I liked hanging around the docks long before I had a boat.
I liked hanging around the docks long before I had a boat. I still enjoy it, though not quite as much as piloting my own vessel. Once while at the dock, I watched as a captain came into a narrow port and aimed his bow at the slip. Just short of the slip, he turned his back to the helm. Standing between the throttles, he took one in each hand, and pulled one up to forward at a pretty strong idle and pushed the other to reverse with equal authority. Completely confident, from both practice and the clear view of other boats and dock fingers, he pivoted his beauty 180 degrees, then nonchalantly reversed throttle positions, stopped the pivot and aimed the stern straight into the slip. Just as the lacquered mahogany transom might have struck the dock, he applied forward thrust, and water boiled up between the stern and dock, stopping the vessel perfectly, just inches from the pier. Dock hands threw lines on the cleats, and the boat was made fast.
That skipper had a crew awaiting him on the dock. Had he not, at least six steps stood between him and his dock lines. As the boat idled there, technically still underway as the rules of navigation go, he could drift into other boats in the marina. The skipper in a flybridge had better be surefooted or have a crew (or a remote control or a lower station to transfer to). With a crew, the upper station becomes an asset again, because he can assign tasks and observe his crew as they secure the boat. Likewise, upper stations are not for the long-in-the-tooth commanders who may not have that youthful spring in their step.
The only thing better than enjoying the view from above is sharing it. That upper station supplies extra seating, and the social opportunities it provides are at least charming — if not romantic with the right passengers. Often, if the vessel is large enough to carry it, an upper station can have an electric refrigerator or at least an ice chest, and some boast a cocktail galley with a sink.
You have to climb to the bridge in a convertible or flybridge, and that requires stairs or a ladder that takes up space in the cockpit below. Sometimes that loss of space is substantial, crowding the gathering area. Even a ladder to the bridge creates inconveniences in that gathering space. And some skippers prefer having all the action on the main deck rather than dividing the socializing crew between upper and lower decks.
It’s the best place to grab some rays and feel the breeze, whether stirred by nature or by throttle. You’ll look very smart up there too, giving the boater’s wave from that lofty perch. And as the skipper, your crew will compete for your company, giving plenty of opportunity for more intimate conversation.
That added height can cost you some waterway access and even storage fees — especially if you dry-stack your boat when it’s not in use. Dry-stack marinas charge by length and by height. So, be sure of the storage fees before you buy. Further, that added height means waiting for drawbridges or being unable to gain passage beneath fixed bridges to certain waters altogether. Will it be worth it? It’s up to each individual boater.
Expect that upper station to cost between $25,000 and
$75,000 depending on the boat and the accommodations included above. On some boats, an upper station can make them resell faster and sometimes for a higher price than without one. That is particularly so if the boat’s upper station isn’t the sole station. That higher resale price, though, may be offset by the cost of maintaining helm hydraulics, throttle and shift controls, and navigation equipment in both stations.
On a beautiful day, nothing is better than skippering from above. On a stormy day, nothing is worse. An upper station is high above the vessel’s center of gravity, and the only thing worse than lunging forward through rough seas is wobbling sideways through them with each wave attempting to slingshot you abeam. Trying to come through a sloppy inlet in stormy weather will make you kick yourself for not investing in a second lower station.
You’ll find lots of options in flybridge boats and designs for many tastes and wallets. The designs range from pocket trawlers to luxury cruisers and sport-fishers. Here are some top examples, along with some assets and some — let’s just call them trade-offs — in the bargain.
Just short of the slip, he turned his back to the helm. Standing between the throttles, he took one in each hand, and pulled one up to forward at a pretty strong idle and pushed the other to reverse with equal authority.