Ultimate Buyers Guide: Boat T-Tops For Center Consoles
What Is A Center Console Boat?
This is a type of single-deck open hulled boat with the helm located in the center. Some larger models may have a cabin located in the bow with small berths for sleeping. Small center consoles are popular for fishing or as a tender boat for yachts.
An advantage of this type of boat is that underway or at rest, a person can walk all around the boat with ease. The console is the location for all the controls of the boat. Most center consoles use outboard motors for power and range from 16 to 40 feet (12.19 m) long.
What Is A Boat T-Top?
A boat T-Top is metal frame that looks a “T” shaped from the side profile, mounted around a center console boat. On top of the frame it has either a canvas fabric or hard metal. Its main use is to provide standing height shade and rain protection for 2 or more passengers.
Unlike a Bimini top, it gives anglers a 360-degree area to move around or to cast out lines. It isn’t uncommon for factory T-Tops to cost over $4500. To lower costs, the advent of universal T-Tops has entered the boating market. These bolt-on adjustable products give exact fits, with options and colors to customize.
Benefits Of Boat T-Tops For Center Consoles
Buying a T-Top for your center console boat adds many benefits for out on the water. But it’s important to keep in mind, it’s also an excellent long-term investment. Below are a few examples:
- Sun and rain protection. High quality canopy covers withstand UV rays and survive the harshest climates.
- Place to secure accessories. Many T-Tops have attachment areas to add accessories like fishing pole holders. Plus some have cross bars which you can strap items like fishing rods on to.
- Adding a quality T-Top improves your boat’s resale value. Buyers love and pay more for vessels with useful modifications.
- T-Tops provide ample protection without sacrificing head space like Bimini tops do.
How Is A Universal T-Top Different?
These “Universal” t-tops are different because their design allows for an adjustable width. As a result, this type of T-Top can fit on a wide ranges of boat makes and models no matter their age.
Whereas original factory T-Tops have a “fixed-width” construction designed for the specific boat. While factory products are great, don’t discount the universal models. While they are adjustable, this doesn’t mean they aren’t strong and stable. The best universal T-Tops will in fact have many of the same high-quality materials used in OEM models. The biggest advantage is these T-Tops are much less expensive, 2 to 3 times cheaper!
Will Any Universal Marine T-Top Fit My Center Console Boat?
Yes, but which models will depend on the type of deck your boat has and a crucial measurement. Your boat deck must be flat on the sides of the center console for the legs to mount correct. If your deck isn’t flat or a soft bottom inflatable you need to buy a T-Top that mounts only on the console.
Next measure the width and total footprint of your center console. Pay special attention to the base of the console. Does it step or curve out at the bottom? If so, factor any extra inches into the footprint and total width. Another overlooked situation is consoles with an out-hinged door. Look for T-Tops that provide frame design solutions for doors.
What Materials Are Marine T-Tops Made Of?
The type of material for your new T-Top is vital. Since a t-top experiences the same water, wind, and sun that a boat does. Plus the pressure and stress from bumpy seas and the weight of accessories and fishing gear. Which could bend or break certain materials.
As you compare the reviewed t-tops in this article, pay close attention to the material type. Every T-Top frame is a type of metal but each type if very different in strength capabilities. Extruded aluminum is a common material, stainless steel less so. Using aluminum is great because it’s lightweight, corrosion-resistant, and easy to clean. Whichever you choose, it needs stand up to whatever you throw at it. No one wants a cracked t-top that could damage the boat or your skull.
Which Metal Is Best For Marine T-Tops? 6061-T6 Aluminum
Below are explanations of the three metals used for marine T-Tops, starting from best to worst:
6061-T6 Aluminum Alloy
6061-T6 is the most durable and strongest boat t-top metal used by high-quality brands. This specific type of aluminum is an aviation grade metal with high tensile strength. Its a metal used in airplanes and high-end race cars and boats. The marine industry considers this metal as a “structural grade.”
