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5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Center Console T-Top

5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Center Console T-Top
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If you know anyone with a t-top, then you already know it’s a fantastic upgrade for almost any center console boat. These functional, protective covers shield you and your boat from the elements and offer multiple benefits that enhance your overall boating experience. Aside from providing shade, t-tops also have mounting and storage accessories, improved structural stability, and allow more freedom of movement on your boat’s deck than a folding bimini. Plus, they have undeniable aesthetic appeal. But with so many options available to choose from, it can be difficult to know which t-top is right for you.

To help you decide which t-top will best meet your boating needs, we compiled this list of 5 things to consider when choosing a center console t-top. In it, we cover compatibility, design, customization, installation, ease of use, and budget considerations.

  1. Boat Size, Design Compatibility, and Customization

    The most important thing to consider when choosing a t-top is compatibility. Unfortunately, some boats just aren’t meant to have a t-top. Smaller boats (typically less than 15 feet) have less usable space as-is, so adding a t-top can significantly impact maneuverability on deck and inhibit boating activities, like fishing. They also can’t handle the extra weight as well as a larger boat can, so adding a heavy t-top to a small boat can negatively impact its speed and maneuverability. T-tops are also designed to fit center console boats since they attach directly to the console itself, so they aren’t compatible with boats like jon boats or bass boats.

    If your boat is large enough to fit one, it’s important to note that a t-top is an investment, so you should start with the confidence that the one you get will work with your boat. Thankfully, there are plenty of high-quality options, from fully custom-tailored t-tops and stock designs made for your boat to universal fit designs.

    Custom Boat T-tops

    Custom t-tops have the advantage of being fully customizable to meet your needs. From an exact fit made to the dimensions of your boat to optional accessories, you can pick and choose from a range of options to get exactly what you’re looking for. This is an excellent choice if you have very specific wants, but it does put you at a higher price point and you may need to take your boat to a shop for the t-top to be made.

    T-top Stock Designs

    There are many reputable companies that offer stock designs, or t-tops that have been previously tailored to the dimensions of different boat brands and styles. This makes it easier to purchase a t-top that has already been made to your boat’s specifications at a lower cost, but while these “semi-custom” designs are ideal if you want a more exact fit, they may not offer enough customization if you spend a lot of time on the water.

    Universal Fit T-tops

    To save yourself time, effort, and money, we recommend choosing a t-top with a universal fit. At Fishmaster, our universal t-top design is made to fit boats anywhere from 14- to 30-feet with a center console measuring from 24- to 50-inches wide. This means our t-tops offer a lot of flexibility to fit virtually any boat that falls within those parameters. The universal fit is a much more cost-effective option that, when installed correctly (it’s easy, we promise!), offers the same tight fit and proper coverage that a custom design would. Plus, we’ve made sure you can customize your boat’s t-top with accessories and options that make it feel like it was custom-made just for your boat.

    T-top Customization

    Choosing how to customize your t-top depends on your personal style preferences and the practicality of various design elements. First, consider whether you want a folding t-top. Folding t-tops are great if you plan to store your boat somewhere like a garage so it can fit through the clearance without the hassle of removing it. It’s also better if you might travel through areas with low clearance bridges. If you are storing it outside or at a dock, or you know your route to the water doesn’t require going under any bridges, then you might not need a folding t-top.

    Then, think about what additional features you may want on your t-top. Accessories tend to be more practical and serve to meet your needs depending on how you use your boat. For example, fishermen benefit from outfitting their boat’s t-top with outrigger fishing rod holders and rocket launchers. Both fishermen and recreational boaters can use an electronics box to keep radars, radios, and other electronic items safe from the marine environment. Fishmaster offers a range of t-top accessories like these that you can add to your t-top to keep your boat’s deck and center console clear of clutter and customize your setup to whatever works best for you.

    Finally, you can think about aesthetics. If you have a color scheme, there are usually plenty of shade colors you can choose from for your t-top cover. Generally speaking, this is strictly a cosmetic decision that won’t affect your t-top’s performance, but other aspects of its construction, such as the materials used for the cover and frame, can make a huge difference for your t-top’s effectiveness, durability, and longevity.

  2. T-top Material Selection

    There are two main pieces to your boat’s t-top, the frame and the cover. The frame keeps your t-top together and provides the support it needs to do its job. The canopy is the cloth that stretches across the top of the frame and shields you from the sun, rain, and other elements of the marine environment. Choosing the right materials for your t-top’s construction is critical for ensuring you make a long-lasting investment.

