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Building your boat's stereo system

A quick guide to marine-rated audio equipment

In this article, we'll take a look at marine-rated receivers, speakers, subs, and more. Whether you're outfitting a yacht or upgrading the sound on a bass boat, we have the all-weather stereo gear you need to make any boat sound awesome.  

Marine audio gear at Crutchfield

Crutchfield is best known for our car audio and home audio expertise, but we have plenty of products and advice for boaters, too. We stock a wide variety of rugged, durable marine audio equipment, and our marine audio experts know what works and what doesn't.

In addition to receivers, speakers, subs, and amps, you'll also find a number of marine-rated products that allow you to listen to satellite radio on the water. We also stock all the cable and gear you'll need to hook everything up in your boat.

When you outfit your boat at Crutchfield, you'll get the peace of mind that comes from our more than 45 years of mobile audio experience, along with free technical support for the life of your boat's audio gear.

Have questions about your marine stereo system?

Our friendly Advisors can help you decide what you need to build the audio system of your dreams for the boat you always dreamed about owning. There’s even a team of Crutchfield marine advisors who specialize in helping boat owners build great audio systems.

Sony DXS-M5511BT Marine Package

This Sony DXS-M5511BT marine receiver/speakers package is a great system for smaller boats

What to look for in marine audio gear

The water, salt, and sun that make boating so much fun can wreak havoc on your boat's electrical components. If your gear isn't designed to withstand this environment, it won't last a season. That's why it's so important to choose the right gear for your boat's audio system. From your receiver to your cables, everything needs to be ready for life on the water. 

Here's a quick guide to some terms you'll see frequently when you're shopping for marine audio gear:

  • Water-resistant — Can handle splashes and light rain, but not built to handle submersion. Levels of resistance vary by manufacturer.

  • Waterproof — Able to be fully submerged, though depths and the amount of time underwater vary by manufacturer. Check out our article about IP waterproof ratings to learn more about water-resistance and waterproofing.

  • UV-resistant — Designed to withstand sun damage. Found on receiver faceplates, speaker cones and grilles.

  • Anti-corrosion — Specifically designed to resist rust and the corrosive effects of salt water. Examples of anti-corrosive features include coated circuit boards, plated connections, and a rust-resistant chassis.

  • NMEA 2000 — This "plug and play" communications networking protocol allows devices as varied as receivers, chartplotters, GPS units, wired remotes, and wind instruments to function as one complete system. Learn more in our NMEA 2000 networking system article.

gauge mount receiver

For some boats, a gauge-mount digital media player is an ideal solution

Components of a marine stereo system

Receivers — You'll want to buy a marine receiver 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 great accessories to add on to single-DIN (2" tall) receivers. We also offer receivers that will fit into gauge openings. Read our Marine Radio Buying Guide for more tips. 

Speakers — When you're buying marine speakers, look for plastic cones (such as polypropylene) and rubber surrounds for maximum weather protection, corrosion-resistant mounting hardware, and enough power to pump out tunes over wind, water, and engine noise. Be sure to look at where you're mounting the speakers — if your speakers are near your compass, they should be magnetically shielded.

Memphis Audio MXA69

Quality marine speakers will make a big difference in your boat's audio performance

Amplifiers — Since you'll be listening to your music out in the open, you'll want plenty of power for clean, clear sound. Aftermarket marine receivers come with built-in 4-way amplifiers, but if you love it loud or want to drown out the nautical background noise, you might want to consider adding an external amp to your system. A quality marine amplifier will feature coated circuit boards, plated, non-corrosive connectors, and plenty of power. 

Subwoofers — Bass matters on boats, too, so it's smart to invest in a sturdy, powerful marine subwoofer. 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 don't plan to add an external amplifier, look for a powered enclosed subwoofer.

marine subwoofer

Marine subwoofers (like this one from JL Audio) will bring big bass to your boat

Speaker wire and cablesMarine-rated wiring is an essential part of any marine audio system. All wires should be tinned; bare copper can corrode quickly in salt water conditions.

Satellite radioSiriusXM satellite radio is truly a "must-have" part of any boat stereo system, because satellite radio reception extends up to 200 miles off shore. Many marine receivers are satellite radio-ready, which means you can add an external tuner, mount it out of sight, and run the cable into the radio. Even better, plug-and-play satellite radio tuners can be transferred from car to boat to home. Look for a marine kit for your plug-and-play tuner, including a marine-rated satellite radio antenna.

GPS — Okay, so it's not technically an audio component, but most boaters wouldn't leave shore without GPS navigation. When considering which marine GPS unit or chartplotter is best for you, look for conveniences like rechargeable batteries, a bright color screen that won't wash out in direct sunlight, Blue Chart compatibility, and, of course, weather resistance. Need a fish finder? We have those, too! 

Power Inverter — A power inverter is an incredibly handy thing to have on board, especially with smaller boats, because you can charge your phone battery, a laptop computer, or run small electronics. Be sure that the inverter has a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, which protects you against accidental shocks.

wetsounds HTX-4 amp

This Wet Sounds HTX-4 marine amplifier is built to make music sound better. It's also built to stand up to life on the water.

