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Rodale's Scuba Diving


10 Personal Locator Lights

Say goodbye to the use-it-once green stick. Say hello to some bright new ideas for night dives.

- By John Francis


The Cyalume light stick is fast going the way of the horse-collar BC and the single-stage regulator, replaced by various battery-powered gizmos. Even the new name sounds higher tech: personal locator lights.

One big downside of the light stick is that it becomes trash after a single use, while electric lights are reusable. Another is that light sticks sometimes discharge in the package or are triggered accidentally, turning them into duds at the dive site.

Persistent Problems

Actually, electric lights aren't the perfect solution either. Dead batteries are trash, too, though less visible. Batteries hide their morsels of lead in a landfill somewhere, assuming all of us can resist the temptation to hear them plunk into the water. And lights with the twist-to-turn-on design (almost all of the personal locator lights) can self-discharge in your gear bag, too.

More Visibility

What an electric light can do that a light stick can't—flash. A flashing light is far more noticeable than a steady one of the same brightness. I viewed all these lights together, plus a couple of light sticks, from the same distance under water, and the difference was striking.

Brighter Bulbs, Longer Life

But it's the improvement of LEDs—light-emitting diodes, like the ones used in digital watches—that probably spells the end of Cyalume sticks. LEDs are brighter than before, and available in white and orange as well as red. (Though we think of red as an attention-catching color, it doesn't penetrate water well. All the white lights were brighter than the red ones.)

LED bulbs last almost forever—100,000 hours is one claim I've seen, but I'm not going to test it. They don't break if you drop the light, and they're very gentle on batteries. More than 24 hours is the typical battery life with LEDs, which makes them truly reusable lights. LEDs are still not as bright as incandescent lights, however.

Maybe more significant than battery life is the small battery size this makes possible. LED locator lights can be tiny, with clever, unobtrusive mountings. And the little camera batteries that drive them are less of a trash problem than are flashlight batteries.

Two Notes on the Tests

The dimmest of the LED lights is about as bright as a Cyalume stick. I've indicated their brightness below as equal to one light stick, two light sticks, etc. Personal locator lights should be distinguished from strobes, by the way. Strobes are intended to signal an emergency and, in my opinion, should not be used as locators.

10 Night Lights Reviewed

Aqua Flare Mark-Lite Fire Fly
Aqua Flash Sea Star
Lazer-Stik Versa-Lite
Mark III VIP Safety Light
Mark-Lite Yoke Light

Aqua Flare

Rating * * *

Basically the same body as Princeton Tec's PT Tec 20 light, and very bright. But maybe too bright at close range, as it will degrade your night vision. Using the pink or blue cone to dissipate light would be better choices in that case. All of the cones luminesce if the batteries or bulb die, a nice touch. The glow is visible from all directions except from directly behind the light. You can remove the cone under water, turning the light into a small flashlight. No way to mount it except by its lanyard, so it's a largish object dangling around.

Price - $18.
Pros - Removable cones, various colors, luminescent cone.
Con - Bulky.
Type - Incandescent.
Cone Colors - Pink, blue, yellow, white.
Mode - Constant.
Batteries - 2 AA (included).
Dimensions - 6 1/2 in. x 2 in.
Brightness - Equal to 4 light sticks.
Contact - Princeton Tec, (609) 298-9331, www.ptsportlights.com 

Aqua Flare


Aqua Flash

Rating * * * *

Also with the PT Tec 20 body, but with a flashing light and a cone to dissipate the light. This was one of the brightest lights of the group at a distance in murky water. A good choice for marking the anchor chain, for example. The cone luminesces, as on the Aqua Flare. Slots on the body let you strap the Aqua Flash to your arm.

Price - $20.
Pro - Very noticeable.
Con - Bulky.
Type - Incandescent.
Cone Color - White.
Mode - Flashing.
Batteries - 2 AA (included).
Dimensions - 5 1/2 in. x 2 in.
Brightness - Equal to 4 light sticks.
Contact - Princeton Tec, (609) 298-9331, www.ptsportlights.com 

Aqua Flash


Lazer-Stik

Rating * *

If you miss your Cyalume stick, you'll love the Lazer-Stik, because it's almost exactly the same size, shape and illumination, and has the same lanyard hole at one end. It will do anything a chemical light will do, but for longer, and a flashing version is available. Batteries die sooner than with other LEDs—in about 12 hours instead of about 24.

Price - $12.
Pro - Resembles a Cyalume stick.
Con - Not very bright.
Batteries - 2 GPA 76 camera batteries (included).
Dimensions - 6 in. x 3/4 in.
Brightness - Equal to 1 light stick.
Cone Colors - Red or amber.
Mode - Constant or flashing.
Contact - Innovative Scuba Concepts, Inc., (719) 597-2885.

Lazer-Stik


Mark III

Rating * * * *

One of the brightest lights in the test, very nearly as bright as the VIP and less directional; the cone spreads the light in all directions fairly evenly. That's done by putting a curved strip of white plastic in the cone, which is illuminated by the bulb below. Not high-tech, but it works. The price of brightness is a light body large enough to hold three AA cells. But a battery life of 10-plus hours is claimed. I got about nine hours in continuous use, and in normal, intermittent use they would last longer. That's pretty good for a flashlight. Also available is the Mark 3 LED, an LED flashlight that doubles as a marker light (suggested retail, $30).

