Boat Stereo Entertainment System

launch-stereo1We had more fun and games sourcing a solution for our entertainment system than any other issue with the boat! Whilst there are expert marine electricians, carpenters, rigging experts and so on there appears to be a lack of information on marine stereo solutions. This was one area where chat forums yielded useless personal opinions. After posting up a question to find a solution for a powerful surround sound system for our boat many of the replies we received just suggested we stay away from all marinas for fear of disturbing our neighbours! Someone even asked us to always use a mooring well away from land! It was fast becoming apparent that our emphasis for a good sound system on board was far more important to us than to most yachties. We had sailed with appalling sound systems in the past and since our boat was to become a live-aboard we needed something a little more sophisticated than a car tape-player and a single box speaker. Indeed we wanted the following:

  • quadraphonic sound in the saloon, with two front and two rear speakers
  • a decent CD head unit that would also allow us to plug in external music sources such as an iPod and a DVD player
  • good quality external speakers for the cockpit
  • the ability to switch between the saloon and the cockpit speakers


Do NOT do this to your boat....

Do NOT do this to your boat...










...unless you want to end up with one of these!

...unless you want to end up with one of these!















It was obvious that the solution would have to be some form of car stereo since we would need our system to run off 12volts. The DVD player would only be used whilst plugged in to shore power. Running on 12 volts means a speaker impedance of 4ohm rather than the usual 8ohm used at home, and any additional amp to power sub-woofers and so on would also need to be calculated into the equation. The batteries, after all, would be used to power more important electronic components such as navigation lights, GPS, radar and so on!


Knowing that the solution would be a car stereo we were pointed to a very useful website that was nothing but car stereos. The chat forum was a fantastic place to start learning about the many different options open to us. It was full of petrol-head Essex boy enthusiasts who were more than willing to offer assistance and answer our silly and basic questions.


Exposed external speakers had custom cases made with wicker fronts...

Exposed external speakers had custom cases made with wicker fronts...


...rather than closed boxes. This prevents any loss in sound clarity or depth

...rather than closed boxes. This prevents any loss in sound clarity or depth


It wasn’t until we contacted Oyster, however, that we started to make some real progress. They put us in touch with Gavin, who had installed many audio solutions on Oysters in the past. His knowledge was second to none and once he had suggested looking at Alpine head units, the rest started to fall in to place. Alpine is one of the best in-car audio solutions (one look at our car audio website chat forum confirmed this) with a huge range of components. Alpine is also one of only a few manufacturers who offer plug-ins to control an iPod using the menu system on the head unit, and it also offered an additional component that allowed external audio sources to be plugged into it! In the end we bought the Alpine KCA 410c and 420i components to help manage our external audio sources.


launch-stereospeaker3Yes, this may be considered an expensive solution, but compared to those car-stereo enthusiasts we met in the chat forum this was child’s play. Some of those boys (and girls) were spending over £2,000 on just an amp, so we were doing pretty well to get our total solution for a quarter of that. It also meant that we could plug in our laptop to the stereo and watch DVDs with sound coming out of all four speakers. A few tweaks on the fader control and in the confined space of the saloon the effect was close to a genuine surround system at home in the living room.


Thereafter the speaker issue was easy to solve. We just had to match them with the output of the stereo (bearing in mind the difference between peak output and RMS output) so the JBLs we picked up for less than £40 a pair were perfect. With only a few different external waterproof speakers to choose from we plumped for some Pioneers with 160w max output per channel. Enough to p!ss the neighbours off.


Installing all this was a job we handed over to Yat Lift. Whilst we had the confidence to undertake the installation ourselves we just thought we’d like it all installed in a few days rather than the two years it would have taken us. Our first issue was where to install the speakers. The problem was that we had a very definite idea of where they should be placed as we knew we wanted an even, quadraphonic sound. The original suggestion from Gavin had been to put them in the ceiling, but there was no space. The suggestion from Yat Lift to put them at foot level in the sofa bases was not a solution either since that’s where the water tanks sat. Eventually we opted for cabinets to be made and screwed in at head height on the upper walls of the saloon. Jodie from Yat Lift explained that the carpenter was not happy about this as they would look rubbish but still he expertly made them and stained them to match the ash interior. There was no avoiding them though as they certainly became a feature of the saloon. In fact to most who saw them they dominated too much. Mark came aboard and said in no uncertain terms that they looked “sh*t”! Still, it was something we could live with so once they were installed, we tested them. We almost cried! They sounded absolutely sh!te! The cabinets were clearly confining the resonance of the speakers and we spent a restless night thinking of an alternative.


Starboard external speaker, exposed in the aft heads

Starboard external speaker, exposed in the aft heads


Given the same wicker box solution as port speaker

Given the same wicker box solution as port speaker


Next day, after a chat with one of the Memet’s who was working on the electronics, we decided to install the speakers in the cupboard doors. This was something we had originally wanted to avoid as it meant drilling whacking great big holes in the original woodwork, but after they had been installed they actually looked far better than the previous cabinet solution. When we turned the stereo on and pumped some decent house through them they sounded fantastic! The cupboards acted as great speaker cabinets, containing all the sound.


Finally the external speakers were installed, which meant drilling two great big holes in the cockpit. This meant the backs of the speakers were visible in the galley and the rear heads, but Yat Lift made some covers for them.


All six speakers were now controlled via the new panel that had been built for the nav table area, where the carpenter had also built a unit to contain the head unit and the additional audio input component, and with a remote control for the whole thing we had finally solved our audio solution!


Superb quadraphonic sound contained by the cupboards

Superb quadraphonic sound contained by the cupboards





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