Fishing Boat Stereos – What You Need To Know

If your fishboat is equipped with a stereo there’s a good chance the tunes sound sub-par as you cruise to the hotspots. Here’s why, and how you can fix it.

Though most anglers would eschew blasting music while actually engaged in fishing, those making epically long runs to get to spots like the northeast canyons or the deep-water Gulf oil rigs often feel that having tunes cranking during those hours-long cruises can make them a lot easier to bear. There’s just one problem: most boat stereos stink. And the real shame is that they don’t have to.

boat stereos
This speaker placement is ideal… if you listen to music with your knees.

Historically, boat manufacturers treated stereos more or less as an afterthought. It was easy enough to drill a hole in the dash and put in a head unit, sure. But flush-mounted speakers require space behind them, and the sound quality they produce can be affected by the size and shape of that space. Aiming the speakers for the best effect never even came into the equation, nor did the fact that the captain and passengers are often located in different parts of the boat during long cruises. Net effect? Wedge a speaker here, mount an amp there, and if it sounds good and loud on the showroom floor it’s a win—even if the music that stereo produced was more or less inaudible once the engines were fired up and the boat started moving.

This has changed, and changed dramatically, in the past three or four years. Today if you buy a new high-end fishboat, be it a center console or a pilothouse, chances are that the boat builder partnered up with a marine stereo manufacturer who came to the factory and/or worked with the boat designer to plan in a sweet-sounding stereo system.

Grady white boats
The stereo systems are planned into many late-model boats, and as a result, they sound significantly better than those found on older boats.

That’s just great, if you just bought or are about to buy a brand-new boat. But, what about the rest of us? Do we have to just learn to live with our stinky stereos? Not at all. Three critical factors can help you take your tunes from suckish to spectacular: Speaker placement, digital signal processing (DSP), and (our favorite) brute strength.

Speaker Placement

Speaker placement can be difficult, but not impossible to surmount. For starters forget about placing a pair of outward-facing flush-mounts on either side of a center console. That’s why your stereo was barely audible in the first place—it’s broadcasting those tunes to boats 25 yards off your beam. Speakers should be positioned to hit the listener at head-level, from both sides (at least). And if you can find anywhere on your boat that allows for flush-mounting speakers in a way that offers appropriate directional sound, consider yourself uber-lucky. More likely, you’ll need to consider utilizing enclosed speakers.

marine speakers
Enclosed speakers give you the flexibility to mount where the boatbuilder never intended; there may be sacrifices to be made, but you can get a serious boost in sound quality.

These leave you with two options: surface-mounted enclosures, or bullet speakers that mount on pipework. Both have drawbacks, most of which relate to the speakers becoming obstacles that create either tripping-points or head-bangers. Every boat is different, so in this regard, you’ll have to pick your poison.

bullet speaker
Pipe-mounted bullet speakers are another option, but you have to be careful where you put them or a bruised forehead could be in your future.


Digital Signal Processing allows for optimization of each stereo channel’s timing, frequency response, and output. To put it in a nutshell, a stereo can be optimized to produce the best sound quality in the cockpit, or at the helm, or while the boat’s at rest, or while it’s running, or etc., etc., etc. But it can’t be optimized for all of the above all at the same time. Historically this was a very difficult problem to address because you’d adjust an amp’s fine-tuning by turning knobs or set-screws and that amp was usually located in some impossible-to-reach nook or cranny. This has changed radically in the past year or two, however, as manufacturers have begun making their amps “smart” and adding Bluetooth capability, then building apps to go with them. JL Audio introduced a new line of MVi amps at this year’s Miami International Boat Show, for example, which can be configured by you, on your cell phone, while you literally sit at the helm and can listen to the result of every tweak and change.

JL audio amp
The ability to manipulate DSP via an app with amps like the MVi gives you a big leg up, on old-tech sound systems.

This tech has rapidly taken hold and can be found not only in external amps but also in some head units like the Fusion Apollo.

By using it you can, to some degree, mitigate the myriad of physical and spatial issues that tend to make boat stereos sound suckish.

More Power To Ya

Then, of course, there’s the matter of sheer power. Yes, you’ve always been able to add an amp to boost your tunes, but some new thought has also been put towards the ability to add a subwoofer. These usually require significant depth behind the mounting surface, a depth that’s not present on must flush-mounting areas on a fishing boat. However, subwoofers are more or less omnidirectional; while placement does have an impact on the sound quality, it’s not nearly as critical as it is with other types of speakers. So you can stick one under a helm, jam one between a leaning post and a tackle station, or cram one under a seat, and still get the benefit of a booming bass regardless of directionality.

marine speaker system
The Wet Sounds Revo 12 PSE gives you the flexibility to mount a fully-enclosed subwoofer just about anywhere it will fit.

On many boats finding an obscure spot for a subwoofer is a possibility and when it isn’t, you can opt for a rig like the Wet Sounds

Revo 12 PSE. This is a rotomold-box-enclosed 12” subwoofer that can handle 500 watts MS/1000 watts peak that you can cram anywhere there’s room, wire up, and start jamming.

So: you say you’d like to be able to enjoy some serious head bangin’ in a head sea? You don’t want to buy a brand new boat but you do want to enjoy seriously rockin’ tunes as you rock and roll your way to the canyons? It’s do-able. Just keep these three critical factors in mind, and you can make your fishing boat sound so good that even the fish will be dancing.

Lenny Rudow …has been a writer and editor in the marine field for over two decades, and has authored seven books. He is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow's FishTalk Magazine, is Electronics and Fishing Editor for BoatUS Magazine, and is a contributing editor to several other publications. His...