How to Use Wireless Bluetooth to Stream Music on a Boat Stereo System

bluetooth streaming audio boat

FM transmitter to play music from your smartphone on a boat through your marine stereo system using TuneLink wireless audio solution for FM radios.

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If you have an older boat like us (or at least a few years old), chances are your marine stereo system plays only radio and CDs. Listening to music on your boat usually involves loading up the CD changer with a variety of slightly outdated tunes that you may not even listen to anymore because today’s music is mostly digital. Like most people, you probably prefer to listen to music via Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify or downloaded digital music.

Most of my music listening these days comes from my smartphone using Pandora as my music source. But when I am on my boat I am unable to play music from my smartphone on my boat stereo system because of the type of stereo system we have on the boat. It is a basic marine stereo with a CD changer – there is no easy way to connect my phone or even an iPod to the stereo because there are no inputs. We end up listening to the same 6 CDs over and over again because we always forget to bring new music to the boat.

What are the options? Well, some have suggested we use a wireless Bluetooth speaker and pair it with our phone… but we have really nice audio speakers on the boat and I want to be able to listen to music over the boat’s sound system.

In this article we tested the TuneLink Elements – a wireless audio device that links your FM radio to your smartphone. You plug it in to your 12V outlet, pair it with your smartphone and play music over FM radio on your marine stereo.

NOTE: Since this article was written the TuneLink Elements product reviewed is no longer available for purchase, but you can purchase similar Wireless FM Transmitter products that work the same way.

TuneLink Auto appHere’s How it Works:

Step 1: Download the App

To use TuneLink Elements you need both the device and the mobile app.

The first step is downloading the TuneLink Auto app on iTunes or Google Play – they have an app for both Apple and Android devices.

TIP: Install the app before you are out on the boat ready to use the device. I tried one weekend and had issues downloading the app when I was not home with a really strong signal on my WI-Fi. So I suggest downloading the app before you are on your boat or out on the hook getting ready to listen to some tunes.

Step 2: Plug in and Pair Your Device

The next step is pairing your smartphone with the TuneLink device.

First, plug your TuneLink Elements device into a 12 volt outlet on your boat (every boat has at least one!). We have one by the helm and one in our cabin in the salon behind the settee. We chose the one in our salon because it is out of the way.

TuneLink 12 volt plug

TuneLink bluetooth pairNote the green glowing light on the TuneLink device (you can also see the reflection on the cabinet). The light means it is on, receiving power and working.

Note: The TuneLink also comes with a 3.5mm stereo output and the cable, if you have an audio AUX input jack (we do not have one, so we didn’t use this method).

Now its time to pair the TuneLink with your smartphone Bluetooth.

Turn on your Bluetooth and SCAN to find the TuneLink device. When you see TuneLink select to pair the device. After you pair it once you should not have to do it again.

Step 3: Select FM Radio Station

Now that your device is plugged in and paired it is time to select a station to transmit audio to and play music on your boat’s stereo system.

Open the TuneLink Auto app and it will automatically find the best available open channels based on your location using GPS… it will automatically scan for FM channels that are not in use – meaning there is no radio station transmitting on it. The “Speedtune” technology literally takes seconds to find open channels.

Select the station you want from the list and then select the same corresponding station on your boat’s stereo.

wireless audio stream on boat stereo

The TuneLink app works WAY better than any other FM transmitter I have used in past. Years ago we had a device that was an iPod cradle that plugged into a 12V outlet and used FM transmitter to play on your stereo. You couldn’t select an exact channel on the device… you had to keep changing the radio station on your stereo to find one that had no radio station playing… the result was usually a fuzzy station. With TuneLink there is no guesswork with selecting an open station… it is super easy to find an available station with no background noise!

Step 4: Play Music on your Boat Stereo System

Now you are all set to play music and enjoy it straight from your marine stereo system!

Select the music source you want from your smartphone… Pandora, Spotify or saved digital music files… and hit play!

Music plays very clearly over the stereo system and I was able to control music selection from my smartphone while in the cockpit of the boat (even though the TuneLink device was down below in the cabin with the door shut!) As far as connection, I was also lucky to have a good signal to stream music from Spotify – so remember you need to have a signal from your boat to stream music from internet enabled devices.

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Other Noteworthy Features on a Boat

If you are thinking about using the TuneLink Elements from your boat, here are some specific features that I think you’ll appreciate:

Low Energy Use – the device itself uses very little energy and won’t be a drain on your boat’s battery… which is ideal when you are out on the hook for a long afternoon. The illuminated light on the unit is LED and puts out no heat – after hours of using the device it remained cool to the touch.

Auto Reconnect – Every time you turn back on your device it will automatically start playing again with no need to reconnect or repair. I hit paused music from Pandora on my smartphone and then hit play again later and it just started playing music on my stereo (I did leave my stereo on, and heard no static noise or anything while the music was not playing).

Share on Multiple Devices – You can easily share the TuneLink with multiple devices (smartphones) and simultaneously take turns playing music tracks over the link to your stereo. Although I didn’t try this feature out yet, I can see it being fun if you were rafted up with other boats… or even just having friends on board that want to play their own music. (Note they would have to have the app & pair their phone with the device.)

Designed for Marine & Outdoors – TuneLink Elements was specifically designed for a marine and outdoors environment with 3M™ Novec™ Electronic Coating that protects the device against moisture intrusion, grime, corrosion and harsh environments. This seems like a good thing for a marine environment and will hopefully prolong the life of the unit after being used continuously from a boat.

Portable Device – The unit itself is so small and portable that you can take it with you wherever you go – on your boat, in your car or even visiting on another boat.

Where to Buy:

This item is no longer available for purchase – however, we recommend considering these similar Wireless FM Transmitter products that work the same way.

Upgrade Marine Systems to Bluetooth Receivers

If you’re ready to upgrade your marine stereo system to a new Bluetooth system to stream music and more, we recommend checking out these best selling Marine Stereo Receivers with West Marine that include top marine audio brands like Fusion and JL Audio.

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