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Do I Need a Subwoofer for My Boat?


The decision to add a subwoofer to your marine stereo system can be tricky. If you don't have a subwoofer already, do you want to cut a hole in the hull? If you do cut a hole in the hull, do you need to make sure you are giving the subwoofer the proper airspace, or putting it in a "box"? If you don't want to cut a hole in the hull, what are your other options? Are those other options marine grade? Can you put a car subwoofer on a boat? We will answer all of these questions and hopefully make your decision easier.

So, Do I need a Subwoofer In My Boat?

We are in the business of selling audio systems for boats, so of course our answer is, "YES!"

On a more serious note, it really does "Depend," and there is no right or wrong answer. *Nods and whispers, "You want a subwoofer"*

When adding a stereo system to your boat, you will likely want to add a subwoofer to fill out the bottom end. You may be looking for a high-quality sound experience like your home theater system. Or, maybe you want a stereo system that will hit hard, something you can feel in your feet or in your chest.

There are three levels of bass on a boat.
  1. You can add bass to your boat for sound quality
  2. You can add bass to your boat that you can feel in your feet
  3. Getting enough bass that you can feel it in your chest is difficult in a boat. Can it be done? Of course. But it is going to require multiple subwoofers and a ton of power.
How to add some bump to your boat.
Infinite Baffle Subwoofers

Infinite baffle or free-air subwoofers make up the majority of the marine subwoofers that we offer. These subwoofers are designed to be mounted directly to the hull of your boat. You do not have to worry about air space and creating the right amount of volume. If anything, the more air space the better. From an acoustics standpoint, the subwoofer should not "see" any pressure or sound waves on the backside of the speaker itself. Installation is easy and straightforward. Cut a hole, connect the wires to the subwoofer, screw the subwoofer into the hole you just cut.

Subwoofers Designed for Enclosures

In addition to infinite baffle marine subwoofers, we also have subwoofers that are designed for enclosures. These subwoofers need to be in a controlled air space so that the speaker "sees" pressure and sound waves on the backside of the speaker. The subwoofers for enclosures are usually on the higher end products that can handle more power and thus have more output. The trick with these subwoofers is building an enclosure or making sure that the amount of volume behind the speaker is within the specifications of the subwoofer.

Marine Loaded Enclosures

We offer marine subwoofers that come pre-installed in marine-grade, sealed enclosures. Usually, the enclosure itself is made of fiberglass to withstand the elements and provide superior acoustics. As their name suggests, these are subwoofers that are designed for enclosures but instead of you or your installer needing to build a box, the subwoofer is already in a box, sealed up, and with a nice matching finish. A loaded enclosure is going to outperform an infinite baffle subwoofer of the same size and power handling. The enclosures themselves can be quite bulky so it is important to make sure you have room for installation.

Car Loaded Enclosures

A cost-effective way to add bass to your boat is to use a loaded enclosure that is designed for cars instead of boats. These subwoofer enclosures usually cost less and there are many more options for subwoofers, sizes, and price points. However, these products are not designed to withstand the marine environment with salt fog and damaging UV rays. However, there are some ways to get around it.

  • Install the enclosure under a seat where it is protected from the sun and moisture
  • Install the enclosure by the driver's footwell where the subwoofer will likely stay dry and out of direct UV light
  • If you have a closed bow boat, you can put the box in the storage area under the bow.

Installing a car subwoofer in a boat is one way to get more bass, for less money. Even if the box or the subwoofer gets wet, you may not care. Eventually, the wood and carpet on the enclosure might get nasty, but if you get 3,4, or 5 years out of it, will you care? Will you still have the same boat? Will it be worth it to you to just get another enclosure? We can't answer that question for you, but it is something to think about. Many of the car subwoofers will pass the moisture requirements to be considered marine grade, but the fail the salt-fog test. Since "marine grade" has to cover both salt and fresh water, they aren't true marine-grade products.

All 4 Options will give you good, decent bass.

Outside of the JL Audio M7 and the REVO XXX subwoofers, it is going to be hard to get bass that you can feel in your chest unless you install 3+ subwoofers on a typical wakeboard boat. If you have an even larger boat, you will need more subwoofers. You will be able to feel it through your feet and your butt (if you are sitting down), but it is hard to create enough pressure in an outdoor environment to feel that bass in your chest.

What Size Subwoofer Do I Need?

We recommend going with the biggest subwoofer you can install, given your space limitations. If you can fit a 12", get a 12". If you can only fit a 10", then get the 10", and so forth. Usually the height of the surface is the limiting factor when installing subwoofers in a boat. Since we recommend using the same brand subwoofer as your speakers, from an appearance standpoint, you may be limited if you need an infinite baffle subwoofer. For example, if you have JL Audio M3 speakers, you are going to be limited to a 10" because JL doesn't make the M3 subwoofers in a 12" model. You could upgrade to the M6 or M7 and get a 12" subwoofer, but the grilles will look slightly different

This Isn't Your Car

The environment on a boat is much different than inside your car. Your car (most likely) has a roof, doors, a windshield, a rear window, and tons of surface area to trap sound waves. Now, compare that to your boat. There's no fixed roof, no windshield, no doors, and no rear window. Your boat is a big wide open space, open to nature and all of its elements. The outside, open to the environment is why we like it. You are outside, you feel the wind, you feel the sun, you smell the water (good and bad), you feel the mist or splashes from the water. What makes a boat great is also what makes it less than ideal for bass.

Power Requirements

You will want at least 200 watts for each subwoofer. You can wire subwoofers in parallel to drop the impedance and get more power from your amplifier, as long as your amp is 2 ohms or 1 ohm stable. If you want serious bass, you are going to need serious power. The subwoofers will need to generate a ton of force to create that pressure and the way to do that is with a ton of power.

High Power Amplifiers
  • Sinister-SDX2500
  • M1000/1v2
  • KXMA1200.1
  • PM1000x1bd
  • TM750x1br
  • M1200-1D

Our "Go-to" Amplifiers
  • M600/1v2
  • TM750x1bd
  • KMA600.1
  • HTX-1
  • M1200-1D

Mini Amplifiers
  • TM750x1bd
  • MX500/1
  • PXA500.1

Value Amplifiers
  • KMA600.1
  • PM300x1
  • MX300/1
  • M1200-1D