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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.


Why Distributed Controllers?

Distributed controllers offer an innovative approach to boat electrical systems, allowing a tailored control scheme for each boat by utilizing multiple controllers that communicate seamlessly via CAN messaging. As boats continue to evolve with new electronic features, distributed controllers not only provide flexibility in design but also offer cost-saving benefits in terms of labor and materials.


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.

Implementing a distributed control scheme requires teamwork. Marlin partners with customers to guarantee a successful experience, providing on-site assistance during the initial boat rigging process.

This involves a thorough examination of each electrical load to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the specific requirements. The long-term commitment extends to fostering deep relationships between the customer’s technical team and Marlin’s engineers, ensuring timely handling of any questions.

Navigating the Future with Distributed Controllers

As boat owners demand more features and increased functionality, the importance of adopting advanced electrical systems cannot be overstated. Distributed controllers provide a solution that not only meets these demands but also streamlines design, reduces costs, and enhances overall reliability.

When you’re ready to revolutionize your boat’s electrical system, contact Jay McDermott, Marine Sales Engineer, at to schedule a quick review of your needs. Embrace the future of boat design with distributed controllers!