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FIRST STAR NAV/ANCHOR



First Star LED navigational / anchor light, retail $150 (http://firststarled.com/)
Manufactured by FirstStar (http://firststarled.com/)
Updated 09-22-01


LED Light
LED Light


The colorful promotional material that came with the sample First Star Mark II Anchor Light reads as follows:

"Get the visibility of a 25 watt bulb....for less than 10% of
the power! Long life leds mean no bulbs burning out! Why settle for
power hungry, unreliable antique 'hot wire' technology, when you
can use energy friendly leds!"


That seems like a pretty heavy bill to fill, until you actually see one of these things for yourself!

The First Star is a drop-in replacement for your existing white anchor light or other white nav light on any small to medium sized boat. I'm no expert, but I'd imagine this type of fixture would be used on watercraft up to 65' in length, from bow to stern.
(Upon examination of available data, this figure is correct - it is supposed to be used on vessels 65' or less, and should be visible at 2 miles away over water.)

It comes with a bi-pin bayonet base, and contains three arrays of brilliant white Nichia SMD LEDs, a special energy-conscious PWM (VPW, actually) driver circuit, and a protective plastic "bulb" that covers the works. It also has a built-in "day-night" sensor to prevent it from burning during the day when it is not needed. As soon as it begins to become dusk, the First Star will come on, all by itself. No switches to forget, and the power drain during the day is virtually unmeasurable.
More on these features later in this review.



Unlike some clumsy retrofits that occasionally show up on the market, the First Star is remarkably easy to use.
Just remove the light cover from your existing anchor light, remove & discard that old fashioned incandesent bulb, and insert the First Star in the socket. Like all bayonet based bulbs, you align the small projections with the notches on the socket, press the bulb straight down, and give it about 1/10 of a turn until it stops. Then replace the light cover (clean it inside & out if necessary) and you're good to go. If the bulb does not fit the socket, turn it 180 and try it again; the First Star uses an offset pin design that is commonly found in the types of fixtures it is made for.

From the website, here is a more detailed explanation of what kinds of marine fixtures the First Star is meant for:

The "First Star Mark II" is an LED based replacement "bulb" designed for use as a direct replacement for the bulb used in the lower anchor light section of existing Tri-Color masthead fixtures. Good Tri-Color fixtures are made by "Aqua-Signal", "Perko", "Hella" and others using the common double contact, index-pin, bayonet base bulbs."



Since this product uses your boat's 12V battery and not flashlight batteries, there is no need to put anything in this section. However, for the sake of clarity, I will put meter readings here.

At 12.59 volts, the First Star draws just 84.0mA (0.08A), which is about 10% of what your existing anchor light uses.



The First Star Mark II is designed to last forever. It is housed in a thick, plastic "bulb" that is chemical and UV resistant and won't cloud up over time. The LEDs are rated to last 100,000+ hours, so there's no fragile filament to go out or delicate glass bulb to pop.

The First Star uses a sophisticated circuit to power its 12 bright white LEDs; although the details are proprietary, a method called Variable Pulse Width is used to ensure the same level of brightness under varying voltage - from 9v (a battery so dead it would probably need to be thrown away) up to 15v.
The light will even withstand up to 30v for a short time, plus it is insensitive to polarity (it will work when hooked up backwards) and other electrical mischief that might cause problems with other LED retrofits. So it will work regardless of how the two pins in your bi-pin anchor light happen to be wired.

Worried about RFI (radio frequency interference)? Don't be. The First Star is fully RFI shielded and doesn't interfere with any type of marine or ham radio equipment.

The First Star also has a built-in day/night sensor, which eliminates the need for a seperate switch. It handily turns itself on when it is needed (at dusk), and turns itself off in the morning. Sweet.

The test sample was really manhandled in order to force it into a socket that wasn't made for it (two seperate times), yet it works just fine, and didn't crack or make odd plasticky, crackly noises while the dastardly deed was being done. So these things are definitely tough. It should therefore handle being pushed into a slightly rusty socket - though I would strongly suggest you avoid doing so and clean the socket first; not because the bulb will break, but to ensure you have a nice electrical connection when you're done. :)

Although these are built to last, if yours goes kaplooey during the first five years, it will be replaced thanks to the impressive warranty.

Since I don't have a boat (or have ready access to one), I'll be testing this product a bit differently. On the back of my electric wheelchair is a holder for a long fiberglass rod, the kind you sometimes see bicyclers with that has a small orange flag at the top. I removed the flag, and will replace it with the First Star and just putter around that way for a few months.


