“We decided to offer the side door [in 2012] because of customer requests,” says Shelley Tubaugh, Grady-White‘s vice president of marketing. “And we’re all about incorporating customer wish lists into our products.”
Grady originally designed the door for its 335 Freedom model, which was the company’s largest dual-console until the 375 debuted in 2013. Because any breach in a hull is serious business, Tubaugh says, Grady took great care in creating the safest design possible.
“One of the most important features of our side door is the fact that it’s made using mold inserts instead of cutting away structure, which can weaken the integrity of the boat,” she says. “The door opening is formed during the initial creation process of the hull and deck, so it’s specially designed from the beginning. Also, we use a one-piece door,” which means there’s no cap to flip over, “so there’s one easy step to open the door.”
Grady’s door also opens inward, a very popular choice in today’s marine industry, but one that creates tense debate among boat manufacturers. A door that opens into the cockpit can make it easier to board at a dock, but only when you’re tied up to a floating dock that’s a convenient height. Fixed docks often tower above a boat, particularly at low tide.
Like other builders, Grady incorporated a swim ladder into its door design. A telescoping ladder tucks into a compartment beneath one of the aft cockpit seats, next to the door. It’s simple to extend the ladder and lock it into twin stanchions just inside the door.
HydraSports Custom began offering a boarding door in 2008, and on its new 53-foot center-console, the company installed two doors, one on each side of the cockpit.
The doors are built into the molds and well reinforced. The boat also features eight scuppers aft — instead of just two — to flush any water splashing onto the deck when the doors are open, says Terri Nuechterlein, HydraSports Custom public relations and marketing manager. “You might notice we show tons of pictures of the boat with the doors open, to reinforce the idea of how functional they are,” she says.
The HydraSports Custom door also opens inward and tucks totally under the gunwale cap so it’s completely out of the way. Because of that design, the door does feature a “top gate” that flips open and rests on the gunwale. All of the hardware is “submarine-quality,” Nuechterlein says.
An outward-opening door might pose a challenge, she says, when an angler tries closing it in heavy seas. It also would prove relatively useless at a floating dock.
“We use these boats ourselves,” she says. “And the ease of loading and unloading at the dock, and during playtime at the sandbar, were the big reasons behind the [door]. Then so many more uses became apparent. We use it to land big fish … and when diving, all that gear comes in so much easier with the dedicated door. Swimming, snorkeling — the list goes on.”
Jupiter‘s first side-entry door was built about seven years ago for a client who requested it to accommodate a wheelchair. “From that point forward, it made sense,” says Todd Albrecht, vice president of sales. “It is now offered on every model we build.”
Jupiter actually offers two styles of door: drop-down and inboard-swinging. The drop-down is very popular with divers and disabled boaters because the door lowers into the water and features molded-in steps, Albrecht says. The biggest negative for that version is that it’s not very dock-friendly.
The inboard-swinging version features a lift-gate top that flips open onto the gunwale. Then the door swings into the cockpit. A dive ladder attaches to recessed stainless-steel brackets in the floor. According to Albrecht, side doors are the most popular option ordered and the most requested item when the company gets calls from buyers shopping used boats.
“We get a lot of requests from older boaters and for yacht tenders,” he says. “[The door] also makes boating a big fish easier, as you’re keeping it away from the motors.”
The 288 Commander and its standard side-entry door were both new for Sea Fox in 2015. “We felt that with a vessel of this size, with high freeboard, adding a side door would be a great feature for the avid diver or fisherman,” says Brian Gottleib, Sea Fox marketing director.
In fact, when I conducted a Fish Trial of this boat in mid-August, I used the side door to load gear at the dock. Once offshore, our crew brought aboard three king mackerel and promptly released them after photos — all without damaging the fish or endangering our fingers or toes.
“Boats move and flex, especially at the gunwales, which can become an issue with a side door,” Gottleib says. So Sea Fox researched current side-door designs and created one with overbuilt stainless extrusion and latches. “You get absolutely zero flex or rattle in our design. This also allows for a watertight seal when rough conditions occur in the ocean.”
The inward-opening door features a lift-gate top that flops open onto the gunwale. The door itself swings in far enough that it nearly disappears beneath the coaming pad.
SeaVee introduced its side-door design in 2007 with the 390 CC. The door now comes standard on the 430, 390Z and 370Z, and can be ordered as an option on the 340 and 340Z.
SeaVee chose an outward- and forward-swinging door, primarily because of safety, the company says. “When underway, if the door is left unlatched, it will naturally close by the action of the wind and waves,” says John Caballero, SeaVee’s marketing director. “If a wave impacts the door, it will be forced shut to keep the sea out.”
When an angler tries boating a fish, the door is out of the way, clear of the fish and crew. The outward design also keeps the cockpit uncluttered.
Caballero says the door system was created as a one-piece unit, so there is no top cap. It is built in a closed-molded, resin-transfer molding process so it has no seams that could crack or fail.
The system includes flush-fitting Soss-style hinges and an integral ladder that stows in the deck. The custom-welded stainless hinges remain hidden when the door is closed but allow the door to open fully 180 degrees forward.
Caballero says he has fished in all conditions aboard boats equipped with this door, and in no circumstances has he ever found issue with opening or closing it in heavy seas. In addition, side doors might come in handy for loading and offloading onto land, but only when you tie up to a floating dock that’s near water level, he says.
“SeaVee builds boats that are safe and efficient. Every one of our systems, components and design features must work together to offer the best combination of practicality, safety, ease of use and efficiency in a variety of conditions, from fishing far offshore in heavy seas to enjoying a day on the sandbar with family and friends,” he says.