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Making A Good Boat Better With A 'Tubular Cockpit'

After flying at 8 miles a minute for most of my life, cruising at 8 miles an hour seemed like a great way to retire. For the last 30-something years, I’'ve owned boats, looked at boats, read boat magazines, and attended numerous seminars and classes in preparation for the day when I could sail off into the sunset.

My dream boat was the DeFever 49 Cockpit. However, when the big day finally arrived, the economy tanked, and my retirement dream went with it. When boat prices started coming down, and I figured out a way to purchase an older DeFever 44, which is basically the 49 Cockpit minus the cockpit. She was all set up for the life I longed for—extended stays in paradise.

But because I love to fish and dive, a cockpit was essential. So I designed what I call my “tubular cockpit.”

Sixty-three years and several accidents involving horses, motorcycles, cars, and parachutes had taken their toll, so I would need good stairs for boarding my “cockpit” platform. I didn’t want to have to climb a ladder. I came up with a suitable design and sent my plans to Arthur DeFever for his suggestions and approval. He told me my plans looked sound and suggested I leave 5/8 inch between the decking planks of the platform for easy drainage in a following sea.

I spoke with technicians at several boatyards, and we determined that anodized aluminum—with its high strength-to-weight ratio and its ability to withstand the saltwater environment—would be the material of choice for the platform. I selected a tower builder on the Gulf Coast to construct my tubular cockpit; I took him my old 2-foot swim platform for a pattern, since Slow Flight’s transom is curved, and I wanted to follow the lines of the hull. We chose 1-1/2-inch Schedule 40 tubing for the framework and 3-1/2-by-3/4-inch rectangular tubing with rubber inserts for the decking. The former yields nearly 2 inches of outside diameter, and the rubber inserts give me very good traction and are easy on the feet.

Once the platform had been built, I took the boat to a local yard and had her hauled for some much-needed cosmetic work, a bottom job, and the installation. Since the swim platform brackets were plenty strong, we welded 1-by-4-inch solid-aluminum stringers under the decking to line up with the brackets and drilled and threaded 3/8-inch holes so we could use stainless bolts going through the brackets to attach the platform. We applied plenty of 3M 5200 adhesive sealant in the joint and bolted the platform in place.

Since the new platform is 4 feet deep, I designed large angle braces to help carry the load up over the transom and tie in under the stern bitts, which are especially strong because they’re designed to carry mooring-line loads. I pulled the stern bitts, and we cut a piece of 1/4-inch anodized aluminum plate to go under each bitt. (Because the stern bitts are made of stainless steel, I used a thin layer of 5200 to separate the dissimilar metals.) We drilled the plates so that we could utilize the same holes that the bitts bolt on with.

We took another piece of plate and bent it 90 degrees, then welded it to the plate under the bitt. This angled plate goes down over the toerail on the transom. I had to notch out 1/4 inch of the toerail so the platform would lie flat. I then screwed the vertical section of plate to the transom, even though this was probably overkill. Again, I used 5200 on all joints.

Next, the large angle braces were cut and then welded to the plate. Doubling the angle braces gave us a way to weld on the stair treads in two places. I got my idea for the stairs from those you see on the back of the hulls on a cat. The stairs allow me to board easily from a dock of any height, and the treads are made from the same material as that used for the platform decking. The stair handrail is on the inside, so it doesn’t get in the way when boarding.

We added two removable stanchions—or “staples,” as some call them—for safety and as a place to brace oneself when fighting that big tuna. (Ha!) We also welded a couple of extra inserts near the transom so I would have a place to stow one of the staples when boarding from a dinghy at anchor.

Next came the swim ladder. Unless you are on a dive boat, the swim ladder tends to be more of an afterthought than a user-friendly device. I wanted a real swim ladder. I made it 5 feet long, with nearly 4 feet extending into the water. When lowered, it is positioned at the same angle as a step ladder, so it’s easy to climb. It pins in the vertical position when not in use.

I finished my tubular cockpit by welding a couple of rod holders to the angle braces. All ends were capped and seams welded solid to prevent water intrusion.

The crowning touch was a set of blue LED underwater lights, which reflect nicely off the underside of the platform and attract small fish. They also might be of help when I’m trying to find Slow Flight in a dark anchorage. At $300 and 0.5Ah, the lights were an easily justified addition.

The total cost of my tubular cockpit project was under $7,500, including the cost of relocating my boarding gate to the starboard side. Add that to the price of the boat, and it’s less than half of what I would have spent on the 49 Cockpit—and I have one of the easiest-to-board Sundecks in the fleet.


Editor’s note: This article is provided for informational purposes only. PMM did not evaluate the structural integrity or seaworthiness of the described project.