There is a beat to boating—whether heading to the sandbar, out on the lake, fishing, cruising, wake boarding or surfing—you’ve got to have tunes! How to set up or re-structure your sound system takes a little planning and KICKER® Audio’s John Myers, an expert from the mobile sound leader’s “Livin’ Loud” company provides us some basic tips to “kick” your system up a notch. As the company moved steadily into the marine market, its tag line was modified to “Go Overboard!” as KICKER Marine Audio proves its top-quality sea-worthy line is powerful, durable and affordable.

“You’ve got to have a game plan,” Myers states emphatically. While more complicated than the stereo system in your home or car due to the extreme elements of moisture, salt, heat, vibration, a boat system not only needs to be durable, but requires more thought and planning. Myers recommends asking these 5 questions:

  1. Where do you want your sound?

  2. Where can your speakers be located and how big can they be?

  3. How loud and powerful do you want your music to be?

  4. What are your amplification and battery requirements?

  5. What type of wires do you need?


Where Do You Plan To Listen?

Where you want your music to sound the best depends on how you use your boat.

What areas are most important to you—the helm? The bow, the aft deck? Where do you plan to listen the most? At the sandbar, while wake boarding, while cruising? If you mostly prefer blasting tunes towards surfers behind the boat, you'll definitely want a tow tower with mounted tower speakers shaped like canons that blast the tunes over the wake and project behind the boat. Then again, if you're looking to pump the tunes while you're fishing in the cockpit, you may choose to opt for more forward facing speakers near the stern.

Kids Dancing On Pontoon Boat - Kicker Marine Audio Boat Trader

Above: A family with children dancing on a pontoon boat with a Kicker Marine Audio system. Photo by Boat Trader.

The answers to these questions will determine how and where you project your sound and also will answer the second question—where will you put your speakers?

Speaker Location And Selection

Speaker location depends on the construction of your boat as speakers require certain depth to fit the magnet and basket, which hold the speaker components. You will also need to consider how you can run wires to the speakers from your amplifier. Your installation will depend on your boat’s construction, where panels are located, where the fiberglass and core can accommodate the depth of your speakers’ design.

Speaker mounting is very important to sound quality.

A man installs a Kicker Marine Audio subwoofer on a pontoon boat.

Above: A man installs a Kicker Marine Audio subwoofer on a pontoon boat. Photo by Boat Trader.

Typical 6.5” or 8”coaxial speakers may not reproduce sufficient bass, so bigger speakers—or subwoofers, which are really just speakers that play lower frequencies—will come into play. The purpose of a speaker is to move air and larger speakers move more air and require more enclosure space.

Myers explains sound like a stone hitting the water and causing ripples—the bigger the stone, the stronger the ripple effect. So size does matter and if you cut corners on your speakers, subwoofers, electrical system, or amplifiers, you sacrifice the quality of your sound.

Most speakers in a boat are mounted on a panel that is not enclosed such as under seat storage. This is called “infinite baffle,” often called “Free Air” (a KICKER-coined term that is now used industry-wide to explain the lack of dedicated speaker enclosure), which is the most popular marine applications. A sealed enclosure for the subwoofer offers great power handling and output but requires a specific air volume. Tower cans are sealed enclosures.

Subwoofer enclosures can be made of any material so long as it does not flex. That is why fiberglass makes a good enclosure but is time consuming, more expensive, and harder to construct. All subwoofer enclosures need the right volume of airspace. Sealed is an improvement to infinite baffle but to get even more output, the enclosure may need to be vented. “It’s like a turbo-charged engine,” explains Myers, “A port will provide more air and boost the sound.” This requires a very specifically constructed enclosure.

It is important to keep in mind that bigger speakers and subwoofers will require more power and a dedicated amplifier.

Volume / Power

How loud you want your music also determines the size, type and number of speakers, subwoofers and the power of amplification required.

Marine Grade Power Amplifier For Boat Sound System

Above: A man installing a marine grade power amplifier for a Kicker Marine Audio sound system on a pontoon boat. Photo by Boat Trader.

Subwoofer size, number and additional power to run them is especially important if you want a lot of bass. More bass output requires bigger speakers or subwoofers as well as an appropriate power amplification source. When adding more speakers or subwoofers, the location of multiple or larger amplifiers will depend on where you can properly ventilate them. While powerful, newer, smaller amps generate less heat than older ones, you have to evaluate not just air circulation to keep amps cool, but the additional power requirement for your audio system.

Battery & Amplifier Requirements

Installing more sound and more powerful amplifiers requires more supporting electrical power. The number of additional batteries and the possibility of a larger output alternator needs consideration. Myers offers the rule of thumb, “For every 1500 watts, add an identical battery to existing battery .” Do you want to tie batteries together? While deep cycle rechargeable batteries are popular, they are not the best for sound. Since your house battery starts your boat, a battery isolator can ensure that your house battery maintains power—even if the auxiliary battery—which you may add for your sound system--is drained by other operations or fails. If you play music primarily while boat is in operation, just connect additional battery(s) to existing battery and wire them parallel. If you play your stereo with the ignition off, you will want to use a battery isolation method to avoid draining your main battery.

An ideal boat system according to Myers is one that will play as loud with as much bass as desired without distortion or the amplifiers shutting down from heat—all without draining the batteries. It will also project sound to the intended listeners.

Choosing And Installing The Proper Wiring

Now you're ready to get wired! But choosing the right wires is another important step to installing or upgrading a boat sound system to a premium audio system. Not only do you have to select marine-grade wires but you must figure out the lengths you'll need. Carefully consider the impedance of your speakers and the gauge of the wire to maximize wire run and length. Generally the thicker the wire, the better the sound quality. On larger yachts keep in mind that the overall sound quality will degrade on speaker wires over 50 feet. In fact, it is best to keep the length of speaker wires under 20 feet, generally.

Wiring A Boat Sound System

Above: Andy Hooks wiring a boat sound system with Kicker Marine Audio. Photo by Boat Trader.

A weak link in the chain can be avoided by using only pure copper amplifier power wire to avoid saltwater corrosion. Copper Clad Aluminum (CCA) wire should be avoided as it is 98% aluminum with a thin copper coating which will produce more corrosion and less connectivity. Again, cutting corners will compromise your sound and KICKER Marine Audio warranties its equipment because it is all top-marine grade, tough enough to withstand the marine environment. KICKER Marine Audio components have undergone stingiest testing and meet or exceed ASTM, UV, salt/fog exposure standards.

So before you spend any money, spend some time to analyze your boat, your boating lifestyle—and your budget—to be sure that you can include the most important elements to keep your sound pumping, your engines running and the fun at full throttle!