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May 02, 2013

Top Spin

Hardtops Are the Rage, but Canvas Tops Offer Advantages When it Comes to Cutting Weight and Saving Money


A hardtop lends itself to adding ­accessories because you can bolt through the top. This means, for example, you easily can add rod holders, outriggers, antennas, a radar dome, spotlight, FLIR camera, spreader lights and overhead electronics boxes. Just be sure to include beefy backing plates when mounting such items. Hardtops also make it simpler to add an enclosure, since you can fasten canvas tracks and snaps to the top.

Plates welded into the frame under the canvas accommodate elements such as antenna mounts and the radar dome on this T-top. (COURTESY CONTENDER BOATS)

In addition, hardtops can support a decent amount of weight, making them good places to install relatively heavy items such as an emergency life-raft pack. Some hardtops can even support a person or two, as well as the framework and helm for a tower-style second station. On these tops, you will find the topside finished with nonskid for better footing.

That’s not to say that canvas tops can’t accommodate accessories; you just have to plan for them in advance — during the frame’s design and fabrication process. For mounting antennas and a radar dome, for instance, the frame should have plates welded at strategic positions. The same goes for an overhead electronics box, spreader lights and tracks for attaching enclosure panels. For securing rod holders, an extra bar is often welded on the aft edge of the top’s frame.

While hardtops are the rage, a canvas-top structure might well have a place on your fishing boat, particularly if you need to shave some weight or save a few dollars.

Arch Rival

Few boats come new with arches today because most buyers opt for hardtops. Yet arches do have a place in the fish-boat market, according to Steve Tull, owner of Atlantic Towers, which offers a variety prefabricated tops, towers and arches.

“We sell most of our arches to owners of older walkarounds with existing, serviceable Bimini enclosures,” Tull says. “These boaters are often looking for a place to mount their first radar, and an arch that installs over the Bimini is a more cost-effective option than getting a new hardtop, which also requires a new enclosure.”

Even though an arch does not provide shade, it also gives you a place to mount rod holders, antennas and outriggers, as well as serving as a sturdy grab handle in rough seas, Tull says.

Tower and Top Contacts

303 Fabric Guard
Chicago, Illinois

Atlantic Towers
Bayville, New Jersey

Cumming, Georgia

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Glen Raven, North Carolina