Car-Topper Top Secrets
One of the many pleasures for families on a camping trip is time spent on the water. The various levels of freedom, adventure, peace and solitude found beyond the shores of a lake or river somehow create a special bond between those who share such moments.
The dilemma, of course, is that there are situations when the traditional boat-and-trailer combination amounts to more money, weight or size than you can afford. An alternative is the “car-topper,” traditionally an aluminum jonboat that typically weighs less than 125 pounds and can be transported on the roof of a vehicle. Car-toppers are also relatively inexpensive.
The majority of newer vans and sport-utility vehicles already come with roof racks capable of handling loads up to 200 pounds, so carrying a car-topper is not a weighty issue. Even if your vehicle doesn’t have a roof rack, companies such as Thule (203/881-9600; thule.com), Yakima (888/925-0703; yakima.com) and Kargo Master (800/343-7486; kargomaster.com) have racks and attachments to fit a wide range of transportation needs.
Buying a car-topper is a lot like buying a pair of hiking boots; you have to pick the model that best fits your budget, tastes and needs. Pay careful attention to the latter. The last thing a family needs is a car-topper that ends up being the proverbial white elephant. What you’re looking for is a car-topper that becomes a valuable addition to your lifestyle.
To do so, list the most important factors and use those as your buying guide. For instance, if lifting the car-topper on and off the roof of your vehicle is a big concern, weight should be more of a consideration than how many people can fit in it at one time.
A couple of fit adults can easily hoist a 100-pound, 12-foot-long aluminum car-topper onto the roof of a mid-size SUV. Hoisting the same one on and off the top of a full-size SUV becomes a challenge, where as a model that weighs 80 pounds is a lot more manageable.
If your boat is going to be used along rocky shores or in windy conditions from time to time, durability and stability may override lightweight and compactness. In such cases, you should look for a car-topper in the 12-foot range made from aluminum instead a stubby 8-footer made from ABS or fiberglass.
Style and use are also big considerations. What are the roughest water conditions it’s likely to be used in? Do you want a deep-V, modified-V, flat-bottom or pontoon-style? Is the boat to be used by the children or adults in your family? Will it be for playing, fishing or touring? Do you need permanent seats in the boat — fore, aft and center or just fore and aft? Is it going to be paddled, rowed or motorized? Gas engine or electric?
Once those factors are sorted out, the final selection process becomes a lot easier. Most manufacturers and dealers of traditional car-toppers can take that information and steer you toward a model that closely fits your needs.
To help make your search for the perfect car-topper a little easier, we’ve compiled a selection of strong candidates, along with a few “alternatives” for consideration. One thing all the boats we’ve listed have in common is that each can provide a wonderful extension to your camp by the lake, river, bay or bayou.
Duroboat (800/266-0197; duroboat.com) is an Australian-designed boat made in Seattle. It has two models that bear consideration: the brand new Duroboat 10D ($1349) and the older Duroboat 12D ($1399). Both feature modified-V hull designs made from .050-inch aluminum stock that has a patented “durojoint” running the length of the bottom further protected by an aluminum extrusion. The modified-V would provide a good rough-water ride compared to flat-bottom jons.
The hull also has flotation foam in the floor and under the seats for level buoyancy in the event the boat is swamped. Both boats are the widest (62 inches) of the car-toppers reviewed and have good load-carrying capability. The smaller model, which weighs 114 pounds, is a three-person boat with a maximum hp rating of 6, while the larger, also a three-person model, weighs 135 pounds and is rated for up to 10 horsepower.
G3 Boats (877/877-4348; g3boats.com) builds 20 different models of aluminum jonboats, but only two fit the car-topper category: the 1032 ($475) and 1232 ($525). Both are two-person jons, made from one-piece, 0.054-inch-thick aluminum hulls with riveted seats and ribs. They have 45-inch beams, 32-inch bottoms, 14-inch-tall sides, and are painted with enamel.
There are several differences between the 10-foot model and the 12-footer. The latter, at 86 pounds, is 10 pounds heavier than its smaller brother and can carry an additional 115 pounds of cargo (295 pounds vs.180 pounds). In addition, the model 1232 is rated for 5 hp, while the model 1032 is limited to a 3 hp engine.
Lowe Boats (417/532-9101; lowe.com) has been building aluminum boats for more than 40 years and now offers 84 distinct models. Among those are three car-toppers, of which the Sea Nymph Utility V 1256 ($695), is the heaviest at 104 pounds.
The 12-footer, built from 0.050-gauge aluminum, is one of the widest and best weight-carrying car-toppers with a beam of 56 inches and a load capacity of 575 pounds. It also sports a 10-hp rating, and a modified-V bottom, which provides a smoother ride than a flat-bottom in choppy waters.
Lowe’s other two offerings are flat-bottom jons. The 10-foot L1032 Little Jon ($395) is made from 0.043-gauge aluminum, weighs in at 80 pounds, and features a 48-inch beam, a 32-inch bottom and 16-inch sides. It is rated for a 3 hp engine and a load capacity of 275 pounds. Built-in lifting handles in the stern and bow aid loading/unloading, while the formed-in keel and extruded ribs enhance durability. The 12-foot L1232 Little Jon ($447) is identical in build and horsepower rating to the L1032, but carries a load rating of 335 pounds.
