Party central

While many of us go boating for peace and solitude, there are times when the term ‘party boat’ may be appropriate, writes Norman Holtzhausen. New Year’s Eve is one of those days, and with a modest bit of preparation you can light up the occasion.

Not just music and lights, but what about belting out a Bruce Springsteen song, or crooning along to an Ed Sheeran ballad? With a little planning it’s easy to turn your boat into party central, including adding karaoke capabilities. Best of all, this needn’t break the bank.

Sadly, most party equipment isn’t really suited to the marine environment. Yes, Fusion Electronics makes magnificent stereo systems and waterproof speakers, all to ipx67 standards. Bluetooth connectivity enables you to connect your iPhone to the head unit, and there is a range of speakers to suit every installation option. There is even a range of speakers with LEDs built into the housing to provide a cool lighting effect. If you have a system like this you’re halfway there.

But what if you want some disco lights, a laser show or perhaps a touch of karaoke? Traditional technologies for these types of units have been expensive, fragile, generally require mains power and are definitely not waterproof. But what about gear that’s suitable for a temporary solution out on the water?

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So, we went looking with a specific set of criteria. We wanted units that were portable and did not require a permanent installation. They need to be robust, so no mirror balls dangling from a rotating spindle. They need to be powered by 12v (or USB) so they can be plugged into the onboard power system. And lastly, they should have a price point that is low enough that an over-enthusiastic dancer knocking it into the water won’t result in broken friendships.

The traditional marine suppliers in New Zealand have limited options, but this is one of the occasions when online shopping is your friend. When buying items that are not critical for safety, which are probably not going to be a long-term installation and where quality is less important than ‘glitz’ – well, this is the one time where Trade Me, eBay and Alibaba are viable options. Just bear in mind many of these options ship from offshore, so allow plenty of time for delivery.

First, we looked for flashing lights, such as a traditional disco ball might provide. Ideally these should respond to the music, with a sound-activated mode, and of course if needed, to be USB-powered. Turns out that for less than $20, plus shipping, you can get a compact LED-based disco ball party light. These are available in flashing white or coloured lights, and there is even a UV Black Light option. At this price you might be tempted to get two.

Stepping things up a bit there is also a laser option, although we had to go to eBay for this one. For approximately $30 plus shipping you can get a 12-volt RGB Laser Stage Lighting Disco Xmas Party Lamp, and this can be used to project points of light onto the clouds or the side of a building. It also has a sound-activated mode, although there are fewer colour options. Also, be aware of the risks with laser light – don’t shine it at other vessels or places where birds might be roosting, for example.

Next – some Bluetooth speakers, assuming of course your boat doesn’t already have a suitable sound system. And let’s be clear here – we were not looking for a top-notch audio solution, although there are certainly some very, very good standalone Bluetooth speakers available out there. Sticking with our criteria, we wanted bang for buck (and not many bucks either).

This was a bit trickier, because most of the low-cost options do not specify their power output in their specs – and for good reason, as they’re usually pretty poor! Also, the economics of speaker manufacture is such that the higher the output the more they cost, so the cheapest options tended to have the lowest output.

But we managed to find a Crystal Light 10W subwoofer for $25, or a ‘TG118 Big Extream Speaker Bluetooth Stereo Subwoofer Boom Box’ containing a pair of 10W speakers for $65. Both contain their own lithium-ion batteries – they don’t even need an on-board power source. Remember to charge them beforehand…

Of course, karaoke requires both a screen displaying the words and the backing music, and naturally there is an app for that. In fact, just Google ‘best karaoke app’ and you will get a list of numerous apps for whichever device you prefer. An iPad or similar tablet is the best since the screen size lets you read the words more easily while singing – but given the cost of this you might just stick with your mobile phone.

Our app choice is called ‘Smule’ – available from the App Store and Google Play for Apple and Android devices. In addition to the usual karaoke features of playing the music and displaying the words, you can choose to either sing solo or to accompany your favourite artist – like Ed Sheeran.

What’s more, it adds another level by letting you also sing along with friends anywhere in the world! If they are also using the app you can sing a duet even though you may be on the other side of the planet. Oh, and the price is good – Smule is free, although you might want to pay for some more songs since the ones bundled with the free version are somewhat limited.

Now, using the microphone built into your smartphone might be the simplest option but you will feel like a dork singing to your phone. Plus, it is hard to read the words on the small screen while waving it about. What you want is a professional looking microphone that you can belt out the words into. Once again, Bluetooth is a good option and a karaoke wireless Bluetooth microphone will set you back a mere $16.99 or less (plus shipping).

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And the last item for the ultimate cool party boat is to share the love with the fishes. What about an underwater light? Although this is a whole subject in itself, a simple solution is a waterproof light that simply screws into your boat’s existing drain bung. Starting at $49 with free shipping, these come across from Australia with a claimed delivery time of under a week. Search for ‘bung light’ for a range of options.

There you have it. For around $100 if you already have a Bluetooth-enabled stereo in your boat (depending on whether you choose one or two disco lights), or around $160 if you need to add a pair or more of Bluetooth speakers, you could make your boat the envy of the anchorage.

Just remember to party responsibly, as alcohol and water do not go together well. Also beware of grumpy old men who do not want their peace disturbed in that remote location!