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Working with Distributed Control Assets

Written on January 17th, 2023

How to use multiple controllers to increase flexibility and decrease expenses.

Navigation lights. Fuel pumps. Livewells, refrigerators, and GPS systems. The list of boat features that require electrical connections goes on and on and on. And while each one of these features may seem simple enough on its own, the cumulative effect can strain your electrical system and leave a trail of messy wires in its wake. As more electronics get added to boats of all sizes, the challenge will only expand.

Owners don’t just hope for new features; they expect them. What starts as a “nice to have,” quickly becomes a “can’t live without.” Boat builders must be prepared to adapt their electrical engineering to meet these coming demands.

The good news is, there is a better way. Distributed controllers allow a control scheme to be tailored to the needs of each individual boat by using multiple controllers to communicate with one another via CAN messaging. If a boat model’s needs increase due to new feature options or product development, a distributed control scheme can expand as well. Not only does this give the boat builder more flexibility in their design, but it can also save on labor and material costs as well. Not only does this communication system give the boat builder more flexibility in their design and engineering programs, but it can also save on labor and material costs as well.

Benefits of Using Distributed Controllers

Your Boat, Your Way

One of the biggest advantages of a distributed control scheme is added flexibility to the boat builder’s design. A manufacturer can start with a base model controller, such as Marlin’s digital switcher. If a customer selects further options, a second controller can be easily added to handle the additional control needs.

Elegant Simplicity

Using multiple controllers makes for a much more elegant and simple design. Controllers can be distributed throughout the boat, so that a forward controller can operate loads in the front of the boat, while a controller located centrally or aft can handle the loads closer to it. The result of this distributed design is a significant reduction in the amount of wire required per boat built.

Less Wires, Less Labor

Instead of running electrical wires from one central controller to every corner of the vessel, the distributed design significantly shortens those runs. CAN connections between controllers are just one simple cable with four wires. This massive reduction in wire means the builder can not only save on the cost of the materials, but also the labor it takes to install them.

Engineering You Can Count On

A distributed control scheme clearly makes electrical engineering easier and less expensive, but those benefits wouldn’t mean a thing if the system were unreliable. In contrast, a distributed scheme is actually more reliable by having many fewer points of failure, providing greater stability to essential systems.

When it comes to implementation, Marlin partners with our clients to ensure a successful experience. We always provide assistance on rigging your first boat – on site for 1-3 days depending on complexity. We examine each of your electrical loads to be sure we all understand the details required. In the long run, we have deep relationships between a customer’s technical team and our engineers – ensuring questions are handled quickly.

When you’re ready to discuss how a distributed control scheme can work in your design, contact Jay McDermott, Marine Sales Engineer, at to schedule a quick review of your needs!.