Finally Fixed – Wired up my new boat stereo

Published On May 29, 2014 | By Mark Baese | Boat Projects

After my success at plumbing a new galley faucet, I’m a little more ambitious and confident in trying to get a few other things fixed.

One of the long standing issues on my boat was a lack of stereo. When we bought our 1995 Larson 280 four years ago, there were a few things that needed some work – or didn’t exist. The stereo fit into both of those columns.

Our boat had speakers installed:

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There was also a Maxxum Marine stereo remote – which at the time I assumed was the actual stereo:

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For the longest time, I just thought it was broken like some of the other things on the boat.

We had a portable set of battery powered Logitech Speakers at home, and that worked great – so we just put it on the boat.

In fact, those Logitech speakers were so good, we pretty much didn’t even care that the stereo was broken. It was a little annoying having to charge them all the time – and they sounded like dinky speakers – but it worked.

There was a mysterious panel in the cabin that I decided to explore after a year of owning the boat. When I finally got around to unscrewing the panel, this is what I found:

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Wires! And those wires looked suspiciously like they were from a wiring harness for a car stereo. I had once wired in a new car stereo a decade ago, so I was familiar with the process.

Very cool. However, I wasn’t sure if the speakers worked, if there was power, etc – so I stuffed them back in there and closed the panel. I figured I’d check it out later. I wasn’t in the mood to tackle re-wiring the boat speakers at this point (fearing the worst). The idea of tracing back all the wires to find the positive and negative speaker wires seemed daunting as well.

Closed that book for another boating season. I finally decided to pull off that panel again and have a closer look – and see exactly what it would take to get up and running.

Closer inspection showed a couple of things. First, the wires were actually labelled Front R, Front L, etc, etc. (If you look very close to the end of the wires, you’ll see each “pair” was fitted in a lose plastic tube – that tube was labelled.)

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Based on that info, it looks like they simply cut the harness for the stereo and left the wires – so I knew which were positive and negative – and which one was the memory power / accessory power / ground. However – I wasn’t 100% sure what the grey cable on the right was for that looked like it still had a harness on it. (I would later trace it back to the Maxxum remote at the console – which I now knew was a stereo remote, and not a stereo.)

This project was looking less daunting now.

First was to see if power was going to the wires. Without power, it would be a much larger project.

I pulled out my multimeter – set it to 20DCV (I knew I was working on a 12v system, so 20 DC Volts was the setting to use.). I put the black terminal to the wire I suspected was the ground (black), and the red terminal to the positive wire that SHOULD have power.

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Success!

That’s 12.62 volts – which is exactly where you want it to be.

I was also able to determine which rocker switch the stereo was tied to on the boat console. The only minor problem was that generally the red wire was hooked to the accessory / car ignition and the yellow wire is always live as it’s a memory wire (so your clock keeps ticking and your presets stay the same.) – However this was wired backwards. Since I was stripping and redoing the wires anyway, this made no difference.

Now that I knew there was power – I figured the speakers likely worked. At the very least the wiring would be good and I could just replace any blown speakers.

I ordered a semi-cheap stereo off of Amazon figuring I’d be out only a few bucks if it all went to hell.

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I chose a Pyle stereo WITHOUT a CD player, because, well I haven’t used a CD in probably 5 years minimum. Plus, I didn’t want any moving parts to break. We did want bluetooth though. We also wanted an AUX plug in in case a guest wanted to hear “their song” they had on “their phone” or whatever.

This model also came with a bonus USB port and SD card slot to play mp3’s. All for $70. Beauty. There were cheaper stereos – but not ones with bluetooth, which is a deal breaker.

I started wiring up the new harness the right way with these waterproof wire crimp things:

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They were terrible. They didn’t hold the wire in very well at all. They worked ok for the power / ground which were a slightly larger gauge of wire than the speaker wire. They just didn’t hold when tugged on.

In all likelihood I was crimping them incorrectly. However, I just bought some standard crimps that held like crazy. They weren’t waterproof, but I figured if I had significant water at this part of the cabin, I likely had larger problems.

As for the speaker wire, I went with the solder & heat shrink method. The crimps were just not holding.

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Stripping and crimping wires is messy work…

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Once I had the wires all set, time for the big test… Would there be sound?

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Victory! All the speakers worked.

The only thing left to do was to close that ugly hole up with something that looked slightly better. This actually turned out to be the hardest part of installing a stereo on a boat.

I had the hole where the stereo slotted in to, and the 4 screw holes to match up. I figured I could cut the stereo hole based on the stereo sleeve that the stereo slides into – and then find some way to mark the screw holes once that was in place.

I pulled out my new Dremel for the task:

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You can see my first attempt at creating a good panel in the garbage… That’s because it was a terrible attempt:

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Cutting a straight line with a Dremel is actually really difficult. It got away from me a few times and I went way outside the lines.

The material I was using was too soft. It was a rigid cardboard type material that printers make rigid signs out of.

Also, because the lines would be off, it would likely look crooked if everything wasn’t exactly square – which the stereo, although level, wasn’t square.

So I tried a more rigid piece of plastic with pattern lines on it. I figured this would mask the un-squareness of it all.

Not the straightest of cuts again – but I had enough forgiveness in the housing that hopefully this would work:

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I tested it out with the stereo sleeve first:

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Fits like a glove.

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Almost like it was meant to be there.

Cutting all this stuff was also really messy work…

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All kinds of fine shavings were made. The Dyson made quick work of clean up though.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t do this outside, it’s because I’m in a marina. I would have littered plastic shavings all over the dock and polluted the water. It’s much better to make a mess in the cabin where I can clean it all up and ensure it hits the trash where it belongs.

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All set. And it almost looks like the stereo was there all along.

I might make a pine box for it in the future – to match the pine moulding below it – and the other trim you see to the right of the stairs… That’s a project for another day though.

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