Marine audio FAQs
The things you need to know when you're shopping for marine audio gear
Danae Marshall was born in Oxford, England, and was raised in Charlottesville. During her time at Crutchfield, she revitalized the way we write about car stereo speakers. She has since returned to the land of her birth.
More from Danae Marshall
Q: What kind of special protection does my marine audio gear need?
A: The marine environment can be harsh. When you combine direct exposure to the sun, saltwater, wind, and extreme temperatures, you come to understand why your electronic gear needs protection. A regular car receiver, for instance, can't handle moisture or constant UV-rays, the two biggest challenges for marine electronics.
Receivers — You'll want to buy a radio with a coated circuit board, a water-resistant faceplate, line-level outputs for sending signals to an external amplifier, and satellite radio controls. A weatherproof faceplate cover and a watertight remote control are also great accessories.
Speakers — Look for plastic cones (such as polypropylene) and rubber surrounds for maximum weather protection, corrosion-resistant mounting hardware, and enough power-handling to pump out tunes over wind, water, and engine noise. Be sure to examine the area where you'll be mounting your speakers — if it's near your compass, the speakers should be magnetically shielded.
Amplifiers — You'll want coated circuit boards, plated, non-corrosive connectors, and plenty of power.
Subwoofers — Look for plastic cones and rubber surrounds for maximum weather protection. Free-air rated component subs or enclosed subwoofers are good for the challenging mounting locations you'll often encounter in a boat. If you do not plan on adding an external amplifier, look for a powered enclosed subwoofer.
Q: What's the difference between waterproof and water-resistant?
A: Waterproof means the gear can be fully submerged, though depths and the amount of time underwater vary by manufacturer. Water-resistance means the gear can handle splashes and light rain, but not complete submersion. Levels of resistance also vary by manufacturer.
Q: How should I install my audio components?
A: If you're replacing a factory system, it makes sense to use the existing cut-outs for the receiver and speakers. If you are adding a system to your boat, you may have to get creative with where and how you mount the components.
Unlike most vehicles, there isn't one ideal place to install audio equipment in a boat. Given the various power and space limitations, each installation presents a unique set of challenges. You might need to cut some paneling or run wires for the components. Most marine receivers are a standard single-DIN size, and connect to a 12-volt marine battery.
Amplifiers and subwoofers can go in a compartment under the seats, under the bow, or even on a wakeboard tower. Midrange and midbass speakers and tweeters can fit into side panels or under the dash.
Grounding your electrical components can be a challenge in a boat. Some boats have specific grounding plates you can use. Consult your manufacturer for more information on where to ground components in your boat.
Q: Should I hook up continuous power to my receiver?
A: In most cases, continuous power hook-up should be fine. Continuous power supplies the receiver and other boat mechanisms with a constant trickle of power to maintain its internal memory, like the clock and preset radio stations. When your boat is not in use, continuous power still draws on the battery, though the amount is quite small. However, if you don't use your boat often, this continuous draw could cause your battery to run out.
Q: Can I use my iPod through my receiver and speakers?
A: You can hook up your iPod, or any other musical source for that matter (MP3, satellite radio, CD changer) to most of Crutchfield's marine receivers. Most of the receivers will allow you to operate iPod functions through the head unit with the help of a special iPod adapter, while others offer direct control built-in, no adapter needed.
Q: Are there wiring harnesses for my receiver and/or speakers?
A: Regretfully, no. It is impossible for us to know just which wiring harness you would need to hook up your new receiver or speakers, should your boat even come with factory models. If your boat doesn't have a factory stereo or speakers, you won't be able to use a wiring harness anyway.
Q: What kind of wires should I use to hook up my marine audio system?
A: When choosing wire for any kind of application on your boat, make sure the wire is stranded, at the very least, and tinned, if at all possible. According to the ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council), only stranded copper wire is acceptable for marine wiring applications. Other metals, such as aluminum and steel, corrode too quickly and can't withstand the constant vibrations of a boat in motion. A thin coating of tin (or solder) applied to copper can further enhance the copper's resistance to corrosion, creating the longest-lasting wiring material you can put on your boat.
Other things to take into consideration include the necessary gauge of the wire. SAE-rated wire (Society of Automotive Engineers) often has a smaller diameter than AWG-rated wire (American Wire Gauge), even though the two wires may be labeled the same gauge. AWG-size cables better suit marine applications, especially those labeled "boat cable" on the insulation. You'll also find "type" cables, which tell you how many strands are found in each wire. A Type 1 cable, for example, is either a single solid strand or just a few strands. You should not use Type 1 cables for boat applications. Type 2 wires have anywhere from 19 strands to 127 strands, depending on the gauge, in this case running from 16-gauge down to 0-gauge. Type 2 wires can be used for any general purpose wiring job on your boat, such as for wiring speakers. Type 3 cables have considerably more stranding than Type 2. For the same gauge range (16-0), Type 3 wires may include 26-1,064 strands. You should use Type 3 wires for applications that will require a lot of bending, flexing, or jostling, as the more strands a wire has, the longer it will last with frequent flexing.
Check out our Marine power and speaker wire, specially designed for life on your boat.
Q: What are BlueChart maps? Do you sell any other kinds of marine maps?
A: BlueChart maps are Garmin's exclusive line of marine cartography. These maps are all digital (available on data cards or CD-ROMs), but they can be read like a paper map. They are compatible with all of Garmin's new line of navigation equipment. Other maps are also available for other navigation systems, as well as for Garmin systems.
Q: What do marine-rated maps include?
A: Marine maps typically offer navigation of oceans, rivers, major streams, and lakes larger than five square miles. They usually include tide data, depths, boating lanes, and underwater obstacles.
Q: What are coated circuit boards?
A: Coated circuit boards are the well-protected brains of your electronic gear, found in many marine receivers, GPS units, and the like. The coating is commonly called conformal coating, since it is flexible enough to effectively cover and protect the many nooks and crannies of a complex circuit board without interfering in its operations. These coatings can come in any number of materials, from acrylics, to epoxies, to the ever-popular silicones. Some coatings are hard, some are soft, and all offer a different cocktail of uses and protectants, such as abrasion-resistance and temperature balance. In the marine environment, coatings are primarily used for moisture-resistance. Try to make sure that any electronic equipment you purchase for your boat has a coated circuit board — it's worth it!
Q: How far offshore can I get satellite radio?
A: You can get clear reception up to 200 miles offshore, or more depending on where you are. Keep in mind that satellite radio is currently only available in the United States, except for Alaska and Hawaii, including its domestic and coastal waterways. Crossover into parts of Canada and Mexico occur near the border, but in general, coverage is like a big oval placed over a map of the US, where the ends of the oval protrude into the Atlantic and Pacific. Traveling near the 40th parallel will probably yield the most offshore coverage.
Q: What if I want more protection for my gear?
A: A waterproof cover will protect your receiver from sun and water. A wired remote control lets you mount your receiver in a protected location, and control your tunes from the helm.