First Star ready for some action on my electric wheelchair.
Tell me they won't see this in & around a 47,000 seat baseball stadium!


My first real chance to test it for actual visibility will occur on the night of August 8th, when the Mariners host the Blue Jays at 7:05pm. Assuming they finish in 9 innings, it will be *VERY* dark by the time the game lets out and I drive the wheelchair from Safeco Field to a location not far from the Space Needle. I will report my first set of findings (including any comments I hear) at that time.




TEST NOTES:
Test sample has been mounted on my motorized wheelchair and is supplied by a 12V 17Ah gell cell battery.
Light will be tested in as many situations as I can get myself into without becoming injured. A seperate on/off switch was installed to kill the light in places it might be inappropriate or offensive, such as a restaraunt setting or on public transit.

SPECIAL NOTE: Although the First Star does meet the 2 mile visibility required of white anchor lights, it is not "officially" certified because Deep Creek Design does not manufacture the actual fixture & cover for the anchor lights on your vessel.
If this certification is important to you, First Star bulbs should be used entirely at your own risk and discretion if you intend to replace your original certified anchor lights with them.

This lamp is not designed for fixtures with colored lenses. It is only intended to be used in the clear (white) anchor light, or in the clear portion only of a tricolor fixture.

Also, the bulb itself is not immersible; it is intended to be used in an existing fixture with a plastic or glass cover. Dropping the bulb in water, especially salt water, will probably spell the end of it.
My evaluation unit will be covered in plastic food wrap if I need to go somewhere in foul weather.


UPDATE 07-27-01:
The First Star ventured out of the house for its maiden voyage today. The purpose was to get a feel for how its photocell responds to light & dark conditions. Regardless of apparent ambient illumination (except in locations with huge skylights & direct sun pouring in), the First Star is always on while indoors.

In overcast (mostly mid-level stratus clouds) and out in the open (more than 3' to 4' away from the shaded portion of any structure), it stays off; but when passing under an overpass, under wood-covered scaffolding, or under large shade trees; it comes on. This was judged by the admittedly crude method of observing my reflection in windows I passed. :-O
I expect it to stay off under virtually all outdoor conditions when the sky is clear and the sun is shining.
Not sure when that will happen in Seattle again, but I'll be ready for when it does. ;)

Since this is going to be a long-term project, I may very well add an indicator to my dash or some other visible location on the chair showing when the First Star is on and when it is not.
But suffice it to say, when you install it on your boat, it will generally always be off during the day and always turn just before or just after sunset, depending on cloud cover. It may also come on if there is a severe storm squall overhead with clouds dark enough to make it *seem* like dusk during daylight hours.


UPDATE 08-10-01:
The First Star *WAS* noticed at that August 8 Mariners game. Around the 6th inning, I was accosted by stadium security and asked to extinguish the light, as it was reportedly pissing off the home plate umpire. I was seated in Section 152, in deep left center field, around 550 to 600 feet away!!! He was probably saying "What the {vulgar term for intercourse} is that {vulgar term for having intercourse} bright blue-white LIGHT up there?!?!?"
I turned it back on anytime I went for a break, and upon leaving the game after our victory. The light received a fair number of comments throughout the night, all positive ones except for that home plate umpire. :-)
The trip home was occasionally punctuated by the honking of car horns, and people pointing at the light & giving "thumbs up" gestures from car windows. I couldn't have asked for a more positive reaction overall.
Now if only I had a boat...


PROS:
Bright enough to be seen from a distance
Unique blue-white color *really* stands out (people mistake it for an arc light)
Durable construction
"Bisexual" (insensitive of polarity)
Tolerant of varying system voltage
Low current drain
Easy drop-in replacement
Never burns out.

CONS:
Well, it LOOKS different... and you know how some people can discriminate based on looks alone.


          MANUFACTURER: FirstStar
          PRODUCT TYPE: Marine / Navigational Aid
          LAMP TYPE: LED, White, SMD
          No. OF LAMPS: 12
          BEAM TYPE: Segmented toroid, 360
          SWITCH TYPE: N/A
          BEZEL: Clear UV/chemical resistant plastic, thicker than usual
          BATTERY: N/A
          CURRENT CONSUMPTION: 80 to 100 milliamps @ 12 volts
          WATER RESISTANT: Splash resistant (designed to be used inside fixture)
          SUBMERSIBLE: No
          ACCESSORIES: None
          WARRANTY: 5 years



          RATING









First Star LED Nav / Anchor Light * http://firststarled.com/






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