My first boat was an entry-level 21-foot center console powered by a 140-hp two-stroke outboard. When I say it was a wide-open fishing machine, I mean it was wide open. No seating, aside from a swing-back cooler seat at the helm, with a cushion barely big enough to squeeze two fannies onto. The console windshield didn’t reach eye level, and there was no T-top to provide any sort of shelter from the elements.
Whatever Mother Nature was serving outside the boat was being dished up inside, as well. To my younger self, getting drenched, sprayed, rained on or sunbaked to a crisp was all part of the game. Fishing was a true in-your-face experience, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
That was, of course, until the first day on my new 23-foot center console, outfitted with a gorgeous brushed aluminum and burgundy canvas T-top. You might say that I saw the light, but what I really saw was the shade.
The Pros and Cons of T-Tops
Any discussion about whether a T-top is necessary should begin with the pros and cons. Here they are, in no particular order.
Con #1: They Get in the Way
The key advantage of a center console is completely unfettered fishing room. Even a modest canvas or fiberglass T-top creates areas on the boat where you cannot launch an overhead cast, swing for the rafters on a hook set or even move about without minding your rod tips. You also have to consider vertical clearance when storing the boat on a trailer.
Con #2: Weight, Wind Resistance and Cost
Whether added as a factory option or installed later, a T-top can add considerable weight and wind resistance to the boat. This can negatively impact speed and fuel efficiency.
Pro #1: Throw Some Shade
As a T-top convert, I can tell you that getting out of the blazing sun — even for just a little while — is a game changer. You’re not only protected while running to fishing spots or trolling, the top also blesses you with shade while you’re drift fishing with rods in gunwale rod holders. Even getting brief “sun breaks” while enjoying a cold beverage or lunch add up to a better overall experience. This value has risen even higher as I’ve gotten older and had more things surgically removed from my face and body.
Pro #2: Gimme Shelter
Having a T-top allows boaters to easily add a clear vinyl or polycarbonate enclosure to provide added protection from wind and spray. This can make a rough ocean crossing a much more tolerable experience.
Pro #3: Lean on Me
A sturdy T-top frame can be a literal life saver when things get rough. Throughout the day, you’ll find yourself holding on when launching off a big wave, getting hit by a broadside wake or just punching the throttle. It also provides a great handhold when the boat is just drifting in the trough — especially when you’re fighting a big fish.
Pro #4: Tech Center
T-tops often come with an electronics box underneath, ideal for mounting small items like a VHF radio, stand-alone water temp gauge and the like. The topside also provides an ideal place to mount a radar scanner, as well as VHF, AIS and GPS antennas.
Pro #5: Added Storage
A T-top can greatly increase a boat’s storage capacity, beginning with the traditional row of rocket launcher-style rod holders. These are great to get extra rigged outfits above your head and out of the way (although these rods can further impede casting). Accessories can be added to the T-top’s underside to store life jackets, flares and other safety gear out of the way, but still within easy reach.
Are T-tops a necessity on a center console fishing boat? If you ask me (or anybody who’s had the pleasure of fishing under one), the answer is a resounding “yes.”