Installing a Marine Music System

If you’re a music lover, an onboard music system is mandatory. There’s a mysterious connection between the open waters and music. Whether it’s classical, jazz, rock, country, folk, or reggae, there’s a song for every mood when you’re sailing.

A marine music system lets you take your favorite music with you on the waters. We have them in our homes, in our cars, even in our phones, so we need them on our sailboats. A quality system isn’t difficult to install and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

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There are a few special considerations you should take when choosing a system:

  • Quality sound reproduction – obviously, a decent sounding system should be a priority. On the other hand, you shouldn’t expect an audiophile quality listening experience with the wind and the waves mixed in. Personally, I’d rather listen to the water, the wind, or silence than poor quality music.
  • Durability in the marine environment – components should be moisture resistant, well protected from impacts by other objects, and shock and vibration resistant.
  • Multiple input sources – if you have a compact disc collection, you might want to play some of those. However, the mechanisms of most compact disc players aren’t well suited to the marine environment. If you play a lot of music on your smart phone, you’ll want Bluetooth capability or a line input jack. Memory sticks and cards can hold massive amounts of music and take very little space. The ability to play local radio stations can be helpful if you venture afar. And the ability to tune in to updated weather reports by the National Weather Service shouldn’t be overlooked.
  • Low power consumption – remember your sailboat’s electrical power budget. A high power amplifier and motorized CD player can drain your battery bank.
  • Compact size – space is a precious commodity aboard any sailboat but especially trailerable sailboats.
  • Easy installation – there are only so many places on a sailboat to install the components and cutting large holes to install them is neither favorable or always an option.

Sails and songs go together

The components that I installed on Summer Dance are a good example of an inexpensive system that was easy to install and also sounds good. I purchased all the components new for less than $150:

The receiver/media player is very capable but not remarkable. It receives AM, FM, and weather channels. With the marine antenna connected, it’s pretty sensitive at picking up weak signals. It plays MP3 and WMA files on SD cards or USB memory sticks and has an auxiliary input for external devices like a smart phone or iPod.

It’s also very small and lightweight, which works well with the gimbal-mounted enclosure. All of the wire connections fit inside the enclosure with space to spare. I routed the wires outside the enclosure in the starboard deck joint trim and under the hull liner to each speaker.

The remote control is convenient both inside the cabin and from the cockpit. I placed a small piece of self adhesive Velcro tape on the back of the remote so that it can be stuck to the cockpit bulkhead when not in use.

When choosing a mounting enclosure, look for ventilation holes. Some enclosures are only rated for less than 50 watts and could cause the receiver to overheat. It doesn’t need to be waterproof but mount it high enough that water getting into the enclosure isn’t likely to happen.

Speakers of the (pilot) house

For speaker installation, you basically have two choices: recessed speakers that require cutting holes or box speakers that can take up a lot of space. The system on Summer Dance uses both with concessions for each type.

I was concerned that the 3-1/2″ speakers that I purchased would sound tinny. Instead, I was impressed with their range. They have better bass response than the 6-1/2″ Pyramids and crisp highs. The ported boxes are quite effective. I mounted them to the upper corners of the forward bulkheads where they’re out of the way.

Left front speaker
Left front speaker

I wanted good sound in the cockpit as well as in the cabin, so I mounted the waterproof Pyramid 6-1/2″ coaxial speakers in a spare bottom hatch board to make them portable. A cup holder shelf below the speakers holds refreshments on the companionway step. There’s little stereo separation, obviously, but they work well enough.

Waterproof speakers installed in the lower hatch board above drink holders
Waterproof speakers installed in the lower hatch board above drink holders

The cockpit speaker cables plug into a plate that I fabricated with RCA jacks and mounted in the cabin near the companionway step. This design allows the speakers to:

  • Face outward from the companionway or sit on the port cockpit seat during the day
  • Face inward from the companionway at night
  • Be easily disconnected and stowed when not needed
Portable speaker wiring
Portable speaker wiring

I’m very satisfied with the system considering its cost. The sound isn’t concert quality but I use it a lot. If I had to do it over again, I would probably only choose better cockpit speakers.


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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris says:

    I have found the new Bluetooth wireless speakers very convenient on our boat. They are completely portable and convenient and offer good sound quality. There are many different shapes and sizes available and they are very reasonably priced.

    1. Rob says:

      I do the same thing, Bluetooth speaker, and pandora works great for me.

      1. That would be a handy setup for me too Rob if I had a smartphone and sailed in an area with good coverage. But neither are true in my case, so I had to go a more old school route. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Mike says:

    Where did you mount the antennae? I have roughly the same set up ready to go into my 1973 Aquarius 21.

    1. Hi, Mike

      I ran the antenna behind the port teak trim piece that is below the hull/deck joint. It’s invisible and seems to work fine.

      $tingy

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