In Top Shape
This is a follow up story to the feature “Top It Off” which appeared in our April/May Vol 14 Edition 3 print issue of InTheBite. A story on boats updating hard tops and the features, advantages and benefits of doing so. Click on the magazine cover to download a copy
By Sam White
Head to the bridge of just about any modern convertible sportfisherman and one of the first things you notice is the hardtop. Gone are the days of a double-tubed band around the perimeter, with big halogen spreader lights and teaser reels bolted on as an afterthought. Today’s hardtops are engineering masterpieces, designed right from the start to enhance the lines of the boat while offering so many updated features that it’s hard to fathom it all. The term “where form follows function” could not be truer in this case.
And while cost is certainly a factor, if you own or purchase an older hull with reliable power and want to make a significant improvement to your ride’s looks and functionality, a new hardtop might be just the ticket. We consulted with three of the industry’s best—Bausch American Towers, Palm Beach Towers, and Pipewelders—to learn more about the process and also how to avoid a few pitfalls along the way.
Start with a Wish List
Pipewelders is one of the oldest names in the industry, building tuna towers, hardtops and custom pieces for over 50 years. Dan Garver, vice president of sales, says that it’s best to start with a wish list and go from there. “The options for a modern hardtop include so much more than they ever did in the past,” he says. “Today we can do recessed teaser reels, dropdown electronics boxes, built-in LED spreader lights, even sliding hatches and air conditioning. The owner should think about what they really want and we’ll go from there. If you see a boat you like then send us a picture of it and we can use that as a guide too.”
Tim Bausch learned the finer points of the business from his father Charlie before taking the helm of what became known as Bausch American Towers. In 2001, Tim moved the operation to American Custom Yachts’ 63-acre marine service facility located in Stuart, Florida and in 2005 Bausch expanded operations into North Carolina with the addition of a 30,000-square-foot waterfront facility at the Jarrett Bay Marine Industrial Park in Beaufort. He also likes to get feedback from the owner first. “The most important thing to find out is how they want to use the boat,” he reports. “Whether it’s hardcore fishing, cruising or whatever, that will help us make suggestions on things they may want. We can help them prioritize their options and also find out what we can keep and what needs to be replaced. Sometimes we can modify the existing equipment and add certain options to what’s already there but at some point it’s better to just replace everything to bring the boat up to the current standards of today.”
Develop the Design
Palm Beach Towers started out 13 years ago primarily building tops and towers for new builds but along the way, the refit business has continued to evolve. When it comes to looking at a spiffy new hardtop, Drew McDowell starts with the look. “The modern towers have a lot more sweep and style than the older ones did,” he says. “With some of the older boats, they may not have the CAD [computer-assisted design] drawings available but we can take a side profile digital photo of the boat and use that as a starting point for a new hardtop. We use that to draw in the new top, the framework, antennas and outriggers and all the details—it really helps the owners visualize what the finished top will look like. Not everyone can visualize that in their heads so good communication with the client is the key.” Each builder said that having accurate measurements were critical to success, even to the point of sending their own techs to the boat in order to ensure accuracy.
Build It, Box It and Ship It
So you’ve got your wish list put together and a great-looking computer illustration—it’s time to begin construction. That’s another area where modern materials and techniques have come so far. At Bausch American, all their hardtops are resin-infused with wiring runs built in as an integral part of the top and not PVC that’s glued in as an afterthought. They do not use wood or dissimilar materials to blister or corrode over time. The result is a top that’s highly functional, structurally rock solid and built to last for many years, even decades. The other builders also construct equally high-quality products using resin-infused fiberglass and even carbon fiber that are designed to not only be functional but aesthetically pleasing as well.
Each company handles work all over the world, so it’s no surprise that their techs and installers rack up the frequent flyer miles. Bausch reported that he had a team in Taiwan right now that would be wrapping up an installation shortly; after being home for a week, they would be off to Brazil for two more weeks. Pipewelder’s Dan Garver says they will use a truck and trailer to ship their tops to any location in the continental United States and will construct their tops and towers in large pieces if they need to be packed into containers and shipped overseas. He says a hardtop installation can be completed in about a week to 10 days while a full tuna tower can take two to four weeks. They’ve done work in Egypt, Turkey, Italy and Japan as well as all over the U.S.
Cost vs Value
And then there’s the issue of price. All the modern features and updated construction techniques unfortunately do not come cheap. Garver says that a couple of their latest refits were on 1980s model boats, one of which was a repossession where the new owner was in the boat at a good price and felt that the new top brought added value, not to mention personal enjoyment. The other was part of a complete refit which included engines, paint and interior work.
Bausch echoed those sentiments, explaining that the owner probably would not be able to completely recoup the cost of a new top when it comes time to sell the boat but that if they wanted to keep the vessel for a while and really enjoy it, then a refit makes more sense. McDowell points out that their refits are often done in conjunction with new paint and electronics upgrades too. “Sometimes we can replace the top and the tubing and blend it in with the paint but usually it’s best to get the measurements and build the new top while the boat’s in the paint shed,” he reports. “When she comes out of paint, we’re ready to install the top and also new electronics, which is a lot easier than doing it once everything is all put back together.” He says that refits are more popular with larger boats in the 50- to 65-foot range rather than the smaller 30- to 40-footers, although they will work with any client along the way.
So if you’re bringing a classic vessel up to modern standards or just have a great old boat that needs a facelift, a new hardtop is a great way to accomplish your goals. It may be expensive but like so many other things these days, it’s worth it in the long run.
- Bausch American Towers
- Palm Beach Towers
- Pipewelders Marine, Inc.