Consumers drive marine audio, electronics innovation and integration

Moving what consumers have at home, in their cars, to the boat

Consumers want more.

It’s a trend that’s true throughout all areas of the marine industry, but especially true when it comes to outfitting boats with the latest and greatest in audio, entertainment and electronics.

“The days of putting average on a boat, are simply not there anymore,” said Fusion Marine Entertainment CEO Chris Baird.

Marine audio and electronics providers are consistently pushed to meet and exceed increasing demands from the consumer in technological advancements and quality.

The StereoAcive portable speaker offers Fusion audio standards on the go

“With increasing power in boats and the wind whipping by, speakers, amps, and subs need to be able to be loud, but still be clear and crisp,” Baird said. Consumers have come to expect to receive the same high level of entertainment that they get at home, out on the water, he added. 

At Fusion, Baird said that they’ve really switched onto how consumers hear the music. “We want us [Fusion] to sound the best it can possibly sound in any environment, as environments are constantly changing,” Baird said.

“To me, the bar has been raised in audio,” said Prospec Electronics VP of Sales and Marketing Josh Berry. “They [consumers] are thirsty for the best when it comes to audio in the boat.”

With consumers’ lives outside of the boating world as the driving force, integration continues to be the main focus for manufacturers as to what’s going into boats. 

Garmin offers multi-display options for both navigation and boat controls

“Your boat should be an extension of your connected life,” said SIMRAD Product Line Director Steve Thomas. “Consumers should be connected to their boats as well.”

“They [consumers] want to have what they have at home,” Baird added. “There is a high level of entertainment expectations.”

Thomas said that integration has been the path for quite some time in the marine industry, and consumers should expect to see that continue in the future.

A common theme from SIMRAD is working to free up dash space by creating “smart controls” through a single dash navigation display. Thomas said that part of this will come in the form of “digital switching.”

Digital switching will take the extra switches on the dash for lights, audio, etc. and move them to a tab on the navigation display. Along with removing the switches from the dash, digital switching will allow the opportunity to create pre-set modes for various situations.

For example, Thomas said that one could create a pre-set mode for anchoring that ties everything into one switch.

“The ultimate goal is for everything separate to come together as one to create a seamless experience, much like automobiles today,” Thomas said.

“Consumers want to go from their car to the boat and not miss the audio performance from the car,” Berry added.

Making the boating experience more seamless like driving in today’s cars has been the driving force in integration and innovation in products at Garmin International as well.

“We want our products to drive the boat all the way to the lights and more,” said Garmin Marine Division Sales Director Dave Dunn.

One of the largest pushes for integration within the marine industry is toward smartphone integration. 

Electronics providers are providing more and more options for smartphone integration through the use of connectivity apps and Bluetooth technology, which allow a seamless pairing between phone and boat.

Dunn said that Garmin’s new ActiveCaptain smartphone app pushes integration
further and connects boaters’ phones directly to their boat systems, allowing them to check fuel levels, access charts, and get notifications for calls and texts on their chartplotter displays.

Similarly, SIMRAD offers users their Link app to allow users to remotely view information about their boat and update their onboard systems.

Hand-in-hand with integration, is the ever-growing list of electronics providers and boat builder partnerships.

“We’ve created a strong presence in the OEM market and we continue to put a lot of effort into that side of the business,” Dunn said.

Baird stressed the importance of partnerships between OEMs and Electronics providers, saying it’s been a direction he’s been pushing Fusion for eight years. “We need to make sure on the OEM boat builder side, we are the major player looking after the boat builders,” Baird said. 

Electronics suppliers are pushing to free up dash space with more digital displays and switches

“We have a lot of passion for what we do,” Baird added. “We get excited when we announce a new boat builder partnership.”

“We see the future in the OEM market,” Dunn said.

Most recently, Garmin announced a partnership as the exclusive supplier for the Independent Boat Builders, Inc., a 19-member network of some of the leading boat brands, including Malibu, Bennington, Chris Craft, and many more.

“We are honored the IBBI has chosen Garmin to be its exclusive supplier of marine electronics,” said Dan Bartel, Garmin vice president of global consumer sales. “We value this relationship with boat builders who are so well known in our industry for their quality and innovation, and we look forward to a providing them with best-in-class products and service for many years to come.”

Also semi-recently, Garmin announced its acquisition of Navionics, and their plan to begin integrating their cartography into the Garmin systems.

“It will be a blending of the best of their maps and Garmins already large system of maps, and giving them to the customers at no charge,” Dunn said. “It might not look the exact same, but there’s absolutely no maps like them in the industry.”

Despite Garmin’s ownership of Fusion, Dunn said that the company is doing everything they can to work with any audio company they can. “We work closely with JL, Clarion, and many more companies,” Dunn said. “We’re not going to shut anyone out.”

Simrad continues to push limits in digital displays and radars

On top of integration, more and more boat builders are aiming toward creating a boat with use for the entire family, rather than single-purpose boats. With the entire family aboard, boats are required to supply more entertainment all around.

An all-day outing on the boat with the family means that kids must be kept entertained almost non-stop.

“Entertainment has to go to a whole another level on boats,” Baird said. “This means that companies must spend the money on the engineering and R&D side.”

Baird explained that good boat building companies need to clearly understand that, spend the time and money, and make sure the customer gets what the customer wants.

Baird said that in the 3.5 years of ownership under Garmin, Fusion has been allowed to nearly double the size of the engineering and R&D departments.

“Garmin kind of left us alone and allowed us to continue the Fusion story with their help,” Baird said.

Baird said that in the marine audio world, the revolution is happening in the availability of music and entertainment. Being able to connect everything through a smartphone is key, he added.

Being entertained is what keeps people out on the water and happy on their boats, Baird said. “People like it, it’s good fun,” he added.

“The entertainment aspects that go into a boat, are more important than anything else on that boat,” Baird said.  

As integration continues consumers will see less traditional switches on boats


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