Lund Boat Company (218/385-2235; lundboats.com) has been out of the aluminum jonboat market for many years, but 2003 sees it back in with gusto. Among the 14 new models of jons are two flat-bottoms designed as car-toppers: the 10-foot UR 1032 ST ($512) and the 12-foot UR 1232 ST ($556).
Both new models utilize a one-piece hull with a 45-inch beam over a 32-inch-wide bottom. Rivets secure the seats and roll-formed ribs in place. Both have cast aluminum lifting handles on the bow and stern, corner caps for added rigidity, and Coast Guard-approved level flotation, and each has a little storage compartment under the bow seat. One difference between these two car-toppers is that the 80-pound 1032 can carry 275 pounds of passengers/cargo, while the 90-pound 1232 can carry 335 pounds. Both boats are rated for up to a 3 hp engine.
Polar Kraft (574/522-8381; godfreymarine.com) offers a pair of rugged flat-bottom jons that fit the car-topper category. The J1043 Dakota Jon ($587) is a 10-foot, riveted-rib model that weighs 92 pounds and is rated for a 3 hp engine. The 105-pound J1243 Dakota Jon ($664) is the 12-foot version rated for 5 hp. Both Polar Kraft jons feature .050-inch-thick one-piece aluminum hulls with 43-inch beams, and seat two people on high-rise, floatation-foam-filled seats. They are painted with tough vinyl paint, and have oarlocks and a reinforced bow seat on which to mount hardware.
Bass Hunter Boats (800/345-4689; basshunter.com) offers five varieties of a sit-on-top molded plastic boat that would fit in the car-topper category. One model of note is the Stalker ($499.) This 100-pound, 9-foot, 6-inch-long, pontoon-style boat, with a 4-foot, 6-inch beam, is made from thermoformed high-impact ABS plastic with internal foam flotation for stability. Its cargo capacity is 550 pounds. A few of its major features include molded-in, continuous side tackle trays; molded-in cup holders; ribbed flooring; and built-in handles for carrying and tying off. The two passengers sit on rugged swivel seats that attach to the boat with a rustproof aluminum frame. The seats adjust fore and aft, and can be removed for easy transport. It was designed for electric trolling motors or up to 5 hp gasoline engines.
Grumman Canoes (800/477-2628; marathonboat.com) often come to mind in the nontraditional car-topper category. One model that fits the “boat” category more closely than other Grumman canoes is the Sportboat ($1598). This 15-foot, square-stern aluminum canoe can be paddled, rowed, or powered by up to a 7 hp outboard. It’s built from 0.040-gauge material and weighs 112 pounds, with a load capacity of 455 pounds. Two other features that set the Sportboat apart from the other Grummans: It has level-flotation foam in the sides and a special “bulb”-style keel that provides added stability not found in traditional canoes.
Ocean Kayak (800/852-9257; oceankayak.com) may not be the first place one would think of looking for a family car-topper, but the company has good alternatives to the traditional aluminum jons and modified-Vs. The sit-on-top Malibu Two ($639) is by far its most popular model because it’s great for families and beginners. It has overlapping footwells and a center seat that allows two paddlers and a small passenger to sit comfortably within its 12-foot length. The kayak is a “tri-hull” design that incorporates a keel for good tracking, flanked by two “shoulders” that provide stability. The Malibu is formed from durable polyethylene, is 36-inches wide, weighs 56 pounds and is rated to carry up to 450 pounds.
Porta-Bote (650/961-5334; portabote.com) has been in business 30 years and makes a unique car-topper — a fold-flat boat. Porta-Botes are made from polypropylene and fold flat to a 4-inch height for transport. When opened, plastic seats lock in place to help maintain the expanded hull’s shape. Three models are available. An 8-foot, 6-inch model ($1299) that weighs 47 pounds and has a beam of 56 inches; a 10-foot, 6-inch boat ($1345) that weighs 58 pounds with a 60-inch beam; and a 12-foot, 6-inch model ($1395) that weighs just 69 pounds. Load capacities range from 445 pounds on the smaller model to 670 pounds on the largest version.
The last car-topper we’ll detail is from Sea Eagle (800/852-0925; seaeagle.com). The company offers a wide variety of inflatable boats, another alternative to jons. The Fisherman’s Dream package with the Sea Eagle 8 ($499) and Sea Eagle 9 ($549) caught our eye. These two inflatables would make good alternatives to the conventional car-topper. They are lightweight, have wooden seats and floorboards, and are designed to use small outboards and electric trolling motors.
The Sea Eagle 8, which measures 9 feet, 7 inches in length with a 4-foot, 8-inch width, seats two to three in a 6-foot-long by 2.3-foot-wide space between the air chambers. It weighs 60 pounds with the wooden floor and engine-mounting bracket, yet is rated for a 3 hp engine and 950-pound load capacity. The Sea Eagle 9, which has an overall length of 11 feet, adds a foot to the interior legroom, while upping the ratings to 4 hp and cargo capacity of 1200 pounds. The model 9 weighs up to 74 pounds with the floorboards and motor mounting bracket in place. Either of the Sea Eagle inflatables would be an excellent family car-topper.
OTHER CAR-TOPPER SOURCES
1st Direct Products