Custom-fabrication shops like Gore Marine and Quality T-Tops often work with local dealers or builders to fabricate optional towers when selling a new boat or for individual owners as an aftermarket product. There are limitations though, especially on smaller or narrow-beamed models. If excess weight is added above the waterline, it might make the boat too top-heavy for optimal performance, or roll uncomfortably like a pendulum in heavy seas. Older boats that aren’t structurally sound aren’t good candidates either.
“A new boat isn’t the same as a seven-year-old boat with a spongy floor,” Meisman explains. “It depends on what you’re starting with.” Meisman says his company secures a tower with through-bolted backing plates in at least six anchor spots on the console, in addition to the deck pads.
“Before we start a job, we survey the boat to see where the leg pads will land to make sure the structure will be fully supported,” Gore says. “If it’s possible, we always use backing plates and through-bolts, even if that means redesigning the tower. But in the rare cases where we can’t get below-deck access, we use lag screws and add 3M 5200 or Sikaflex adhesive caulk to lock it down.”
For hinged towers with second-station controls, Gore and Meisman agree that cable steering should be avoided due to the likelihood of kinks. Hydraulic steering is a workable alternative, but the recommended option is electronic or fly-by-wire controls. The small-diameter control wires are easily routed, plus handling is responsive and dependable with backup safety features.
“Pricewise, electronic controls cost more initially,” Gore says. “But for the reduced labor costs and easy operation afterward, there’s no comparison, especially with a retrofit. Everybody is going electronic now.”
Once a tower has been professionally installed, routine maintenance will keep it in good shape. If the helm, controls, and electronics are mounted properly to begin with and are covered when stored, they’ll be adequately protected against the elements. The tower’s aluminum framework should be washed with soap and water after each trip to remove salt. Meisman says a ceramic-aluminum coating that they have used recently is holding up well to corrosion.
Adding a tower to an outboard center-console or cuddy-cabin boat certainly isn’t an inexpensive option. But the first time you glance down from that vantage point and spot a 40-pound bull dolphin hiding under the sargassum, I’ll bet you’ll agree: Yes, it absolutely is worth every penny.