Towers on Sportfishing Boats - More Than Status Symbol?
Posted on May 10, 2020
Posted on May 10, 2020
As the saying goes, form follows function and that is certainly true when it comes to towers on fishing boats. How avid a fisherman are you? What offshore region do you fish? What style of fishing? What type of boat do you own-is it an express...a flybridge...open or hard top? Is it a T-top or hard top center console with outboards? Are you prepared to shell out thousands of dollars for a custom tower and commit to maintaining it? There are pros and cons to every choice, but for fishermen who regularly sight fish for cobia and other gamefish or participate in tournaments, adding a tower can prove to be very advantageous.
Most popular brands of sportfish yachts for sale in today's market, like Hatteras Yachts and Cabo Yachts, are shown with a tower and it's rare to see one on the water without a tower rising majestically above the flybridge, loaded with electronic gear. So how did this trend get started? It may be a fish tale, but famed Western novelist and renowned angler, Zane Grey, is credited with starting the trend back in the 1920s when he installed a "crow's nest" on his yacht to help spot swordfish sunning on the surface, off of coastal California!
The added height is incomparable for spotting weedlines, floating debris, feeding birds-indicators of where a big mahi-mahi may be lurking, from a greater distance that will allow the captain to get on it. Or to spot a school of porpoises that yellowfin tuna typically follow, or watch for fish down deep approaching behind the boat in the spread, or spot the wily mid-Atlantic white marlin or free-jumping sailfish... Having a 360-degree bird's eye view is definitely a great advantage when sight fishing, no matter how big or small the boat is.
Today even small to mid-size center console outboards are spending thousands to add half towers with accessories like rocket launchers and LED lights, or rigid frame hinged towers that fold down to the cockpit (to comply with State and Local DOT height regulations for towing) just for the advantage of being able to see a much greater distance over the surface. Hinged second station towers are advised to use electronic (fly by wire) controls as the smaller diameter wire is much easier to route and handling is more responsive and dependable than hydraulic steering. Cable steering should be avoided as it can kink. The boat must be structurally sound to take on the added weight and height of a tower and it should be engineered for balance; if the vessel becomes too top-heavy it can risk severe pendulum style rolling and impede performance. Bridge clearance is another consideration if there are any fixed bridges along the way to the inlet. Maintenance is vital as saltwater corrodes aluminum; tower framework should be washed down with soap and fresh water and waxed. Electronics and helm should be covered when stored. In spite of the expense and extra maintenance, just about all fishermen who have added a tower (and use it), say they would never go back to fishing without one.
All towers are custom-built for the owner and for the boat, whether you are retrofitting a boat or buying new-towers are options, not standard equipment; they add a lot to the price tag. Built to order allows the tower fabricator to design and engineer it to the exact lines and measurements and structure of the boat and the owner's wish list (and budget). Because of the higher running speeds of vessels today, building a tower requires advanced engineering and must be designed to withstand the immense force exerted on the structure and weight of the equipment installed on the top, such as radar domes. Full "tuna" towers will have intricate steering, engine controls, intercom for communicating with fishermen in the cockpit and complete electronics suites, and may allow more than one person on the platform. The main tower legs are commonly built using 2.5"-3" diameter pipe and more robust materials are being used for added strength. Industry leader, Pipewelders of Fort Lauderdale, FL has been integrating carbon Kevlar into the fiberglass parts for added strength with minimal weight, especially critical for buggy tops that are the most vulnerable point, bearing the load of radomes and more. Hard tops are also built of composite fiberglass, as they now house all kinds of gear like navigation lights, radars, life rafts, fold-down instrument boxes, and more.
A "marlin" tower is typically shorter in height than a "tuna" tower and sits on top of the vessel's hard top, as the large blue marlin are better fished from flybridge height. They can be as simple as a coach seat with a composite fiberglass top for shade built over the hard top of an express type fishing boat, or a platform with a helm positioned over the T-top of a center console. Any height is advantageous over deck-level fishing and make all the difference spotting fish on the surface.
A full "tuna" tower is a whole level above the flybridge and can put the captain or crew 25 ft to 40 ft or more above the waterline. The tower has its own "floor" or platform and sturdy ladders usually built at a 10-12 degree angle for easier access, a seat and second helm station (steering, engine controls, electronic displays), and a padded belly-band ring for crew member to wedge into when underway, though gyro-stabilization has reduced much of the sway felt at that height. The radar dome, along with antennae will be mounted on the buggy-style top, being the highest point. It can also be accessorized with rod storage, lights and more and incorporate hydraulic outriggers. Large towers can range in cost from $60,000 to $200,000; maybe more today.
Half towers are generally installed on smaller vessels for mounting radar, GPS and VHF and for shading the bridge. They can be accessorized with rocket launchers and single rod holders, rear-facing LED lights, spot lights and more. They are the simplest form of a tower and can be installed on boats as small as 20 ft. though caution is advised; throwing off a boat's center of gravity can be trouble.
InTheBite magazine (2015 Apr/May Vol 14 Ed 3, "Top It Off") names 3 of the industry's best top and tower fabricators as Bausch American Towers (bauschamericantowers.com) with facilities located at American Custom Yachts in Stuart, FL and the Jarrett Bay Marine Industrial Park in Beaufort, NC. Palm Beach Towers (pbtowers.com) a subsidiary of Viking Yachts, started out primarily building tops and towers for new vessel builds but has now expanded into refit business as it has developed. Pipewelders Marine (pipewelders.com) located in Fort Lauderdale, has been designing and constructing towers for over 55 years and has set some industry standards with their innovative designs for "tuna" and "marlin" towers.
There are many other top and tower design and construction shops that can do a custom refit installation, but it is imperative to deal with a reputable and experienced shop. Accurate measurements are vital to ensure a successful build; they should provide their own techs to inspect the vessel and measure. Welds must be perfect, showing even, bubble-free feathering. Attachment points should be bolted-through and backed with aluminum plates; 6 anchor points are better than skimming with just 4. And they should use highest quality, lightweight and strong materials; able to withstand the extreme conditions of offshore fishing.
Refits tend to be more popular with sportfish convertible yachts in the 50-65 ft. range, less with the smaller 30-40 ft sportfish cruisers. Keep in mind, as with any type of refit of a pre-owned vessel, the expense of adding a custom tower will not be completely recouped when selling the yacht, so be sure it will be an investment in your own time of enjoyment.
Of course, by searching through our extensive database of sportfishing yachts for sale, you can always buy a nice pre-owned sportfish yacht that already has a tower!
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