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USCG warns LED may interfere with VHF reception

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The U.S. Coast Guard has issued an alert to mariners that it has received reports of onboard LED lighting interfering with VHF reception, causing a potential safety hazard by affecting a vessel’s radio-telephone, digital selective calling (DSC) and automatic identification systems (AIS).
The alert reports that ships in different ports have experienced degradation of the VHF receivers, including AIS, caused by their LED navigation lights. LED lighting installed near VHF antennas has also shown to compound the reception. In one example, a maritime rescue coordination center in port was unable to contact by VHF radio a ship involved in a traffic separation scheme incident, and the ship also experienced poor AIS reception.

Strong radio interference from light-emitting diode sources –  such as navigation lights, searchlights and floodlights, interior and exterior lights, and adornment – may not be immediately evident to maritime radio users, the Coast Guard warns. It advises testing for the presence of LED interference by taking the following steps:

  1. Turn off LED light(s).
  2. Tune the VHF radio to a quiet channel (e.g,. Channel 13).
  3. Adjust the VHF radio’s squelch control until the radio outputs audio noise.
  4. Readjust the VHF radio’s squelch control until the audio noise is quiet, only slightly above the noise threshold.
  5. Turn on the LED light(s). If the radio now outputs audio noise, then the LED lights have raised the noise floor. (Noise floor is generally the amount of interfering signals/static received beyond the specific signal or channel being monitored.)
  6. If the radio does not output audio noise, then the LED lights have not raised the noise floor. If the noise floor is found to have been raised, then it is likely that both shipboard VHF marine radio and AIS reception are being degraded by LED lighting, according to the Coast Guard alert.

According to manufacturer Hella Marine, all electronic devices give off some level of electro-magnetic interference (EMI). “The danger comes when this interference occurs in the frequency range between 156 MHz and 165 MHz, used by marine VHF and AIS systems,” the company stated in a news release regarding the USCG alert.

Regulatory authorities have created specific maritime navigation and radio communications equipment standards for LED lighting used on boats. When refitting lights, look for lamps that meet maritime EMI standards.

The USCG has asked that those experiencing this problem report it to at www.navcen.uscg.gov. Select “Maritime Telecommunications” on the subject drop-down list, then briefly describe the make and model of LED lighting and radios affected, distance from lighting to antennas and radios affected, and any other information that may help illuminate the scope of the problem.

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