To explain, the numbers 6061 means this is a 6000 series of extruded aluminum. Which is precipitation-hardened that uses magnesium and silicon as its major alloying elements. Thus, its corrosion resistance while having a high strength to weight ratio.
The “T6” means “Temper-6” which is a high level of temper, a heat-treating process. Tempering metal shifts the inner molecules of the metal, increasing its durability. As the number lowers, so does the metals total strength.
6063 Aluminum Alloy
6063 Aluminum is the most popular metal for mid range boat T-Tops. Due to it having very smooth surfaces, making it fit for anodizing. As a 6000 series, it uses magnesium and silicon elements but it’s less strong than 6061-T6. Due to the latter using tempering.
While some brands claim it to be an aviation-grade metal, it isn’t. Considered as an “architectural grade” metal. It’s used in products like windows that need light to medium strength. For small slower boats this level of strength is just fine.
This is an odd product to use for a marine T-Top because it’s much heavier and more expensive. While it’s a strong metal, the weight issue make it overkill on fiberglass boats. Plus using it for supports and top tubes can create negative impacts on the boat’s stability.
Brands that use stainless steel “tops” aren’t actual T-Tops. Rather they are like a modified “Bimini” designed only to provide some shade. With small diameter tubes, near 1 inch (2.54 cm), this size can’t withstand the battering of rough waters. I don’t recommend stainless steel T-Tops.
Does Frame Tubing Size Matter?
Yes, it’s important to pay close attention to the diameter of tubing used on t-tops. As it varies by manufacturer and between their models. The larger the outside diameter of the vertical support tubes the better. For larger boats look for at least 1.75 inch (4.45 cm) frames, although it’s better if they are around 2 inches (5.08 cm). Some manufacturers beef-up their leg sections to 2.5″ but lower the canopy size tubes to 2″. This is beneficial for mounting your accessories.
Inexpensive models may use tubes under 1.75 inches, as long as the vessel is small and slow this is adequate.
Which Finish Is Best For My T-Top?
There are three common and one no very common finish available for universal boat t-tops. Including anodized aluminum, anodized brushed aluminum, powder coated and polished aluminum. Each have pros and cons, the one you choose it’s up you.
Anodized Aluminum Finish
An anodized finish is best for boats used in harsh saltwater environments. For this us it’s the easiest to maintain and provides the best protection. Doing regular washing with clean water and wiping after with a clean microfiber, is all it needs. This finish is looks dull or matte silver, like most marine hardware.
Anodized Brushed Aluminum Finish
This is a cosmetic treatment that gives the frame a distinct look. The appearance is like what you’d expect on a refrigerator or bathroom fixtures. The intention of brushed aluminum is to limit fingerprint, but for T-Top I say avoid it. It’s prone to scratches and due to the anodization makes scratch repair impossible.
Powder Coat Finish
A powder coating is a black or white paint application, but it isn’t the same paint used on cars. Rather you apply the paint first by electrify the metal with a positive charge. Second you spray a powdered medium on to the surface. Third, the parts move into an oven to melt the powder down to a smooth, thick layer. After curing, this painted surface is tough and long-lasting. For marine applications it is a superior finish, like the anodized it is simple to clean.
Polished Aluminum Finish
Polished aluminum is raw aluminum that gets polished to a mirror finish. As such it’s for cosmetics only and has zero protection. It’s decent for freshwater applications like wake-board towers, but isn’t great for t-tops. Avoid T-Tops that use this finish.
What Are Fasteners For Marine T-Tops Made Of?
The best material used for marine T-Tops is stainless steel. Using stainless steel hardware is essential for strength.
It’s best to confirm this is what you’re getting with whichever kit you buy. Remember that aluminum and stainless steel are dissimilar metals.
Keep in mind, if steel and aluminum touch, these metal will over time experience galvanic corrosion. During install of your new t-top, reduce this problem by applying a protective grease on the threads of every bolt.
