DJ Ahoy! by Mike Ryan

May 26, 2007 by Mike Ryan

Gigs on party boats and other seafaring venues test your preparation skills

After lugging all my DJ equipment, one piece at a time, down a narrow dock ramp, up an equally narrow winding staircase to the boat’s second deck, with sweat dripping from my forehead, I mentioned to one of the ship’s crew: “I sure wish there was an elevator on this boat!”
She answered, “Oh, there’s one right over there,” pointing to a small door in the corner of the room. Thank you very much!

The Unique Challenge of DJing on a Boat
DJing on party boats is exciting and I always look forward to working on them. Party boats are usually very elegant and because most of the events are at night, it often becomes a romantic cruise on the water. And yet because of limited space of boats they’re one of the most demanding gigs you’ll ever experience.
Blondie sang “The tide is high”­-well, during one of my recent load-ins it wasn’t, making the ramp from the pier to the dock very steep. I always worry about my equipment rolling away from me and into the water, knock on teak. After safely getting my gear on board I heard a loud crash and the sound of shattering dishes. One of the catering staff was wheeling a “Queen Mary,” a tall metal food container, down the same ramp and it did get away from him, crashing onto the dock next to the ship with the evening’s dinner turning into seagull soufflé.
Speaking of food, often, but not always, you will get to eat; most crews are pretty good at taking care of you. Where can you go if you’re hungry? Remember, you’re on the water.
When it comes to the actual performance, once you’ve navigated all the logistical obstacles, DJing on the water still requires the high level of performance any client, private or corporate, might expect. One of the premier party boat companies in California, Hornblower Cruises and Events, operates 30 yachts, including the massive Inspiration (see picture), services six ports and is a “$30 million dollar business.” Hilary Rossi, Hornblower’s Assistant Director of Food and Beverage in San Diego is very serious about entertainers she hires to work their on their boats: “If a DJ thinks it’s okay to plug in an iPod® and just stand there, they are very wrong. It is about being a people person, and playing what people want.”

Water Hazards
The following are a variety of tips for a better musical boating experience…
Steve Cosio of I Buy Time, a radio ad buyer in Dallas, Texas (and former mobile DJ) recommends lightening you load: “Travel light…as light as possible….I had only one sound system and it was heavy. The manager of the boat almost didn’t let me onboard because the sound system was on casters. I convinced her that the casters were riveted on and there was no way to take them off. Once on board, I surrounded the wheels with gear so the unit wouldn’t roll.”
This comment reminds me that it’s a good idea to secure all of your equipment if there is even a slight chance of the gear rolling or tipping over. Remember, boats move. You’d hate to hear someone yell “Speaker overboard!” wouldn’t you? I’ve found, because of the tight dance areas, that using just one 8″ speaker and a 12″ or 15″ speaker with the treble turn all the way down acting like a sub works great.
Cosio has another great no-brainer piece of advice: “If you are prone to seasickness, it wouldn’t hurt to carry a seasickness patch in your gear and use it BEFORE you leave the dock!”
Don’t expect a six foot table to put your equipment on. Do expect to be put in a small corner with little room to move. Also, expect the ceilings to be extremely low, so watch out for feedback.
Warning: I promise you, your client probably won’t tell you in advance (make sure you ask) that he or she will want a microphone on the deck you’re not on! And forget about using your wireless on another deck (I’ve tried it). It’ll work just enough to cut out here and there, upsetting the client and making you look like an idiot. I always bring an extra powered speaker and wired mike for just such an occasion. Gene Barbic, co-owner of Warehouse Sound and Light in Miramar, California suspects that my wireless is having problems with all of the ship’s metal. Barbic says there are devices to help you DJ on a boat including a direct box, ground lift, remote and powered antennas etc.
When you have the boat rocking and your CD starts skipping (assuming you’re still using CDs) chances are the deck (floor) is bouncing and not your disks. I actually threw several perfectly good CDs overboard in dramatic fashion in front of the guests because I thought they were bad. (I now have a new appreciation for going computer.) Don’t forget to bring extra-long RCA cables in case you’re asked to patch into the ship’s sound system. Rossi adds: “Boat wiring is tricky sometimes and extra care should always be put to checking a system ahead of time.” In other words, make sure you find and paste to your memory all of the ship’s sound system’s volume controls. The last thing you want to do is navigate around all the guests and ship’s crew as you try to turn down the ship’s piped in music.
Often times, the boats are “home ported” at different locations other than where they pick you and the guests up, so at the end of your cruise be prepared to get all of your equipment off as fast as you can – the ship’s crew will appreciate it. Also, if the boat is returning to a docking area with “live-aboards” (people who live on their boats) near by be prepared to shut down the music as soon as you reach the dock.

Q: What’s the difference between a boat and a ship? A: You can put a boat on a ship!
If you live in a big city like San Diego, you may also have historic ships to party on. One of our ships, the retired air craft carrier USS Midway, is a blast to work on; plenty of space-it’s a big, really big ship! They usually put DJs inside the hanger bay, a massive area with a very high ceiling. Party lights look great and really fill the space.
However, as with all water craft, it too has its challenges, worst of all being the way the pier crew load equipment. Apparently someone figured using a fork lift would suffice to hoist my precious DJ equipment up several stories from the pier, over the water, and onto the main hanger bay. Once I actually rode with my equipment in a little cage attached to one of the fork lifts, teetering high in the air…scared me to death!
Bottom line, DJing on boats, big or small, poses some very unique problems to solve, but if you prepare in advance, these parties can be some of the most fun you’ll ever experience.

Mike Ryan started writing for news radio. He also DJ’d on KGB and KSDS. He mobiles as Mike on the Mike and is also the inventor owner of Frankenstand Powered Speaker Stands. Mike also works part time as a DMC tour guide. He has been the President of the San Diego Professional Tour Guide Association, a board member of his local NACE chapter and is currently the secretary of the San Diego Chapter of the ADJA.

Sea Songs
(Always gets a chuckle)
(Another chuckle, although a little nervous-sounding)

Nautical Terms You Should Know
Port = left
Starboard = right
Deck = floor
Overhead = ceiling
Bulkhead = wall
Forward = the front of the ship,
Aft = the rear of the ship
Head = bathroom (very important to locate ASAP)
Captain = the guy in charge of everything…and I mean everything!

Mike Ryan Mike Ryan (24 Posts)

Mike Ryan spins at the Corvette Diner in San Diego. He also invented the Air-Powered speaker stand the FRANKENSTAND. He is a 20-year veteran of radio, and served on ADJA and NACE boards.

Filed Under: 2007, Mobile DJ Misc