The needs of every archer-angler are different, which means every boat those archer-anglers build for bowfishing is going to be different. One particularly hot topic amongst bowfisherman is lights. This article is a quick guide to finding your perfect light setup.
Before we dive into choosing your bowfishing light setup, you need to understand a little about lights.
How Lights are Measured
- Watts: A watt is a measurement of electric power; in lights wattage indicates how much power the bulb needs in order to operate. You can read more here.
- Lumens: Lumens are a simple way to describe how bright a light is. One lumen is approximately equal to the amount of light put out by one birthday candle that's one foot away from you. A bulb's lumen output is dependent on wattage and type of light.
- Kelvins: Kelvins describe the color temperature of the light. Different colors emit different wavelengths and some wavelengths penetrate water more than others. A lower number in kelvins results in a more warm, amber or red light. This color emits a shorter wavelength causing the light to penetrate water particles better. The higher the kelvins number, the more cool or blue the light will become and the longer the wavelengths will be.
Types of common bowfishing lights: LED & High Pressure Sodium
LED Lights for Bowfishing
The wattage for LED bulbs is most commonly 50-100 watts. Lumen output is roughly 60-80 times the number of watts for LED. So, for example, a 50 watt LED generates roughly 3500 lumens, and a 100 watt LED will generate approximately 8000 lumens per light.
LED floodlights generally only come in two colors: cool white which is more blue and roughly 5000 kelvin, and warm white which is 2700-3000 kelvins. I highly recommend warm white for bowfishing if you want to use LED lights. It's more yellow and penetrates the water better. Another great thing about LEDs is that they are lightweight, coming in at 1-5 pounds. They also emit light instantly upon flipping a switch; this makes them a fast and easy way to get you setup and fishing for the night.
High Pressure Sodium Lights for Bowfishing
High Pressure Sodium lights (HPSs) are commonly available in 150 watt and 400 watt options, however, once in awhile you can find them in 250 watts. Compared to LEDs, HPSs are much brighter. How much brighter? About 100 times brighter for their lumen output per watt! This means a 150 watt HPS light creates about 15,000 lumens. If we do the math, a 250 watt HPS bulb generates 25,000 lumens and a 400 watt HPS light will produce about 40,000 lumens. In addition to being brighter than LED lights, HPSs also come in at about 2000-2200 kelvins, so they emit a warm, amber-colored light that penetrates water better. This makes them ideal for successful bowfishing in muddy or dirty water.
Which light type is best for bowfishing?
After reading about HPS lights, you might be thinking, "Why would anyone choose LED lights for bowfishing?" Well the higher wattage output of those HPSs requires a bigger generator to power them. Bigger generators bring more noise and take up more room on your boat. Along with the noise, a HPS light system will also need a few minutes to warm up to peak output. When they get to peak output, they can get incredibly hot and are more prone to bulbs breaking inside of them. This can be a real problem if you don’t have any spare bulbs laying around, especially mid-tournament.
(Photo Credit: Bowfishing TV)
Finally, you have to consider their weight. The basic HPS light is composed of 3 things: a bulb, the housing, and a ballast. The ballast alone on a 400 watt HPS light weighs about 8 pounds. Add in a housing big enough to hold a 12-inch bulb and you can easily be at 15 pounds or more per HPS light. So if you're on a smaller boat, weight may become an issue.
How do I choose my bowfishing lights?
I recommend bowfishing lights to others based on their needs.
If you don’t encounter much dirty water like us in the north, then LED is a great way to go. They are a fast and easy way to get on the water.
If you're going to run mostly dirty water, HPS are the way to go. The ramp up time really isn’t that bad and, with the correct glass to protect the bulb, they don’t fail very often.
If you're running a smaller boat (48-54 inch bottom) then I suggest you run a 150 watt LED over the 400 watt HPS. You won’t get the extra lumens of a bigger HPS light, but you also won’t have the added weight. 150 watt LED lights are only about 10 pounds.
What lights do I use for bowfishing?
For my personal boat, I use LED lights. I shoot mostly clear water so it fits my needs. I have a mud motor which doesn’t like to haul weight. I run two 1000 watt generators coming in at 38 pounds total, which runs incredibly quiet.
However, our bowfishing tournament boats are all equipped with 400 watt HPS lights. The boats are both 18 ft. long and one has a 60-inch bottom and the other has a 72-inch bottom. The extra lumen output is worth the weight in those bigger boats. This becomes an even bigger advantage when shooting across the state of Michigan and/or places where conditions aren’t always ideal.
(Photo Credit: Bowfishing TV)
In conclusion, your boat lights will be like any relationship. There is a little give and take. What works for you might not work for others. Understanding lights and the general conditions you’ll be shooting will give you the knowledge to make the best choice on which lights will be best for your bowfishing adventures.
- Jonathan Beebe
Johnathan Beebe is an expert bowfisherman from Michigan with 20+ years of experience. He was the winner of the 2019 Great Lakes Bowfishing Championship (GLBC) and is a proud member of the Loxley Bowfishing team.