Buggy tops, half towers, and full towers can make a bid difference in your fishing.
In certain fisheries, visibility is the key to success. Cobia sight-casting and white marlin fishing immediately come to mind, but an elevated position can also be advantageous when you're looking for flotsam to bail mahi-mahi, trying to find a tailing striped marlin on a slick-calm day, searching for tripletail along float lines, or seeking out pods of porpoises that have yellowfin tagging along.
On the flip side of the equation, putting the wrong type of tower on a boat will create major problems. It can throw off a boat's center of gravity, force you to time your departures and arrivals and/or choose marinas depending on bridges and clearance, and increase maintenance time and costs. So before you add a tower to any boat, take some careful consideration.
BUGGY SEATS AND HALF TOWERS
Buggy seats and half towers are the simplest forms of towers that you can add to a center console, small walk-around or express. Buggy seats and half towers may or may not have upper station controls and electronics and are usually little more than a seat or leaning post with rails around the perimeter. They commonly sit atop a hard top and are accessed via a ladder built into the supports. Some versions incorporate a standing or sitting spot on the framework of the T-top and are accessed through a zip-open section of canvass above the console. In some cases you'll use the console itself as a step up into the tower, and in other boats the captain may actually stand on the top of the console itself.
You'll see this type of mini- tower on boats as small as 20 feet, though on boats of this size it's always risky to add any amount of elevated weight. Generally speaking, buggy seats and crow's nests are added to inshore boats, especially those specific to cobia fisheries and other coastal tasks where a few extra feet of elevation can make all the difference in the world when trying to find fish on the surface.
Tower choices are limited on smaller boats. Upper control stations add weight, cost, and rigging complexity. Utilizing the height advantage without controls means having to post a second crewmember up there to use their eyes while you do the driving. With some rigs, this means staring at the back of his or her legs all afternoon. Another important consideration is whether to have a small Bimini canvas added over the tower. Particularly for offshore trollers, this is a must-have unless you enjoy baking in the sun for hours on end. On the flip side of the equation, remember that adding a top will create clearance issues, particularly for trailerable boats. If you want to be able to haul down the highway, make sure you get a hinged top that can be folded down.
Full towers are reserved for larger sport-fishers with the ability to support lots of pipework and the big costs that go along with them. Known as tuna towers, these aluminum supported stations are usually built for a specific boat, and can be shockingly complex while incorporating things like hydraulic outriggers, intercom systems, teaser reels and a full electronics suite.
The custom nature of a full tower means you can have a tower equipped and designed exactly as you'd like. For most offshore boats that means incorporating seating that's comfortable for facing aft as well as forward, so you can watch the spread for extended periods of time. West coasters like to be able to wedge themselves into the seat facing forward, to make it easier to glass the water for hours on end with gyroscopic binoculars. And while many towers used to be designed to make it easy to hold on and stay planted in rough seas, modern gyro-stabilization systems have all but eliminated the exaggerated sway felt up in a tower. These days, on a modern boat, comfortable seating is more important than being wedged inside a pipe cage.
Whether you're looking at a small tower for a center console or a big tower for a big convertible, quality is a major consideration. The most important detail in this regard is to have the tower built and installed by a reputable operation. Aluminum is not the easiest material in the world to weld, and sub-par welds will break after extended pounding on a rough ocean.
Truth be told, when you're dealing with full towers made by one of the handful of known companies in the space, you're not likely to run into low quality workmanship or bad materials. But this can be much more of an issue when getting smaller towers, which are often slapped together in low-volume shops with much shorter histories. Reputation and recommendations are very important in these cases, and it's imperative to look at the shop's previous work for key indicators. You'll want to see even, bubble-free feathering in the welds. All attachment points should be through-bolted, with Nylock-style locking nuts. They should be backed with aluminum plates, and having six anchor points is much better than trying to get by with four.
There are also a few key items to stay away from. If your tower folds, having fly by wire or hydraulic steering as opposed to cable is a must or kinks are likely to result. Also stay away from large fiberglass parts that have gel-coated white surfaces up on the tower. These bright white surfaces cause a ton of glare, reducing your visibility and defeating the purpose of having a tower in the first place. And upholstery that isn't removable for regular cleaning and winter storage (up north) can only be expected to last a few years.
But before you drop a deposit on a new tower, ask yourself, do I really need that tower in the first place? Many would argue that the added expense and maintenance hassles aren't worth the benefit. And if your boat has a flybridge, a full tower is not as imperative as it might otherwise be. But the first time you spot a fish from that elevated position and realize that without the tower you probably would have missed it, you'll be glad to have put that pipework in place.