Key Facts to Know About T-Tops
Getting the right T-top for your boat is no easy feat. Although these awesome protective structures allow you plenty of shade and shelter from the rain and the sun, if your boat didn’t come with a built-in T-top, it can be a chore to find one that’s just right for your vessel.
T-tops offer protection from the sun and rain without taking up much valuable space. They may include optional features such as overhead storage, rocket launchers, antenna mounts, radar, and lights. You can expect to spend between $2,500 and $5,000 for a basic T-top with prices quickly approaching $20,000 for a high end custom top.
To help you find the T-top that’s right for your needs, we put together this ultimate guide . From the pros and cons of T-tops to the different accessories you can add on, we’ll cover it all in this article. Let’s get to it!
Pros and Cons of T-tops
These days, T-tops are so popular among recreational boaters that it seems silly to waste time on the pros and cons of having one on your vessel. But, like all good things, there are some downsides to T-tops that are worth noting before you add one to your boat. Here’s what you need to know:
Pros of having a T-top
T-tops are incredibly popular among boaters, but if you’re new to the boating game, you might not fully understand what a T-top is, and that’s okay. Put simply, a T-top is a type of cover for a center console boat that offers plentiful shade and rain protection for a handful of people at the helm.
Unlike other types of boat tops, however, the T-top is attached solely to the center console, so there’s nothing obstructing the skipper’s and passengers’ access to the rest of the boat. This makes a T-top a great choice for people who like to fish and spend time swimming while out on their boat for the day.
If that wasn’t enough, many T-tops also provide extra overhead storage and can have power outlets for plugging in additional electronic devices. Some T-tops also have the ability to produce courtesy lighting for those nighttime cruises.
Cons of having a T-top
While many people hail the T-top as the end all be all accessory for a boat, they do have some negatives that are worth noting. First and foremost, a T-top adds weight to a vessel. This might not seem like a big deal, but the added weight can be up to 150 pounds, which can reduce your maximum speed by upward of 5 knots.
Oh, and if you’re a keen fisherman, you will almost certainly find that your lines will eventually get hung up on your T-top, regardless of how good you are. It’s just an occupational hazard of having a tall structure in the middle of your boat.
Custom v. Original (Factory T-tops)
After you decide that you want a T-top for your boat, it’s time to choose between getting a factory T-top and a custom one. For many people, this decision is quite difficult to make, as there are innumerable pros and cons to each option. These are some of the things you should keep in mind when deciding between a custom and factory T-top for your boat:
Nowadays, there are plenty of companies that offer high-quality stock T-tops that can be purchased and attached to your boat with relative ease. These T-tops have the benefit of allowing you to go online or into your favorite marine shop to look at models that you can then buy for your boat.
Some companies, such as Stryker, offer universal models that can fit nearly any center-console boat at a relatively affordable price. When you buy a factory T-top, you have the choice of installing it yourself (which can save a lot of money) or paying for a professional to install it for you.
Regardless, buying a factory T-top is almost always the cheaper option because it can be installed locally and for a relatively low price. However, when you buy a factory T-top, you don’t have as many options for customization of your T-top to your specific needs, which can be a major downside for anyone that spends a lot of time out on the water.
A custom T-top has the clear advantage of being fully customizable to meet your specific needs and desires. Whether you want additional electronics boxes, fishing rod holders, speakers, or lights, you can get what you imagine when you opt for a custom T-top. Plus, a custom T-top is specifically built to fit your boat, so it’ll be fine-tuned to maximize space and comfort on your vessel.
The downside? All of this customization usually comes with a pretty sizable financial cost, though it might be worth it if you love being out on your boat. Plus, you might have to send your boat to a specific shop for them to design and build your T-top to your custom standards, so you may need to wait a bit before getting out on the water again.
Although a T-top is a great addition to a boat, it’s not for every vessel and every boater. While some people really enjoy having a T-top, others find they just get in the way. So, before you invest some sizeable cash into a new T-top, take these factors into account:
Minimum Size Boat
When it comes to buying a T-top, it’s important to keep in mind that some boats just aren’t meant to have them. For the most part, you can fit a T-top onto any center console boat, but we wouldn’t recommend fitting them onto a boat that’s less than 15 or 17 feet in length. This minimum size recommendation is because smaller boats will already have less “liveable space,” so to speak, than a larger boat, so you don’t want to go about constraining yourself even more by adding an oversized shelter to the middle of your vessel.
Additionally, the extra weight of a T-top will be more of a concern for a smaller boat than a larger one. Simply put, an extra 150 pounds will have more of an impact on a boat that weighs 2,000 pounds than one that weighs 10,000 pounds when it comes to speed and maneuverability.
Type of Boat
A T-top is designed pretty much exclusively for a center console boat as it needs to be attached to the console itself. These boats are commonly used for fishing or short day trips, so they’re pretty popular among recreational boaters. Therefore, you’ll only want to consider a T-top if you have a center console boat.
If you’re considering getting a T-top for your boat, you’ll want to take into account what you normally use your boat for. If you use your boat for fishing or cruising around your local bay, a T-top can provide ample space for your fishing rods or shade from the midday sun. However, T-tops are not for pulling wakeboarders, tubes, or other watersports enthusiasts, so don’t plan on attaching a rider to your new T-top!