Price - $19.
Pros - Very bright, slots for mounting strap.
Con - Bulky.
Type - Incandescent.
Cone Colors - White, yellow, green, red.
Mode - Constant.
Batteries - 3 AA (included).
Dimensions - 9 1/2 in. x 1 1/4 in.
Brightness - Equal to 5 light sticks.
Contact - Tektite, (800) 540-2814, www.tek-tite.com 

Mark III


Mark-Lite

Rating * * *

Strap slots allow arm mounting. It resembles the Sea Star with an incandescent bulb, but it's a bit bigger, a bit less bright, with a bit more battery life. Optional kits convert to flashlight or strobe.

Price - $15.
Pros - Slots for mounting strap, optional colored cones.
Con - Moderate light for incandescent.
Type - Incandescent.
Cone Colors - White, green, yellow, red.
Mode - Constant.
Battery - 1 AA (included).
Dimensions - 6 in. x 1 1/4 in.
Brightness - 3 light sticks.
Contact - Tektite, (800) 540-2814, www.tek-tite.com 

Mark-Lite


Mark-Lite Fire Fly

Rating * * *

Five red LEDs on a ribbon of circuit board flash rapidly in a random pattern, making an eye-catching display. The board is clear so the LEDs are visible from all directions. The dancing lights make the Fire Fly more noticeable than it would be otherwise, since the LEDs are not brighter than one Cyalume stick. Batteries are claimed to last over four days.

Price - $30.
Pro - Distinctive flashing pattern.
Con - Not very bright.
Type - LED.
Cone Color - Red.
Mode - Flashing.
Batteries - 2 N 1.5 v (included).
Dimensions - 6 in. x 1 1/4 in.
Brightness - Equal to 1 light stick.
Contact - Tektite, (800) 540-2814, www.tek-tite.com 

Mark-Lite Fire Fly


Sea Star

Rating * * *

Symbolizing the trend from incandescent bulbs to LEDs, the Sea Star comes with both. Changing them is a little tricky—you have to feed two wires into two holes blind—but the difference in illumination is striking. With the white incandescent bulb, this tiny light is one of the brightest. Batteries will last only two or three hours, though, compared to 24 or more with the red LED. A flashing red LED version is promised soon. The only way to mount it is with a lanyard at its base. It floats light-up.

Price - $16.
Pro - Choice of bulbs.
Con - Difficult to install bulb.
Type - Incandescent or LED.
Cone Color - White.
Mode - Constant.
Batteries - 2 AAA (included).
Dimensions - 4 1/2 in. x 1 in.
Brightness - Equal to 4 sticks with incandescent, 1 with red LED.
Contact - Princeton Tec, (609) 298-9331, www.ptsportlights.com 

Sea Star


Versa-Lite

Rating * * * *

The best-known of Innovative Scuba Concepts' line of, well, innovative locator lights, the Versa-Lite is available in red or amber, steady or flashing versions. What sets it apart, though, is its small size and weight, allowing for more mounting options. With watch-strap slots, you could strap it or tape it almost anywhere. It's available pre-mounted to the back of a "Slap Strap" mask strap, a clever idea. My only complaints are (a small one) that twisting the light on or off is difficult with wet hands, and (a bigger one) the glow is fairly directional—like two sticks straight ahead but like only one to the side. The Versa-Lite is a Best Buy.

Price - $14.
Pros - Small, long life.
Cons - Directional beam, hard to turn on and off.
Type - LED.
Cone Colors - Red or amber.
Mode - Constant or flashing.
Batteries - 1 lithium 2032 (included).
Dimensions - 1 1/2 in. x 1 in.
Brightness - Equal to 2 light sticks.
Contact - Innovative Scuba Concepts, Inc., (719) 597-2885.

Versa-Lite


VIP Safety Light

Rating * * * *

This LED is so bright, and focused into such a narrow beam, that it can be used as a flashlight. From straight ahead, it was the brightest locator light I tested. You'd think there wouldn't be any illumination to the sides, and there isn't as much out of the water. But if there is any particulate matter in the water to dissipate the beam, the result is a large ball of amber light visible from all directions. A rotating bezel selects off, constant on, flashing and SOS modes—the best on/off switch of the bunch by far because it won't go on accidentally in your gear bag. The VIP is much heavier than the lightweight Versa-Lite, and oddly shaped. And with just one wide strap slot on the back, it is harder to mount securely. Nevertheless, the VIP is the Tester's Choice.

Price - $50.
Pros - Very bright, good switch.
Cons - Directional beam, awkward to mount.
Type - LED. Cone Color - Amber.
Mode - Constant, flashing or SOS.
Battery - 1 DL 123 3v (included).
Dimensions - 3 in. x 2 in.
Brightness - Equal to 5 light sticks.
Contact - Innovative Scuba Concepts, Inc., (719) 597-2885.

VIP Safety Light


Yoke Light

Rating * * * *

Another clever idea, this is basically a Versa-Lite incorporated into a regulator yoke screw. That way, the light is not a separate piece of equipment to be messed with. Three thread sizes are available for different yokes. On the down side, it's possible to turn on the light accidentally while tightening the yoke screw. And in the normal swimming position, the strongest part of the fairly directional beam will be pointing to the surface, not to where your buddy probably is. Still, you have to like the absolutely foolproof mounting.

Price - $25.
Pro - Clever mounting.
Cons - Directional beam, hard to turn on and off.
Type - LED.
Cone Colors - Red or amber.
Mode - Constant or flashing.
Battery - 1 lithium 2032 (included).
Dimensions - 1 3/4 in. x 1 3/4 in.
Brightness - Equal to 2 light sticks.
Contact - Innovative Scuba Concepts, Inc., (719) 597-2885.

Yoke Light


 

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Dernière mise à jour:  22 avril, 2007