Where to install audio components on your boat

Unlike most cars and trucks, there isn't one ideal place to install audio equipment on every boat. Different models have different power and space limitations, so each installation presents a unique set of challenges. What sounds great in a Carver might not even fit in a Donzi — and what's great for a motorboat might not be ideal for a sailboat.

If you're replacing your boat's existing radio and speakers, you can probably use the same mounting locations and wiring. Otherwise, you might need to cut some paneling or run new wires for the components. Most marine receivers are a standard single-DIN (2" tall) 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 the dash panel. It really depends on your boat, your needs, and your tastes.

Grounding your electrical components can be a challenge in a boat, though some do have specific, dedicated grounding plates. Consult your manufacturer for more information on where to ground components in your boat.

mastercraft boat

A new stereo system will make your days on the water even better

Materials that will stand up to the elements

Nothing ruins a party like audio equipment that can't handle the elements, so make sure that all of the electronics on your boat are protected against salt, sun, and water.

If you need an extra measure of protection (or want to use an unprotected component on your boat), install a universal cover on your single-DIN receiver. It will shield your receiver from the outside world, then flip up out of the way so you can get to the controls.

A waterproof, wired remote control is an excellent alternative to exposing your receiver to the elements — you can mount the radio inside a watertight compartment and let the remote do the work.

The other gear you'll need

Let Crutchfield help outfit your boat

If you have any questions or want a second opinion, don't hesitate to contact us. Like we mentioned up above, our friendly Advisors can help you determine what you need for any boat's stereo system. 

  • Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/1/2021

    Steve, I've sent your question to our sales team, and they'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Steve Wambold from Lakeland

    Posted on 5/31/2021

    I have a Fusion-MS-RA70 and have 4 of the JL-Audio-M3-650X-C-GW speakers on the way, they will be mounted in my fiberglass T-Top. I intend to add a 10" JL audio sub to my center console also. My question is what Amp do you recommend to push the sound. I don't need to be king of the sand bar just looking for a good sound while traveling and on sand bar days. Thanks for any advice.

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 6/1/2021

    Steve, I've sent your question to our sales team, and they'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.
  • Scott McFarland from Portland

    Posted on 5/21/2020

    Just got a Sony dxs-m551 1bt. I'm looking to put that in a 2018 Tracker pro team 175 txw. What is the degree of difficulty in a new install like this, and what additional supplies will I need?

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 5/22/2020

    Scott, Excellent choice! If you bought your receiver 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.
  • chris from pt charlotte fl

    Posted on 5/3/2020

    my 25' center console needs an up grade thinking bout the Clarion M608, with 4 JL M3650x speakers do i need to add an amp,,,proly add a sub jl 10" i know i'll need amp for that 1 channel ? or 6 channel for 4 speakers and the sub thanks

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 5/4/2020

    Chris, With questions like that, it's always better to have a conversation with a real live human. Give us a call and talk to one of our advisors. We can help you choose the right gear and give you the right advice on how to install it.
  • Bart Elam from Hartselle

    Posted on 7/27/2019

    I would like options for multiple speaker/amp configurations and was hoping you have marine specific radio catalog.

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 7/29/2019

    Bart, We don't have a marine-specific print catalog, but we do have a big marine audio section on the website. You seem to know basically what you're looking for, though, so I've sent your question to our sales team, and they'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.
  • Commenter image

    Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/2/2018

    Tim, I've sent your question to our sales team, and they'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • TIM MORTON from SCOTTSDALE

    Posted on 3/1/2018

    I have a 2003 Formula 37pc. i want to completely redo the entire system with powerful amp and speakers. I would like some feedback and suggestions to build a TOP NOTCH system. I have heard good things about Fusion, but know nothing about them. Can you put me in touch with your sales team along with suggestions. Looking to do this ASAP

  • Commenter image

    Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/27/2018

    Oscar, There are ways to do this. For example, a marine-rated 4-channel amp like the Soundstream ST4.1000DB can do the job. I've sent your question to our sales team, and they'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • OSCAR R FERNANDEZ from FORT MYERS

    Posted on 2/26/2018

    I just bought a beautiful 24 Vectra cruiser. It is surrounded with speakers, but no radio. It's a 2005 boat, kept by original owner, in perfect conditions. We want to definetly play music and even news in our new boat, so I thought of using our smart phones. I thought to myself, who needs a radio today with our smart phones. So here is my question, no radio, but surrounded by speakers, so, is there a anyway to plug something to the speakers, without using a radio, but use some kind of new gadget that cab connects our phone to our boat's speakers through bluetooth instead?

  • Commenter image

    Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/4/2017

    Matt, With a question like that, it's always better to have a conversation with a real live human. Give us a call and talk to one of our advisors. We can help you choose the right gear for your boat. plus we csn give you some advice on where and how to install it.

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