A Sailing Rockstar - Fugoo Bluetooth Speaker Review

"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain." - Bob Marley

Do you listen to music while you sail? Or perhaps you play tunes in the cockpit during sundowners. Maybe you like to kick some beats at the beach when you go ashore. No matter the circumstance, having a small portable Bluetooth speaker opens the possibilities for more time spent enjoying the music you like.

I can hear some of you asking, "Why do I need a Bluetooth speaker when I've already got a perfectly good stereo and fixed-mount speakers on my boat?"  I can think of many advantages of a portable Bluetooth speaker for sailing. To name a few, try these:
  • Beach music - You can bring a Bluetooth speaker with you when you go to shore.
  • Dinghy music - Ditto. Now your dinghy has a sound system too.
  • Dock music - Ever want to have tunes on the dock or up at the marina grill?
  • Digital music library - Does your boat stereo have a connection for your phone or iPod? If not, a Bluetooth speaker allows you to play digital music from your device library and other sources like Pandora and Spotify
  • Energy savings - Using a portable Bluetooth speaker saves your house batteries
  • Non-boating uses - A Bluetooth speaker can be used at home too for backyard bbq's, etc.
Now, to make a portable Bluetooth speaker feasible for use on a sailboat, it would have to be waterproof at the very least, and probably offer other protection too like being sandproof for the beach and shockproof for those times when an extreme angle of heel clears the shelves. Sounds like a job for the Fugoo "Go Anywhere Speaker"!

The Fugoo (rhymes with "who knew") speaker is touted as being shockproof, snowproof, sandproof and waterproof to 3 feet for up to 30 minutes. Much of this "proofing" comes from the components being shock-mounted on reinforced case materials and protected by impact absorbing end caps on all eight corners. The speaker itself is essentially an internal core that is then covered with a choice of jacket designs, including the Sport model I tested. The base Style model lists for $199 and features a fiber/cloth shell. The Sport ($199) has a fiber-reinforced resin shell with rubber trim for added impact protection. And finally, the Tough model ($229) is crafted from resin and aluminum, creating the highest level of durability (I've seen a video of it being run over by a Jeep without issue).

I could go on about other technical features like dynamic EQ, magnetic ferrofluid, and passive radiators, but wouldn't you rather just see the results of Hannah and I dunking the Fugoo underwater?

Come Sail Away, indeed!

As you can see, the Fugoo is happy to swim and keep on playing music (and hold the Bluetooth connection) without much fuss.  I'm not sure how Fugoo managed to keep water from entering via the open mini-USB charging port, but I'm happy to report they've done it.

Putting aside all of the ruggedness and suitability for a watery environment, the Fugoo also boasts really good sound quality, at least to my ears. Music comes through clear and crisp with no noticeable distortion, even at full volume. However, full volume may not be loud enough for some if you're hoping to share your music with the entire anchorage. For most, the volume range is plenty for what you'll require onboard.

The sound comes from two tweeters for highs, two woofers for midrange sound and two passive radiators for modest bass. Fugoo's press materials specifiy 95 dB, but the highest I attained was 91 dB using the Decibel 10th app on my iPhone. Another nice feature is that this speaker is set up for 360 degrees of sound, so you don't necessarily have to have it pointed in one direction or another to hear it. Omnidirectional!

Battery life is listed as 40 hours at 50% volume on continuous play. I didn't let it play for that long continuously, but we've been using it off and on now for a couple of weeks and still haven't exhausted the initial charge.

What about accessories? There are a few really cool accessories to make the Fugoo even more useful. The one I've been trying out is the Bike Mount, which actually is perfect for attaching the Fugoo to a stanchion or the steering binnacle, as long as your tube diameters are between 7/8" and 1 1/4". You can also get a wireless remote control and other mounts.

Bike (stanchion) mount

I really like the Fugoo speaker, but to be a true review, I've got to come up with some nitpicks too, right? First, the price. Starting at nearly $200 makes this one of the most expensive options for a portable Bluetooth speaker, so you've really got to value the rugged/waterproof design. And speaking of design, I felt like the form factor is a bit large considering some of the competition.  Size for a Bluetooth speaker might be subjective, but it also represents a trade-off between portability and sound quality. So far I haven't run across a smaller speaker with better sound than the Fugoo, let alone the protection the Fugoo offers from the wet environs of a sailboat. So maybe the Fugoo's 1.1 lbs and roughly ~8" length strikes the proper balance.

In any case - Sport, Style, Tough - the Fugoo is a high quality choice for serving up sailing music.

