Tips on decorating your boat for holiday parades

If you, like me, are seeking relief from an election news hangover, may I offer my favorite distraction?

Consider participating in your local holiday boat parade and plan your decorations.

Recently I spoke with Devin Scott, owner of the 45-foot trawler Scott’s Landing, which has won multiple “best of show” awards in the San Diego Bay Parade of Light, to get a few decorating tips.

Scott explained he and his wife, both television stagecrafters who regularly design and build props and sets from scratch, begin the design process about a month before the parade with their boat’s photograph and sketch out a design to fit the annual theme. They then order online any needed specialty lights.

Last year they built a black light volcano for the Hawaiian theme. This year’s theme celebrates the San Diego Zoo’s 100th anniversary, so they will buy pink lights for their flamingo display.

The Scotts host parties for a dozen friends on two successive weekends before the parade, first to build the needed props and then to install them and string the lights. It takes about four hours each day for 12 people to construct components and string lights, he explained.

Scott recommended using easily cut 4-by-8-foot sheets of foam to create design elements such as snowflakes and, to animate the display, buy special adapters to make light strings blink. To power their designs they use three portable generators on board, but are now shifting to more energy-efficient LED lighting requiring less power.

“One tough part is making the decorations weatherproof. Last year a big storm broke a bunch of decorations which we had to rebuild before the second parade,” Scott said, explaining this year they’re incorporating weatherproofing into their design.

Whatever your choices, it’s important to consider electrical safety when creating your layout. Last year I devoted my Nov. 24, 2015 column to safety factors in boat lighting displays. You can read recommendations from John Valle, San Diego West Marine assistant manager and “electrical guy” at the 1250 Rosecrans St. location, in The Log’s Dock Lines archives at, (

Valle, who conducts an annual boat lighting seminar for the parade committee, is always ready to offer advice to any boater in need, as are electrical specialists at West Marine’s superstores and other marine supply stores.

Here are a few of Valle’s key points:

  • In lighting your boat, never mount your lights so close to the water they’ll become submerged.
  • Keep holiday lights at least a foot above the water to allow for wakes and waves.
  • Use only high-quality Underwriters Laboratory-approved outdoor-rated holiday lights and marine-grade 10 or 12-gauge extension cords on a separate breaker, plus compatible water-resistant connectors and sockets.
  • Never exceed the number of strings of lights the manufacturer recommends connecting and use LED lights whenever possible for their energy efficiency and greater safety.

If you’re seeking inspiration and durable high quality, 120-volt outdoor-rated lighting and festive display elements to light up your boat, check out San Diego’s holiday store, City Lights, at 1212 Knoxville St., off Morena Blvd.

During a recent visit, while I admired LED-lit snowmen, angels and reindeer, I met owner Brian Young. He recommended Lumineo, their new line of sturdily built lights designed to tougher European standards. He felt they would stand up well in the marine environment. Most of their lighting is rated for outdoor use, he explained, but isn’t considered “waterproof.”

Scott encouraged boaters to join the parade and advised using your imagination and making the planning and design process fun, not work.

“Anybody can do it. It’s whatever you have fun doing. Anything is possible,” Scott said.

(photo by Capt. Nicole Sours Larson)

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