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Installing an amp on a boat: running power and ground wires

It's simple — just run the wires to the battery

In brief: If you're thinking about revamping your boat's stereo system, you already know that wiring is a big part of the job. This article takes a quick look at some of the basic things you'll need to know, like how to run power and ground wires. 

An amp on a boat

Boats are not the same as cars

"Where the heck do I ground this thing?" I can neither confirm nor deny that I said something to that effect the first time I installed an amplifier on a boat.

You see, I was used to installing amps in cars, and when you do that, you run power wire directly to the car battery, then secure the ground wire to bare metal somewhere on the vehicle's chassis. But on a vessel made primarily of fiberglass and wood, this just isn't an option.

[Give your boat's stereo system a power boost it needs with a new marine amplifier]

The ground wire goes to the battery

Luckily, the solution is simple: you run both wires directly to the battery. Well, to the secondary battery, that is. All boats will have a primary battery for ignition and critical electronics, and a second battery for everything else that needs power. "Everything else" includes your stereo system.

Marine amplifier wiring

As with automotive applications, you connect the power wire directly to the positive battery terminal, and include a fuse and fuse holder no more than 12" from the battery. But unlike a car, instead of hunting for a factory bolt that touches bare chassis metal, you simply run the ground wire along the same path and attach it directly to the negative battery terminal. Finish the signal and speaker wiring, mount the amp, and you're ready to rock.

Boat wiring

Use marine-rated wiring

Speaking of wiring, make sure you choose wiring that's made for life on the water. Marine-rated wiring is an essential part of any boat's stereo system, because if you don't use the right stuff, all your awesome new audio equipment will turn into ballast before you know it. 

[Check out our selection of marine-rated wiring for your amps and speakers]

Have more questions? We have answers!

If you're on the fence about whether or not your boat needs an amplifier, check out our Marine Amplifier Buying Guide to learn more. If you're new to the idea that your boat can have a great-sounding stereo system or aren't even sure what your options are, take a look at our library of marine audio articles.

Once you're ready to start shopping, our friendly Advisors can help you decide what you need to build the best possible stereo system for your boat. There’s even a team of Crutchfield marine advisors who specialize in helping boat owners build awesome audio systems.

And remember, when you buy your gear from Crutchfield, you get free lifetime tech support. Our Virginia-based tech experts are here seven days a week, so if you hit a snag during your installation, don't hesitate to contact us.

  • Matt from Concord, NH

    Posted on 7/6/2021

    As with most boats I presume, there is no "chassis ground" and as a result, I'll be running my 4 gauge ground wire back to the battery negative terminal. Is there any issues running the power and ground together back to the battery? Or should these by isolated? I believe it is ok as they are both insulated.

  • Lee from Lynchburg

    Posted on 3/31/2021

    Mat your suggestion that you simply run wires to your battery precisely why an old boat refit starts with ripping out all the wiring. If you have a panel like the one in the photo there is no reason to run wires back to the engine room and adding another connection to your battery. Add or combine a switch in the panel and use the negative buss behind the panel. DIYer's run wires to their batteries and hook up directly do all the time and over time make a huge mess of their electrical systems. My current boat had 50% of its wiring going nowhere, just hanging in the engine room or a locker connected to nothing. There were over ten wires connected to the house battery bank. That is not acceptable by any standard. A simple solution is to add a power distribution bar positive and negative near the battery bank if you don't have room in your panel. Just stop adding more connections directly to your battery bank. In the long run you will have a better install and a system with far fewer problems. IMHO.

  • Thomas from Amsterdam

    Posted on 3/29/2021

    I have planned to install my Pioneer gm-dx874 amp running off a separate leisure battery in my campervan. Since the amplifier is right next to the battery, I prefer to bring the negative wire back to the negative terminal, than removing the wood panelling to get to the chassis. Would this be alright in terms of safety and sound quality? It's pretty much the described boat situation. Thank you in advance!

    Commenter image

    Matt Freeman from Crutchfield

    on 4/1/2021

    Thanks for your question, Thomas! Because your battery will be so close to your amp, you can, indeed, connect the ground wire to the negative battery terminal. In some ways, this is actually a better connection than chassis ground. Good luck, and I hope your van sounds great when it's done!
  • Matt kish from Indianapolis

    Posted on 8/11/2020

    I have a 1991 four wins 200 horizon and I'm looking to install a Pyle 400 watt amp. Will my single battery loose any functionality while running my amp, four speakers, and a head unit? I'm just concerned if it is safe and will not kill my battery after a long day on the water. Thanks!

    Commenter image

    Matt Freeman from Crutchfield

    on 8/13/2020

    Matt, our main recommendation is that you have two batteries on the boat. One for critical systems like ignition and running lights, and one for accessories like the sound system, so that if you do manage to run the battery down playing the stereo all day, you'll still be able to start the boat back up. Plus, if the accessory battery runs down, you can start the boat up and begin recharging it immediately (and keep playing your tunes!). If installing a two battery system isn't an option, we recommend you pay close attention to off-engine runtime for the tunes.
  • R Wentworth from Btl Crk Mi

    Posted on 7/6/2020

    As a former IASCA competitor and pro installer I ALWAYS RUN AN AMPLIFIER POWER GROUND TO THE BATTERY. In my 25 years as an installer I found that most vehicle grounding connections to be less than what amplifiers can demand , yet big enough for the vehicle. This allows the amp to "breathe" per se' ,, and avoids potential noise problems.

  • Jonathan Waldrop from Seneca SC

    Posted on 6/17/2020

    I have a fusion msra70nsx hooking to a wet sounds htx-6. The media receiver has zone 1 outputs and zone 2 outputs and also has sub outputs but right now I'm not running a sub. Can I run 2 y rca cables from the zone 1 rcas and hook them to channels 1-4. Then just hook up zone 2 as you would normally?

  • Dan from Battle lake from Battle Lake MN

    Posted on 5/22/2020

    I have a Clarion XN3410 that is blowing both 30amp fuses right as they are put in. This is Amp 2 for the ski boat tower speakers. The rest of the system is working fine off of Amp 1. Any first thoughts?

    Commenter image

    Alexander H. from Crutchfield

    on 5/25/2020

    Dan, give our Tech Support team a call. If you bought the Clarion from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help troubleshooting your system. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details.
  • John from BelAir MD

    Posted on 5/17/2020

    I would like to put an amp on my boat with a set of 6x9. My boat has 2 rain batteries on it will I still need to add a 3 battery just for the amp and 6x9?

  • Steven Strayhorn from McRae

    Posted on 3/24/2020

    What if my ground wire from my amp to my battery is 10 foot long? Will this cause issues or motor noise?

    Commenter image

    Matt Freeman from Crutchfield

    on 3/27/2020

    Thanks for the question, Steven! Long ground runs like this in a boat are not uncommon, and shouldn't introduce noise. Luckily, the boat environment is mostly free from conductive culprits like metal that can typically introduce noise in a car environment.
  • Eytan from Chestnut Hill

    Posted on 9/5/2019

    You mention a second battery for the audio system but how do you prevent said battery from depleting within an hour of connection of the radio system.

    Commenter image

    Alexander H. from Crutchfield

    on 9/6/2019

    Eytan, they're typically deep-cell batteries, so their performance life is a little longer than the average battery. Check the Details tab on the battery you have in mind for amp hours yield. Keep in mind that the second battery will also be connected to the alternator so you'll be able to charge it up as needed, and as "second battery" you'll still have your primary battery in play.