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Electronics — August 2004
By Ben Ellison

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Electronics Q&A
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What are the pros and cons of using satellite radio on boats? SaltyDog, via PMY Electronics forum
Beware, you’re asking a satellite radio convert. I tested and wrote about XM a couple of years ago (“More Marine Media,” July 2002) and got hooked. I went on to purchase the PC receiver version of XM and am listening to classic jazz on channel 73, Frank’s Place, right now as I work. If I want, I can see a list of what’s playing on the other 70-plus music channels or have the software notify me if a favorite artist is playing on any. The programmers are the best in the business, and instead of competing with each other for my attention, they’re working as a team to provide a smorgasbord of music that competes with archrival Sirius. And there are almost no conventional commercial interruptions (though there are a lot of annoying cross promotions). Finally, XM also offers some 30 channels of news and talk ranging from Fox News to BBC, Family Talk to raunchy comedy (the FCC doesn’t monitor satellite radio). Obviously I’m pleased with XM content, and I know that many Sirius subscribers feel the same way about their service.

I’ve heard from a number of boaters who say satellite radio is all they need and good riddance to the onboard clutter of CDs or tapes. Time has also shown that range is quite good; cruisers report good reception from western Newfoundland to the mid-Bahamas, Acapulco to Juneau, and hundreds of miles offshore. And, of course, they don’t have the issues with tall buildings or mountains that some drivers experience. Most reports are coming from XM users because there are a lot more of them, but Sirius supposedly has better range to the north. There are lots of hardware options for either service, including marine-quality antennas and stereos with built-in satellite receivers. Some seasonal boaters use gear like the Delphi SKYFi, which, though not marinized, lets them carry the small receiver component—along with its dedicated radio subscription—from boat to car to home.

Cons? I can’t think of any once you’ve gotten over the hurdle of paying for something that we grew up listening to for free. However, nice as it would be to cruise almost anywhere in North America with the reliable companionship of some good DJs and a fair selection of news, sports, and talk channels, I’d take along a regular AM/FM receiver, too. Local radio news and weather can be really useful, plus exploring the dial for unique, even oddball, regional programming can sometimes be a cruising pleasure. —B.E

Got a marine electronics question? Write to Electronics Q&A, Power & Motoryacht, 260 Madison Ave., 8th Fl., New York, NY 10016. Fax: (917) 256-2282. e-mail: For fastest response, visit the Electronics Forum at No phone calls, please.

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This article originally appeared in the July 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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