Which Canopy Cover Is Best For A Boat T-Top?
The absolute best type of canopy cover material is a Sunbrella® fabric. Lot’s a boat brands use this fabric in their builds for covers, seating, shade, and enclosures.
An important benefit of this fabric is its extreme UV resistance. Other benefits include that it’s fade, mold and mildew resistant. Another bonus is its simple to clean and breathable. While it isn’t waterproof, it does a better job of repelling water than the cheaper stuff.
Speaking of cheaper stuff, another fabric used is a general marine-grade acrylic. This fabric provides shade and is UV resistant to a point. But this fabric lacks in fade resistance, which deteriorates the color and tear resistance. Another con for cheap fabric is it tends to develop sags and tears in high winds.
For boaters looking at a T-Top as an investment, the cosmetics are a factor, especially during resale. What you choose depends on personal choice, again pay now to save later.
How Much Weight Does A Boat T-Top Add?
You can expect a marine t-top to add anywhere from 70-150 pounds (68.04 kg) of weight to your boat depending on the model. As tubes sizes rise and the frame gets bigger it will weigh more. But bear in mind that larger t-tops are for larger boats.
A Folding T-Top, Do You Need One?
Some brands make folding T-Tops for boats, while others can have the canopy top removed. The big difference between the two is convenience. You need a folding t-top if you plan on storing your boat in a covered structure like a garage. It’s much easier with a folding top because you loosen some bolts and fold the t-top forward. Whereas with non-folding you have to semi disassemble it in and out of the garage.
The convenience argument comes into play out on the water too. Imagine passing under a low clearance bridge, a folding T-Top allows for easy passage.
Do have to have one? For ease of use, yes but some boats don’t have room for one. It depends on the configuration of your boat because of the length folded down. Measure your boat from the front of the center console to the bow. You need to ensure you can fold the T-Top down without any obstructions.
Towing With Boat T-Top
If you’re transporting your boat by towing it on the road at highway speeds, it’s critical to remove the top canopy. Or fold it down like the high quality T-Tops allow for. You do this for two reasons; one to reduce wind resistance and two to reduce safety hazards. Wind resistance equate to you spending more money on fuel for your truck. While safety hazards include cracks in the T-Top frame or a cover blowing off and hitting vehicle behind you.
It’s easier to fold down your T-Top at the end of the day out on the water. But if you can’t afford a folding T-Top, it doesn’t mean you can risk leaving it up while driving. Skimping on the purchase cost equate to harder removal most times.
Is It Hard To Install A T-Top?
Installing a boat T-Top is an easy DIY task that two people can complete in a 3 to 5 hours. The timeline depends on how handy you are with tools. As well as how hard it is to install, which is different for each model. Some boaters aren’t comfortable with tools and can leave it to a professional at a local boat shop. Install will take longer if you add accessories like lights. If you do the work installing accessories, expect to add 2 to 4 hours to the job.
The important factors to consider for install timelines:
- Included Installation Guides:
Some manufacturers don’t include printed instructions with their boat T-Tops for center consoles. Instead, they post their install guides online and you have to download them to aid you install. In our digital world this is the norm but can be a nuisance for some.
For buyer who find manufacturers that don’t include these, don’t buy from them. These are NOT optional for T-Tops. A standoff is a horizontal bar that connects the t-top support legs to your boat’s center console unit. This extra lateral support make huge increases for stability and strength. Without them, a T-Top can sway, leading to cracked welds or cracked tubing.
To calculate time and budget for installing a t-top on your boat, find out what tools you will need. If you need non-standard tools this can add to the budget and timeline. To help, here are some standard tools to have on installation day:
- A lucky friend to help with the installation (bribes work).
- Measuring tools like tape measure and washable marking pen.
- Painters tape.
- Marine Adhesive (5200).
