Understanding IP and NEMA Ratings for LED Boat Lights

For sustained illumination in marine environments, which in most cases are rough, humid and watery, LED boat lights are reinforced with specific standards, such as Ingress Protection (IP) and National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) ratings.

IP and NEMA standards are the most common set of guidelines that allow operators to effectively gauge how far they can push lighting systems before succumbing to malfunction or failure. This article explains how to distinguish IP and NEMA ratings on LED boat lights.

IP Guidelines

IP ratings follow a standard format of ‘IP’ followed by two digits or letters. The first letter is related to the unit’s level of protection against solid particles. This indicator ranges from zero to six, with zero offering no special protection against solid objects. At the highest level, a starting digit of six provides dust tight protection or complete protection from dust. The second digit reveals the object’s level of protection against liquids. This salient indicator ranges from zero to 9K, which provides protection from hot jets (80 °C water) – associated with wash or spray down sessions.

IP ratings can also include additional letters for protection against specific hazards and conditions. A letter ‘F’ signifies oil resistance, a letter ‘H’ relates to high voltage and a letter ‘W’ offers protection from various weather-related conditions.

For LED boat lights, the most common IP ratings include IP67, IP56 and IP54.

NEMA Ratings

NEMA ratings are prevalent in the US and Canada, while IP guidelines are applicable worldwide. Moreover, the guidelines go beyond protection from liquids and dust. The rating system adds protection against corrosion resistance and hazardous atmospheres, related to flammable or explosive substances. NEMA enforces their ratings using a scale that ranges from one to 13. NEMA 1 is applicable to indoor enclosures with limited or general protection from dust (note: not dust tight), light, water and normal weather conditions.

NEMA 6 and NEMA 6P (as well as NEMA 4 and NEMA 4X) are most suitable for LED boat lights. This NEMA type provides protection in submersible conditions, with NEMA 6P offering extended periods of submersion in water or oil. This level of protection may also apply to manholes and quarries.

NEMA 7 to NEMA 10 are reserved for certain classifications of explosion proof protection. NEMA 10 adheres to compliance with MSHA guidelines for mining equipment. The last three NEMA ratings (NEMA 11, NEMA 12/12K and NEMA 13) are related to corrosion resistance and special elements.

IP and NEMA ratings are two different rating systems; however, some classifications intertwine with each other. For example, NEMA 1 is equivalent to IP10, while NEMA 6 and NEMA 6P corresponds to IP67.

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