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October 26, 2001

Towering Over the Competition

Add a tower to your small boat -- and see all the fish you've been missing.

The Tower
Hydra-Sports and the Aquasport offer similar tower accommodations - full controls and stout hip and fanny pads for comfort. Aquasport provides both an upper and lower station while Hydra-Sports has simply one station, and Jarson says his upper station is roomy enough for two adults, while, according to Leva, the 21 fits one adult or two small, intimate friends.

Birdsall explains that a half-tower is a gunwale-braced structure providing shade and antenna mounts, but no upper control station as you'd find in a full tower. Like the utilitarian T-top, the half-tower will also hold radio boxes, outriggers and lights.

"Boats flex and towers are stiff," Birdsall says. "What we do on most of our towers that mount in the center of a small boat is called sleeve welding. When you weld aluminum, you anneal, or soften it. Welds will become hard again over the years. We weld a bracket to a sleeve and the sleeve slides over the main support leg."

Bausch says that he feels more comfortable with anodizing his TIG-welded structures, as opposed to painting or powder-coating them. "Once (painted or powder-coated) surfaces get scratched and salt water gets underneath the coating, it starts blistering and flaking, and it's forever a problem."

Mike Goebel, vice president of sales and service at Pipewelders in Fort Lauderdale, says they also fabricate TIG-welded rigs with anodized aluminum. He has seen some rigs using powder-coated aluminum, but Pipewelders' experiments haven't proved to be as successful as the company would like. When Pipewelders does paint a tower, it uses Imron (a very hard, non-porous, two-part epoxy paint), a particularly good look for those who want a completely white scheme on deck, for instance.

Bausch doesn't recommend positioning anyone in a stand-through or an observation ring when the boat is running. Trolling and looking, maybe. If you're in shallow water watching for reefs or spotting schools of bait, maybe. On small boats, he advises that the T-top with an observation ring or stand-through is practical, but it can be abused and could conceivably be dangerous.

Some well-known builders get nervous putting towers on boats below 25 feet in length. "We have a problem with towers on boats in the 25-foot-and-below range," says Mike Middleton at Atkinson Marine in Fort Lauderdale. "Some of these small boats are so fast. It's not uncommon to have someone say, 'Well, we're only going to be up there at trolling speeds.' Baloney! You look in some sport-fishing magazines and see ads with boats running on plane and somebody up on top. That's dangerous. I've also seen people up top in small-boat towers who were unable to get down because it was too rough when they got offshore."

All the tower builders agreed that the risk for small-boat owners boils down to a question of trust. Towers on small boats can be hazardous to ride in at high speeds. Despite what an owner might promise, someone is likely to ride in the tower in rough seas and get hurt. On the other hand, they perform beautifully for trolling when not too rough outside and, of course, for fishing inshore. It's up to the boat owner to exercise common sense and good judgment for himself and his guests at all times.

Clearly, low-profile towers with upper control stations are not for every small boat owner. Consult boatbuilders, tower builders, dealers and even owners of trailerable boats with all kinds of structures - from T-tops with stand-throughs to those equipped to run from above - before committing to a design that may prove to be less than adequate for safe tower installation.