Space and Maneuvering
The one downside to a T-top is that it does take up some space on a boat, though, arguably, not much. Since a T-top is attached directly to the center console of your boat, it doesn’t really reduce your mobility as you walk around your vessel. However, some avid fishermen do find that their lines occasionally get caught up on a tee-top, so this is something to keep in mind while casting.
Roof Type and Materials of Construction
Once you commit to getting a T-top for your boat, it’s time to decide on the kind of roof and the type of materials you want. As you might imagine, different materials can make a huge difference in the long-term performance of your T-top, so you want to make a wise choice with this kind of decision. Here are the different types of roofs you might choose from when buying a new T-top:
Soft Tops vs. Hard Tops
When buying a T-top for a boat, the first thing you need to decide is if you want a hard top or a soft top model. Appropriately named, hard top T-tops are usually made from some sort of fiberglass, while soft top models are almost always made from canvas.
The main benefit of a fiberglass T-top is that they usually require less maintenance, though you will have to wax them every so often to keep it in tip-top condition. Fiberglass T-tops are also much better at reducing the amount of solar radiation and heat on your head, which is important if you live in a particularly warm environment. However, fiberglass T-tops almost always weigh more than soft T-tops, which can impact the maximum speed of your boat.
On the other hand, soft T-tops are the lighter, more affordable option. When you get a soft T-top, it will likely be made of a durable canvas that can effectively provide shade and protection from the rain without too much added weight. However, canvas T-tops will eventually need to be replaced as the UV rays from the sun break down canvas materials over time, causing them to rip and tear.
Materials of Construction
Whether you buy a boat with a factory-installed T-top or you choose to add one on later, the materials used to make your T-top will have a huge impact on the quality of your boating experience, as well as the long-term durability of your unit. These are some of the more common materials used to make a boat T-top:
Stainless steel is an incredibly strong material that makes for a decent frame for a T-top. However, stainless steel is very heavy, so you don’t normally see it used to make T-tops, especially those designed for smaller vessels.
Like stainless steel, aluminum is very strong and durable, which means it’s a great choice for use in a T-top frame. Unlike stainless steel, though, aluminum is relatively lightweight, which is why its the material of choice for nearly all of the T-tops on the market.
That being said, there are a variety of different alloys used to make a T-top frame, so you’ll need to do a bit of research to find the best one for your needs. The 6061-t6 aluminum alloy is one of the most common T-top metals out there since it is lightweight, corrosion-resistant, and relatively easy to clean.
Many T-top frames come with some sort of finish to help the material last for a long time in the harshness of the marine environment. One of the best finishes for a T-top is a powder coating, which can be customized to nearly any color you want, though black and white are the most popular options. Powder-coated T-tops are fairly easy to maintain as you simply need to wipe them down with a microfiber cloth to keep them looking new.
I wrote an entire article about whether or not you should powder coat your T-top. Check it out.
Accessories and Options
Beyond simply providing shade and protection from the rain, a T-top is a great addition to any center console boat because it allows for a wide range of accessories and options that can increase the functionality of your vessel. Here are some of the things you might want to consider adding on to your new T-top:
If you’re a keen fisherman, a set of outriggers can be a useful addition to your T-top. Outriggers are long fiberglass or aluminum poles that essentially widen the amount of trolling area that your boat has by accommodate multiple lines. This creates a fairly wide spread of lures that can be trailed behind your boat for a larger “fishing footprint” in the water to attract more fish.
A VHF radio is only as good as its antenna, so the higher your antenna, the better your signal. Without a T-top, your boat’s antenna is unlikely to be much taller than your center console. With a T-top, however, you can extend the height of your antennae quite considerably, greatly increasing the effective range of your radio.
When operating your boat in foul weather, radar can be an indispensable tool. Since radar allows you to detect other boats on the water, it can help you prevent collisions with other vessels. Thus, many people choose to add radar systems to their recreational boats to increase their safety on the water. With a T-top, adding a radar system can be quite simple, regardless of if you use a fiberglass or canvas cover.
One of the main benefits of a T-top is in the additional storage space it provides overhead. With a small electronics box, you can easily store a variety of electronic devices, such as a fish finder or handheld radio, for quick access when you need them most. Additionally, a T-top can provide ample space for adding additional speakers or lights to your boat, allowing you to have a great time on the water.
What does a custom t top cost?
For the vast majority of us, price is a major factor involved in our boat improvement decision making. Thus, we want to make sure we’re getting the best bang for our buck when we buy a custom T-top.
Like many things in the boating industry, however, it’s very difficult to give you a definitive answer on how much your custom T-top will cost, since the size, model, and location of your boat will all factor into the cost of your new addition. While the best place to get a good quote on how much your custom T-top will cost is the manufacturer, you can generally expect to spend between $2,500 and $5,000 on your new T-top, depending on what accessories you choose to add.
Ultimately, a T-top is a great addition to nearly any center console vessel, so it’s certainly worth considering if you’re looking to improve your boating experience. Whether you’re looking for shade and protection from the rain or a way to add more electronics and features to your boat, a T-top is the way to go!