    T-top Canopy Fabrics

    Your t-top canopy can be made with a few different fabric types, such as canvas and acrylics. When it comes to choosing a fabric, think about protection and longevity. The material needs to be able to withstand the marine environment, especially if you boat in saltwater. You also want to choose a fabric that is waterproof to keep you dry in any storms (though you should always be aware of the weather forecast to avoid any potentially dangerous situations). And, for aesthetic purposes, you may want to choose a fabric that can maintain its color after long days under the sun.

    Our experts have done the research, and at Fishmaster we proudly make our t-top covers with Sunbrella canvas. Sunbrella fabric is UV and fade resistant, maintains its color vibrancy, and provides protection to keep you safe from the sun.

    T-top Frame Materials

    There are three main materials used to make frames for t-tops: aluminum, fiberglass, and stainless steel. Each one has pros and cons that can impact the t-top’s durability, the work you need to put in to maintain it, and your budget.

    Pros: Cons:
    Lightweight Increases budget
    Pros: Cons:
    Lightweight Increases budget
    Corrosion-Resistant Potential for Cracking
    More Versatile Designs
    Stainless Steel
    Pros: Cons:
    Strength and Durability Heavy
    Aesthetically-pleasing More expensive
    More Ridgid, leading to a more stable structure

    Fishmaster t-tops are constructed with aluminum tubing with an anodized finish to protect the aluminum tubing from oxidation. This results in a strong, long-lasting t-top that doesn’t add unnecessary weight to your boat.

    T-top Care and Maintenance

    Once you’ve invested in a t-top, you want it to last for years to come. Some materials are easier to maintain than others, so you should think about how much time and effort you want to dedicate to your t-top’s care and maintenance. For example, fiberglass may require more touch ups and care than stainless steel or aluminum.

    Fishmaster’s t-tops are crafted with the highest quality materials, but caring for and maintaining them is easier than you may think! To preserve your t-top, you’ll just need to keep it clean, wax it each season, tighten the hardware, and protect the canopy’s fabric. To help you keep your t-top in optimal condition, we have a full blog that delves deeper into general care recommendations.

  3. Installation and Ease of Use

    How you install the t-top, or have it installed for you, may be a significant factor in your decision-making process. Professional installation ensures that the t-top is installed properly and is recommended especially for custom t-tops, but many ready-made options have easy-to-follow instructions that enable you to walk through the process yourself. During installation, the t-top needs to be attached to the center console and requires manual work to tie the canvas onto the frame, which can be a time-consuming process. Professionals can do this for you, but this installation can cost thousands of dollars in addition to the cost of the t-top.

    If you feel comfortable installing the t-top yourself, you can save yourself money both on the installation and on the t-top itself by purchasing a stock or universal fit t-top. For example, Fishmaster’s universal t-top is easy to install with our detailed how-to guides.

    Once the t-top is installed, check for ease-of-use. You may want certain user-friendly features such as collapsibility or quick-release mounts for storage, or adjustable heights for different boating needs. Research what features are available before you make a final decision.

  4. Budget Considerations

    Finally, you should consider your budget. T-tops can vary widely in their costs. Universal fit t-tops and stock designs will help keep you at a lower price point, especially if you can handle the installation, but keep in mind that they may offer less customization and features to really meet your wants and needs. A custom t-top will allow you to get virtually anything you could want out of your t-top, but at a much higher price point.

    The key is to find a balance between budget, quality, and features. Choose a t-top that’s going to be long-lasting and offer the right number of features to meet your desires without adding financial stress. Fishmaster offers durable t-tops that can be outfitted with a variety of accessories that make it almost seem like they’re custom-made for your boat so you can feel confident in your investment.

Choosing a T-top - User Reviews and Recommendations

When it’s time to choose your boat’s t-top, nothing is better than getting real feedback from other t-top owners. There are communities and forums dedicated to boating where you can ask about their experiences with their t-tops. We encourage you to seek out real opinions from real people, but keep in mind that every individual has their own needs and preferences, so you should weigh their thoughts with your own desires in mind.

Ask them questions about caring and maintaining their t-top, the durability of the materials, the longevity, and how they have it outfitted. Then, use this information to make an informed decision about your own purchase. If you want to see how a Fishmaster t-top looks on your boat, we have our own customer gallery! And if you have any questions, we are happy to help.

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