Adding a Sophisticated Audio Setup to Your Boat

While it does possess its share of challenges, the boat can be as good a location to set-up and enjoy a stereo music system as any other venue. Boats share some similarities to both automobiles and stationary dwellings with regards to installing audio equipment. They also have their unique features that have to be contended with. Using the right techniques and components is the key to making quality music part of your boating experience.

What To Include

Before considering the particular aspects of installing audio on a boat, a basic list of the main components needs to be established.

  • Receiver
  • CD Player
  • MP3 Player
  • Speakers
  • Cables and Wiring
  • Amplifier

Sound Sources
Because of the unique environment, marine receivers need to be specially designed to avoid corrosion, withstand shock, and be water-resistant. In addition, the front of the device needs to be UV-resistant to deal with the sunlight reflecting off the water. The receiver operates as the control center for all music inputs. Along with its own AM/FM tuner, it handles the CD player, MP3 player, satellite radio receiver, and even music from an iPod if it's equipped for it. All of these devices are optional but each has its own advantages and disadvantages when used on a boat.
CD players produce much higher-quality sound than MP3 players. On the other hand, since they have moving parts, they're susceptible to jarring motions. Boats, unlike cars, don't have much in the way of shock absorbers. With CD players, the built-in anti-skipping mechanism won't operate properly if the player is not close to level when it's mounted. MP3 players are free from this problem at the cost of poorer sound quality. While a receiver's tuner is acceptable in most situations, if you're going very far out from shore, there's no substitute for satellite radio to maintain the best sound. In all cases, these extra attachments need to be especially rugged and water-resistant. Also, they need to be doubly-secured when mounted.

Making Noise
There are speakers made just for boats. These types usually contain plastic or synthetic rubber parts to handle the wet environment. Placing speakers in a boat can be tricky. Unlike buildings or cars, the open areas of boats don't provide lots of walls that sound can reflect off of. If the speaker isn't aimed at where you're able to directly intercept the sound, it'll simply go off into space. To make matters worse, this open setting lets in other unwanted noise. The speakers need to particularly powerful to overcome these distractions. You also need to position speaker pairs so that you're getting sound from both simultaneously. One other thing to remember when placing the speakers is they can generate magnetic fields that can interfere with a compass. They should either be kept a safe distance or contain magnetic shielding.

Added Boost
Depending on the size and shape of the boat, a receiver's amplifier might be adequate. Because of the background noises often found in marinas and busy boating areas, though, an extra amplifier might be called for. This addition, like the other electrical components, needs to be designed for a marine setting. When connecting the speakers to the amplifier, it's usually best to assign one speaker to each amp channel. If you're planning on more speakers than the number of available channels, it's best not to exceed two speakers per channel and you'll have to keep the speaker's resistance rating in mind. When the speakers are connected in parallel, they offer less resistance and can burn out the amplifier. When connected in series, they have higher resistance but have less power per speaker.

Tying It All Together
A boat doesn't allow for all the options in wires that other situations do. Copper can eventually oxidize in any setting, but a saltwater environment greatly speeds this up. The wire should preferably be tinned to protect from this. It's possible to use solid, plastic-coated copper wiring if it's 18 gauge or larger. In all cases, liquid electrical tape should be used to seal all connection points. Unprotected braided wiring is the worst for these circumstances.

Setting Sail
While it might seem that a boat could benefit from the same sound systems as an automobile, the threat of water, especially saltwater, along with the vibrations of waves, creates challenges that require special components and considerations. If you follow these basic guidelines, though, your time on the waves can become a whole lot more enjoyable.