- Socket wrench set
- Power drill with variety of drill bits
- Allen keys in many sizes
- Running Into Problems – Customer service:
Look to in the level of customer service of a boat T-Top before buying. Ensure that the brand is reachable and if needed give a high standard of customer service. It’s a gut punch to buy something and get stranded by a company that’s impossible to get in touch with. I like to call or email a brand’s customer service to measure their response time before buying.
Which T-Top Will Fit My Center Console With A Side Door?
If your center console has a side access door, you will want to be very careful picking out a t-top. Most designs have a horizontal leg brace that can block your access. Look for t-tops that moving the side brace much higher. Having adjustable standoffs are another option. But don’t skip using them as a solution for fit, these are critical for frame stability.
Cleaning Anodized & Powder Coating
How To Clean An Anodized Aluminum Marine T-Top
First, every time you finish a day on the water, rinse with clean and fresh water. Followed by wiping the surface top to bottom with a soft microfiber towel. A microfiber towel is vital, don’t use cleaning products with grit or abrasive cloths. Remember that anodized aluminum is dull or matte in finish. It isn’t a paint finish, but an electrochemical process. If you use harsh cleaners, you risk damage to the finish.
For hard stains or deep cleaning try using Optimum No-Rinse wash. I love this stuff and use it for the boat and my beloved sports car. I recommend using their “quick detailer” solution for you T-Top.
Quick Detailer Ratio And Wash Method For Boat -T-Tops:
Ratio 1:16 or 8 oz/1 gallon or 240 ml to 3.84 liters for water.
- Put some in a 32 oz garden sprayer. Spray over a 4-foot section, start top to bottom. You don’t need a lot, but make coverage even.
- Wait a few minutes, for rinse-less wash to lift dirt, around 5 minutes
- Next, take a wet microfiber cloth (dunk into clean water, hand wring) and wipe in straight movements.
- Finish up by drying T-Top with a slightly wet (almost dry) clean microfiber cloth.
This is great method if you store your boat in a marina yard. In places like this, water is hard to come by, doing this uses water to fill about a bucket and the sprayer.
How To Clean A Powder Coated Boat T-Top
Unlike other T-Top finishes, powder coating is a free-flowing, dry powder applied on top. The main difference between a liquid paint and a powder coating is the binding agent inside. Powder coating doesn’t use a solvent to keep its binder and filler parts in a liquid form. A coat gets applied via an electrostatic process and then cured under heat to flow and form a top “layer”. As a result, powder coating produces thicker, durable coatings than conventional liquid ones.
In a marine environment it’s best to do the same spray and wipe cleaning method as anodized after each use. If stored, inspect and clean the surface every three months.
For deep cleaning, pressure washing is the most efficient method to remove dirt and grime. Or if you don’t have access to this device use mild soap. Clean with either a soft brush or a cloth. The best type of soap to use for this purpose is one that has emulsifiers. This type of soap will break down most common stains. Avoid using harsh cleaners, these can damage powder coating, halving its life expectancy.
Can You Add Accessories For Marine T-Tops?
Not only are boat t-tops popular for escaping the sun, but also because you can customize them. You can add items like a wide range rod holders, electronics boxes, lights, and even speakers.
As mentioned, the crossbars allow you to secure some of these items to your boat. But you can add many accessories to the support structure too, depending on your needs.
Before you buy, consider which accessories, if any are important for you. Many of the clamp attachments for accessories is about 2”.
Hot Tip: Check that the T-Top you want to buy has support tubes or canopy tubes that are compatible.
Finishing Best Boat T-Tops For Center Consoles
By now picking a marine T-Top for your center console shouldn’t be hard. Following the guide above and the six reviews will ensure greater comfort out on the water. Ensure that the model you buy fits your console, is stable and delivers a good amount of shade.
On last thing, thanks for letting Outdoors Informed help with your research. We enjoy helping out, so you can spend less time indoors and more out on the water.