• Published:March 4, 2019
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The days of taking a car stereo, painting it white and calling it a marine stereo are long gone, thank goodness.

Marine audio systems now are fully integrated with your marine electronics, offer a range of zones for each stateroom and deck space, come with Bluetooth, Wifi, mobile apps and more...
So there are many important factors to keep in mind as you rig your fishing boat for jamming out.




A decade or more ago, you expected a marine stereo to last for a couple of seasons at most. That’s because all the “marine” units on the market were really automotive stereos which had been “marinized,” mostly by stamping the word “marine” on the box they were sold in. That might be an exaggeration, but only a slight one, because other than spraying the circuit board with a conformal coating to prevent instantaneous corrosion and adding a gasket here and there, very little was done to account for the marine environment. But all that changed, when Fusion launched a line of docking stereos.

There’s a Fusion sitting at the open helm of my center console that’s pushing a decade of solid service. So if you want a stereo system that’s going to last through salt spray, driving rain, blazing sun, and sub-freezing temperatures, here’s tip number one: get a stereo that’s actually designed and made strictly for marine use, not a “marinized” automotive system.

THE BEST MODEL FOR YOUR BOAT

When it comes to head units, internal docking (the ability to slide your mobile device right inside the stereo) was revolutionary, eliminating the need for those skipping CDs and expensive satellite services. Streaming music from a mobile device via Bluetooth became instantly popular, but data compression forced you to pay a price in the quality of the playback. Now, with the latest and greatest systems like the new Fusion Apollo, more advanced streaming systems allow for much higher quality playback. And you have several to choose from. The Apollo has built-in WiFi, Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth, UPnP, Optical Audio, Aux, USB, plus a 4.3-inch touch-screen display, Fusion-Link, and four audio zones.

When it comes to a stereo for your boat, more power is better. Weak or even average systems can rarely overcome wind and engine noise. A standard 50- or 70-watt system will only get the job done when you’re at anchor or at slow speeds, and in most cases, you’ll be happier with wattage measured by the hundreds. You’ll also want to make sure the system has enough juice to drive a sub-woofer, which is imperative in an open-air environment.

This means you need not only a head-unit with a pre-amp, but also an additional amplifier. A basic amp which puts out 400 or 500 watts is appropriate for a pair of speakers and a 10-inch sub-woofer. That’ll sound good, but represents a fairly limited system that would only work on a  small boat. Jump to a more potent amp like Fusion’s Signature Series four-channel amp, which puts out a total peak power of 1,400 watts, add more speakers, and you’ve obviously made a big step towards bolder sounds.

No stereo discussion is complete without a quick look at the issue of zones. Truth be told, it’s a non-issue if you have an open boat. But in the case of larger sport-fishers, having a zoned system takes on more importance. Essentially, it allows different people in different parts of the boat to enjoy their tunes without annoying each other. How many zones do you need? That boils down to how many rooms your boat has, including the flybridge and cockpit. Many stereos offer one or two zones while a top-end unit like the Apollo has four.

SPEAKERS

When choosing new flush-mount speakers, going with 6.5-inch speakers is often the best bet because these are the industry standard. You can pull out a set of old ones and slide some new ones right into the same cut-out. You can also get all kinds of crazy lights that flash with the beat of the music, if that’s your thing. More importantly, on a fishing boat it’s wise to go with a small-mesh grille. Many modern grill styles have large spaces, which are big enough to let a rod butt or gaff handle pass through them. When cockpit chaos breaks loose, it’s easy to envision the speaker taking on some damage.

If flush-mounting isn’t an option, you can also go with bullet-shaped cone speakers (wakeboard tower style) or fully enclosed box speakers. Both options have plusses and minuses involved. First off, the designed enclosures usually guarantee great acoustics -- often better than speakers that have been mounted without consideration given to the air volumes behind them.

Secondly, you don’t have to cut large holes to mount them if your boat doesn’t already have standard-sized flush-mounts. However, on the flip side of the coin they do eat up space, and large bullet speakers can be head-bangers when mounted on a T-top.

In either case, it’s important to make sure the speakers will project your tunes in the right direction. They should be located as high as possible and spread as far to port and starboard as is practical. Speakers located aft of the listener will have less impact when underway, as the whipping winds scatter the sound. So ideally, for good sound, speakers should be mounted in multiple locations port and starboard forward of the helm.

What about the subwoofer? Bottom line, don’t try to skate by without it. Moving boats, as you already know, are subject to constant vibration. As a result, the bass is often lost while you’re under cruise. If you don’t have a sub-woofer installed you won’t be satisfied. This can be tough since subwoofers need to be flush-mounted, require large cut-outs, and aren’t as standardized as those 6.5-inch speakers. On the bright side, it’s not quite as important to have them pointing in the right direction or set at any particular height, since the deep vibrations do travel through the boat.

A COMPLETE PACKAGE

Stereos have multiple components and every installation will be different. Just make sure to keep the main factors in mind: designed specifically for marine use (not automotive!), sufficient power, and speakers that can be mounted on your boat in the appropriate locations either flush or on pipework.

Check all of these boxes, and you’ll be rockin’ out on your way to the edge.

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