulb had a limited lifespan. Different sized bulbs will obviously last different amounts of time. But an average incandescent bulb lasts around 1200 hours. That sounds impressive until you learn that an LED bulb can last 10 to 100 times longer. Some of the most reliable LED lights can produce light for over 100,000 hours. This means the cost offset for buying cheaper bulbs is not actually worth it.
- Efficiency. As we already stated, incandescent bulbs do not use energy as efficiently as LEDs. In fact, an incandescent bulb has the worst energy efficiency of any light bulb you can buy. Upwards of 90% of the power that goes into an incandescent bulb is released as heat, not light.
- Direction. A problem few people consider with incandescents is how they project light. Incandescent bulbs are often rounded. They shed light in a full 360 degree range. But does your tail light need that? You may have noticed LED lights are flat. They project light out in one direction and cover about 180 degrees at most. There is no need for the light to go up, down and even backwards. So they are able to focus their energy in a more usable way. That also improves energy use and brightness.
LEDs are by far the superior option in most, if not all circumstances. That said, there are still some drawbacks to LEDs
- Cost. Arguably the greatest downside to an LED light is the price. They aren’t hundreds of dollars, of course. But when you see a $3 incandescent bulb next to a $7 LED bulb, it can be tempting to save the money.
- Heat endurance. LED lights do not work well in high heat. This shouldn’t be an issue for most trailers but it can be. If your trailer is in the sun on a very hot day, the temperature can really pick up. Likewise if you store your trailer someplace that gets very hot, be wary. This excess heat could lower their lifespan.
- Use. One of the other major drawbacks of LEDs actually doesn’t matter in this instance. In home lighting, LEDs are often not dimmer compatible. That’s inconvenient in that instance but has no relevance to a trailer light.
We recommend going with LED lights whenever possible. The efficiency and lifespan are just so superior it’s not really a contest. Traditional incandescent bulbs really only win in terms of short term benefit. The cheapness in the moment makes them a viable option when LED is not an option. But honestly, that’s not likely to matter that much when it comes to a boat trailer. If you’re outfitting your trailer with new lights you’re investing time and money. Do it the right way and invest in LEDs. They’re a better choice in pretty much every way.
You’ll need to make sure you’re taking care of the lights on your trailer. Most of us don’t bother maintaining lights. When’s the last time you cleaned the lights on your car aside from a typical scrub down in a car wash? It rarely happens. But trailer lights may need a little extra car. If they’re going in and out of water, they can get dirtier than usual. Make sure you keep them clean before you head out on the road. It doesn’t take a lot of work to wash them off.
There are dozens of tips and tricks for cleaning off lights on the internet. Honestly, a lot of them aren’t even necessary. But if you want to deep clean them, just make sure it’s not abrasive. If you use something that scratches the plastic, it can cause the lights to appear dimmer. Usually just a simple rag and some warm, soapy water will do the trick. If they’re really muddy you may need to get into some cracks with a tool to work it out.
The Bottom Line
Properly wired and reliable boat trailer lights are important. In the grand scheme of boating this is something we rarely think about until we get a new trailer or a light burns out. But remember, these really are valuable parts of the trailer. They keep you safe, your boat safe, and other drivers safe. The different between reliably boat trailer lights and unreliable ones could be severe. We’re talking about a destroyed boat or even a deadly accident. Make sure you pick the right ones and test the wiring to ensure they work well.
As always, be safe and have fun out there.