Making Waves

Your guide to boat music

March 2014 Feature

Considering the humble beginnings of the modern pontoon boat, it's no surprise that sound systems onboard were an afterthought for decades. Most models came with two, maybe four speakers, and sound quality was never good. Part of the problem is that car speakers are constructed using paper and cardboard, and while this may sound like a cheap and terrible method, it turns out these materials are actually very good at conducting high-quality sound. This is all well and good for car audio, but once you try and implement a similar design on the open water, you run into the problem that both paper and cardboard degrade rather quickly when exposed to water. And as well as paper transmits sound when it's dry, it does a terrible job of it when it is sopping wet.

The Solution

To get around this problem, marine speaker cones are made with Mylar or other plastics, which are not affected by water. While being sturdier, these plastics usually cannot generate the quality of sound you get from paper and cardboard. Other parts of the speaker than could rust or otherwise corrode after a few months on the lake are completely sealed, which can lead to a muffled sound, if not accounted and compensated for.

That said, if boat manufacturers are willing to pay for them, there are marine speakers that can produce some amazing sound. JBL is one of the companies devoted to producing superior tunes, regardless of the location or environment. One set of their marine speakers, the MS6100, is produced using waterproof motor structures, sealed cones, and integrated grilles to ensure that these speakers will stay afloat for years.

A sealed magnet protects the motor structure from water, while rubber surrounds the outlast foam and offers impressive suspension for great sound.

JBL's products are available at many retailers, including Visit them at

In short, if you're looking to boost the tunes in your 'toon, be sure to buy a marine speaker replacement and not an automobile version. You'll be much happier in the long run.

Amphitheater Sound

In 2009, the Nautic Global Group released some of its 2010-model boats with an amphitheater setup, which combined Sony electronics with Polk Audio speakers to create an attractive upgrade sound system package. By joining one of the best names in audio electronics with some of the best audio speakers available, they created a truly impressive sound system experience. The system consists of a Sony head unit, Sony amplifier, a pair of Polk 6.5-inch coaxial speakers, two pairs of Polk 6.5-inch component speakers and a Polk 10-inch subwoofer. 

To further improve the sound quality, they placed speakers in such a way to establish full sound with a chaise box speaker housing, designed to bring the component speakers up off of the floor level to an elevation that is more comfortable and practical for listening. Visit them at  

Other manufacturers have begun to incorporate popup, rotating speakers into their boats. Harris FloteBote's Soltice's version rotates a full 360 degrees, letting you direct the sound out towards a water skier, or in towards the boat for additional volume when anchored and just partying into the evening.

Portable Tunes

Another area on-the-water music has improved is in the digital realm. Just like everywhere else, 'tooners have gone from playing their favorite songs on tape, then CD, and now MP3 players. Ten years ago, a top-end pontoon wouldn't be caught dead without a CD player; today, it's all about digital compatibility. Whether it's a simple input auxiliary jack (which worked for portable tape and CD players, too) or a devoted iPod attachment wired directly into the boat's stereo system, you can now feasibly bring thousands of songs with you for that weekend at the reservoir. And if you're anything like PDB ad exec and tester Steve Sargent, you can have a massive, eclectic assortment of tunes ready to go at the touch of a button. Have a friend who loves Bon Jovi? Start up Let It Rock. Your husband is a Beatles fanatic? Easily throw out Hey Jude, Let It Be and Yesterday in quick succession without breaking a sweat.

While Apple's iPod is the most popular and visible MP3 player on the market, there are many options when it comes to portable music. Microsoft's Zune, Sony's updated Walkman, and SanDisk's Sansa Clip are just a few of the choices available, all of which come with storage space up to 16GB and even more.

In all, the music situation for 'tooners is much better than it was five or 10 years ago. If you have an older boat, consider looking at upgrading your sound system to take advantage of the new technology available.

Because we all know a high-speed cruise across the lake just isn't the same without some U2 blasting. 

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