Dashboard Bling: An Overview of Marine Gauges
Whether you are custom rigging a new boat, updating an older one or finishing a restoration project, gauges are a critical piece of your boat. Now, more than ever, consumers have a whole host of options. If you’ve been seeing what is happening for new boats, where everything is digital, you can opt out of traditional dials all together and go with a digital screen. But, if you’re traditional then you will probably opt for gauges or some combination of screen and gauges. Here, I want to look at some of the options out there as well as look at how you can maybe save some money while upgrading your boat. For the purpose of this article, we like to focus on single engine performance boats but most of the products and ideas apply to many different setups.
First, let’s assume two categories for this article: "high end" and "mid level." There is a low end tier but let’s focus on quality products and consider the pros and cons of some of the gauges on the market. What differentiates the categories? Materials, internals and customization mainly. Marine gauges differ from auto or off road instruments in a few ways. Marine casings, brackets and fittings are made of more resilient materials to combat water exposure, including saltwater and being exposed to the elements. Lenses are capable of handling extreme humidity, heat, cold and moisture permeation. Dial faces have to resist UV exposure from the sun and be lit for night navigation. Features of high end speedometers include speed recall, incandescent lighting and data in the display as well as auto calibration. Marine gauges live in the toughest environment of all vehicles, so it stands to reason why they are so expensive. Here is an overview of some popular brands available.
There are a few brands that stick out in this category, Autometer, Livorsi and Gaffrig. At one time they were intertwined but are now separate. There used to be a brand partnership with Gaffrig and Livorsi (Livorsi by Gaffrig) and Autometer was a supplier of internals for Livorsi a long time ago. Now, Livorsi is independent after being purchased by CompX Marine in 2006 and Autometer and Gaffrig have nothing to with one another. Pricing in this category is high. Count on a simple 4 or 5 gauge set with GPS speedo to be upwards of $1,000, more if you want to get fancy bezels, custom colors and add some other rigging pieces. For a more complex set, 7 gauges, custom colors etc. you can get to $2,000k and beyond pretty fast and twins with fancy indicators and accessories can get really pricey but generally if you’re boat build is nice, then you want some really high quality hardware to compliment your boat. These are race spec instruments, so they can take a beating. With race helmets bouncing off them, drenched in saltwater and kids at boat shows punching them. Most of the companies below offer other rigging hardware, steering wheels, switches, panels, mechanical indicators along with other accessories.
Livorsi Marine (website)
Livorsi leads the pack in customization. Many builders use Livorsi as original equipment (OE), like Formula, Cigarette, Donzi, Skater and many custom builders use them as well. With optional rims (mega, race and industrial), you can also add custom bezels to further compliment your dash. You can get custom colors and logos added for a nice touch. Livorsi makes a full line of accessories and hardware as well. Mike Livorsi is the face of the company still and they are made in Grayslake, Illinois, USA.
Livorsi offers custom gauge sets in any color and design. compliment modern dashes nicely.
A staple of aftermarket gauges in the automotive world and marine for a long time. If you want classic bulletproof gauges, it’s hard to go wrong with Autometer. They might not have the same selection as Livorsi for customization but you are getting a high quality product that will last a very long time. I love the simple layout, clean look and the touch of class they offer to any dash. Made in Sycamore, Illinois, USA.
Simple layout, clear numbers and super durable have AutoMeter as a leading gauge brand for high performance boats. (Platinum Pro-Comp Marine shown)
Gaffrig Performance (website)
Offering great gauges, they seem a little harder to acquire retail wise and are among the pricier, depending where you are shopping. Their website looks like it was built in 1987 and is difficult to navigate but hopefully you can find a retailer to help you out. The dials are distinct with large numbers and sleek bezels. Plus, they have custom bezels as you would expect. And, you can get your boat brand logo on the face. For a while they offered a line called “Gaffrig 2” and they were aimed more at the mid market, were not easy to read and didn’t go over to well in the long run. But the original Gaffrigs are high quality gauges. Made in Huntley, Illinois, USA.
With an array of rim and bezel colors and design, a unique dash layout is easy.
Here is where things get interesting. This category is a great place to shop if you are on a budget, have an older boat that can’t justify over $1k in dashboard bling but you want that modern custom look. Some of the differences in this category are the lens glass quality (scratch resistance, sealing, UV etc.), plastics, heat resistance and quality of the fittings. Quality is still great and for 90% of consumers, more than adequate. One trick to make "mid level" look "high end" is the bezel. You can color match your bezel and rim to the look you're going for and immediately make it look custom. Companies sell straight and angled bezels in different colors. You could also re-color your stock rim and bezel on your own to a custom color.
Original Equipment - Factory Engine Gauges
If you are re-powering, know that you will be able to negotiate rigging and factory gauges into the price of the engine, so in effect you can get the gauges installed for free potentially. The factory gauges from the big manufacturers are high quality, reliable instruments. If you’re going for the latest technology, they have digital versions that compliment the screens and “smart” gauges that accompany the digital rigging new engines have. What do they lack? They only come in standard sizes, they have no rim or bezel options and the face and dial are fairly basic. But, the internals are good and the brackets and hardware are high quality.
What do aftermarket mid level gauges offer that OE does not? They have more options for colors, bezels, rims and faces. You can get different color bezels for some too so you can have that “custom” look without spending a bundle. Plus, if you’re not repowering with a new engine, then you have no real advantage to going factory, therefore you have more options for great gauges. For performance use, this category is fine but if you want a speedometer over 80 MPH or 100 MPH, then you’re options are reduced a little as some lines only go to 80 MPH. Some styles do have a small digital readout at the bottom along with the mechanical dial. With this category you can get a complete gauge set for less than just one "high end" speedo, so keep that in mind. Here are a few brands that stand out.
Hardin Marine (website)
A staple in the marine industry for over 30 years. Hardin gauges are great quality and offer the most custom looking in this category. Bezel options, including angled bezels and different colors provide a distinct look. If you have a unique boat and you want the custom look, these are a great option. Made in the USA too.
Faria Beede Instruments (website)
Faria is the leading supplier for OE marine manufacturers, Faria has made gauges for automotive, motorcycle, industrial and military purposes. The company was founded in 1956 and got involved in marine instruments in the 90s. You will find great quality and selection and if you’re looking to replace the OE gauges in your boat, they probably made them. If you’re a small builder they can custom design instruments just for you in a range of orders. Value, variety and quality set Faria apart.
Many styles, especially if you're looking for something classic or traditional.
If your budget is around $500 for a basic set (GPS speedo, tach, fuel, trim, volt, water pressure, temp) then I would look at Hardin, if you want to keep the budget real tight, Faria is a good option, or forgo the GPS speedo to save some money. If you have a really nice rig, or you're using your boat for serious offshore, then look to Livorsi for a super custom set, or AutoMeter for timeless design and dependable instruments. Gaffrig are a great option as well.
A few things to consider. Chrome or polished rims and bezels can be bad in the sun. Also, check how the gauges are lit and if you can dim them or not. Keep in mind that bright backlighting is bad for night vision, your eyes will not adjust to the dark if the gauges are lighting up the helm.
Sizes are standard and you can get oversize in the higher end brands. Tachometers and speedometers come in 3-3/8 standard, oversize is 4-5/8. Accessories come in 2-1/16.