Pros: durability, sound quality, battery life

Cons: cost, size (for some)

Bottom Line: A speaker that delivers music to the sailing experience in all conditions

I've seen the light - Imtra Gibraltar PowerLED

For a sailboat from the late 1980's, we think s/v Bearly-A-Wake still shows and performs very well. This is partly due to the builder (Catalina Yachts) choosing mostly quality fittings, and largely due to regular maintenance and upgrades. One of the original fittings that still functions just fine, but actually is showing some age is the plastic light fixture in the head. The plastic casing is turning yellow and the incandescent bulbs inside are the last remaining non-LEDs in the cabin. Time for an upgrade!

Out with the old...

I recently removed the old plastic fixture and replaced it with Imtra's Gilbraltar PowerLED dome light. I chose the warm white with red bi-color model, so it has an on/off toggle that can switch between white light and red for times when we'll want to keep our night vision intact. Also note, this fixture has double gaskets for splash protection, so you could potentially install one in the cockpit too. Hopefully those gaskets will never get tested in our head, but you never know what's flying about when you go below in snotty weather.

The first thing I noticed when removing the Gibraltar from the packaging is the polished stainless bezel and solid glass frosted lens that give this fixture a heft that's lacking in the all-plastic fixture I replaced. It looks both classy and durable, but time will have to tell.

...In with the new.

Are your pupils dilated?

Installation was simple. Just use the paper template provided by Imtra to choose an appropriate mounting location and drill the two 3/8" clearance holes for the casing nuts, splice the red and black lead wires to the feeds, and secure the fixture with the three provided screws. This particular model is flush mounted (except for the clearance holes) and comes with a soft rubber/foam gasket to help create a seal. In addition to the red positive lead and black negative lead, there is also a white (+) dimmer lead and a grey (-) dimmer lead. Since I won't be using mine on a dimmer, I didn't connect these two wires, but the option is there for those want to be able to dim the light.

I'm very happy with the new, clean look and the brighter (equal to 25W halogen) lighting in the head. I'm also pleased to now feature a cabin with all LED lighting, which will hopefully save us power and maintenance. So is there a downside to this upgrade? Only if you're on a tight budget because the Gibraltar will set you back $229 USD, though a similar G4 halogen model is available for $79 USD. Kind of makes you wish these fixtures came standard from the factory.

Want more info about these fixtures? Practical Sailor recently bestowed an Editor's Choice award to the Gibraltar PowerLED (May/June 2014).

For the specs nerds:
Warm white (2850K) / Red Bi-Color
Power Consumption: 5.5W
Voltage: 10-30VDC
Dimmer Interface: Pulse Width Modulation
Dimmensions: Trim ring = 6.5" diameter, Height = 1.42"
>> Find SFLF's other sailing gear reviews here. <<

From Dream to Reality - The BEST Sailing Locations

"You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality." - Walt Disney

I've been pondering favorite sailing locations and am finding it difficult to narrow the list to a reasonable number. I'm beginning to realize that the problem isn't necessarily that the Great Lakes are an amazing cruising ground (they are!) full of "best locations", but rather that my true favorites are usually the last place we visited or the next place we're planning to sail to.

The reality is that the memories of quality family time spent getting there and being there make just about any place we've sailed part of my "best" list. Old Walt had it right when he singled out people as the key ingredient.

Still, I'll give it a shot to identify just one location in response to LOOK's quest to find the world's best/most exotic sailing locations (see here) based solely on places I've visited on my own sailboat.

The one place that stands out among all others I've visited is that one little gunkhole on the south side of South Benjamin Island. This spot is truly nature's own pink granite marina with slips carved into the rocks by 1,000's of years worth of wave action.

Hard to beat watching Hannah and Izzy scrambling on coastal boulders

Yup, South Benjamin has all the boxes checked for a classic "best sailing location":
  • Island location - Check!
  • Protected anchorage - Check!
  • Beautiful scenery - Check!
  • Crystal clear water - Check!
  • Wilderness ambience - Check!
We've spent time here on a couple of different occasions, once in the company of other cruisers and once in complete family solitude. Both were great experiences.

If you decide to visit, look for the narrow natural channel on the very south end of the island that cuts through from west to east and stay to the middle. As you wind your way through, you'll see plenty of tempting coves and nooks among the granite shoreline to tuck in for a night...or a week. Don't forget to look for the iron rungs embedded into some of the granite that can be used for a shore tie.

Welcome to the pink granite marina! That's s/v Island Bound in the background.
Hopefully we'll take s/v Bearly-A-Wake there soon too!

Once settled in, you'll enjoy hiking on the giant pink rocks, exploring the little pine forests that dot the island, and collecting wild blueberries for pancakes the next morning. I'm sure you'll also find plenty of perfect places for a sundowner campfire among the bowls in the granite. As evening falls, watch for ursine creatures coming down to the water on the main part of the island to the north and keep an eye skyward for stars so bright and clear you'd swear they're heavenly LED's.

I guess it's no surprise that I've written about South Benjamin Island several times before, so if you're planning a visit or want more details to help you decide, try here and here.