World Record Jon Boat Journey Relies on Advanced LED Lighting

Marine-tough LED strip lights provide illumination during 1,500 mile trip, enhance safety and functionality for boats and watercraft

When Marc Phelps broke the world record for the longest solo journey in a small flat-bottomed jon boat, traveling over 1,500 miles down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, he relied on an advanced new type of ultra-thin LED strip lighting to safely keep his footing in the fast moving rivers, as well as provide quick access to his gear.

“If I needed my whistle, lifejacket, fire extinguisher, emergency tools or supplies, I wanted fast access without fumbling in the dark with a flashlight,” says Phelps, who piloted the 20’ long, 7.5’ wide jon boat with a 50 horsepower motor down the rivers in three weeks.  “The LED lighting made it safer and easier for me to see everything and be seen; it wouldn’t be hard to fall off the boat if I tripped on something I couldn’t see clearly and lost my footing.”

Fortunately, for Phelps as well as those using a wide range of watercraft, including motorboats, sailboats, yachts, rowboats and jet skis, improvements in LED technology along with products specifically designed for marine use are now providing a better way to light up the night for safety as well as task lighting.

Advances in LED Technology

While LED strip lights are by no means new, most offerings were designed for interior or light-outdoor use – not for outdoor marine use.  Up until recently, LED strips were relatively thick and inflexible, making it difficult to conform to contoured surfaces or bend around tight corners.

Now, however, advances in thin-film LED technology are producing much brighter lighting, using paper-thin strips that are flexible enough to bend around corners and contours.  Yet the lighting is rugged enough to stand up to a harsh marine environment, where saltwater, wind, waves, and storms can often be expected.  Such LEDs can also be easily installed into the existing lighting power system or a supplied battery box.  As a result, the number of applications and locations for LED safety and functional lighting is skyrocketing for maritime and watercraft use.

In Phelps’ case, he relied on the XTL Marine Kit by Grote Industries, a leading LED lighting manufacturer.

According to Phelps, he opted to install the LED lighting under a lip on his jon boat’s seats, in the benches, and as perimeter lighting on the outside of the boat, in a battery operated solar panel powered application.  The product includes patented thin-film technology only 0.5 mils thick (equivalent to a piece of paper) in 34” strips that produce a very high 475+ lumens.

Designed specifically for boats and watercraft, the XTL is designed to meet or exceed established industry standards.  This includes being waterproof, submersible, and capable of withstanding pressure washing with hot water, rather than just rain-resistant.

The LED light strips are also resistant to 25 of the most common chemicals associated with watercraft in the event of exposure or spills, including diesel fuel, motor oil and battery acid.

“Typical flashlights, lanterns and lights shined from above casts shadows and usually ties up the use of one hand,” says Phelps.  “Having the even LED lighting from below eliminated any issue of shadows, freed up both my hands, and evenly lit the entire inside of the boat.  This was key in helping me to safely, quickly access and sort my supplies whenever I needed to throughout the trip.”

Docked at Derby Landing, Indiana
Jon Boat World Record Map
River Record Adventure Jon Boat
Marc Phelps River Record Adventure

Enhancing Watercraft Safety and Function

For powerboats, sailboats, yachts, kayaks and other watercraft, traveling at night, in low light conditions such as dusk or dawn, or even when overcast or foggy, can be downright risky with only standard lighting.

While traditional green or red safety lights at the front or back of the boat provide some visibility to other vessels, in most cases collision avoidance could be improved with added lighting.  Now LED lighting is providing such supplementary illumination.

“At night you can barely see the green and red safety lights that boats are required to have,” says Mark Turk, who pilots a pontoon boat on a river near his home in Bradenton, Florida.  “You can get startled by a boat popping up in front of you that you didn’t realize was there.”

Turk has installed Grote’s XTL LED lighting on all four sides of his pontoon boat.

“With the LED lights on, you can see the boat from about a half mile away at night,” says Turk.  “It could also help in a similar way at dusk, dawn, or when it’s overcast, foggy or visibility is not clear.”

To improve safety, Turk also installed the LED lights under the seats shining on the floor, and in key compartments.

“LEDs can also improve visibility for steps, floors, cabins, galleys, bathrooms, anywhere that needs more light,” says Turk.  “They also allow us to see into dark compartments much easier.”

As owner of Mad Mark’s Stereo Warehouse in Bradenton, Turk has found that the LED lights also fill a need among his customers who own boats.  To date, he has installed them in a number of his customer’s watercraft, including powerboats, yachts, and even a Jet Ski.

One aspect that has impressed Turk is the flexibility and ease of installation of the new, thinner LED light strips.  The product is installed with peel-and-stick tape and can be connected to the existing power system or a supplied battery box.

He was also impressed by the ultra-thin profile of the LED lights, as well as their durability.

“Before, LED lights were a lot thicker and quite inflexible, making it difficult to bend around tight corners,” says Turk.  “We often had a heck of a time installing them.”

Not to be overlooked for Turk, however, is the “fun factor” of such lighting, which allows creative uses.

“These LEDs are fun and there’s so much you can do with them, such as light up a party boat, a sailboat’s mast, or even kayaks, canoes, rowboats, or wakeboards,” concludes Turk.  “Because they are so bright, easy to use, and require so little power, they give us options we never had before.”

For more information about XTL Marine Kits, contact Grote at 2600 Lanier Drive, Madison, Indiana 47250; phone: +1 (800) 628-0809; email; or online at


  1. “While traditional green or red safety lights at the front or back of the boat provide some visibility to other vessels, in most cases collision avoidance could be improved with added lighting. Now LED lighting is providing such supplementary illumination.”

    POPPYCOCK!!! The same technology in properly positioned running lights will tell you some interesting things; like which way that other guy is pointed, for instance. These “Viva Las Vegas” displays make things worse. And, what about that business of protecting your night vision?

    Dan Rogers

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