During the past few years, there have been a large number of new fasteners and fittings made available in the industry. I have found a number of them very applicable to the marine fabrication industry. With the import items from New Zealand, Australia, Germany and Holland, to name just a few, the U.S. market has added quite a few items, as well.
Made mostly in stainless steel and cast aluminum, plastic has also become a big influence in the marine market. These fasteners are also being used by the awning and RV industries.
I will start with the bimini top mounts and fittings that create an array of the imagination to build items not previously thought of. Quick-release deck hinges, or what I call bullet bases, have been a great help, not only for fabricators, but also for customers who are tired of pin-and-lanyards or screws and who have to carry a screwdriver with them. Quick release gives us the opportunity to diversify the installation and make for quick and easy removal and folding of tops; these can also be revenue for existing bimini tops as an upgrade or replacement. With the addition of strap release clips and side mounting, it can get really interesting.
Featuring new bases that swivel, universal deck fittings allow us to mount fasteners to angled or round surfaces, even if the port and starboard sides are different.
Another fitting I have started using is a standoff fitting that makes for a bimini top with no rear supports or straps. This fitting has been able to make a secure handrail along the sides of boats, especially when the enclosure is up and in bad weather (a nice feature). By mounting four of these on the front and back where the zippers end under the bimini top and above the side curtain corner, there is not a need for pattern modifications—it can be added to an existing structure. I also have installed them on my stainless-steel frames to accommodate a rear pipe upon which to mount rod holders similar to T-tops. The advantage is that the bimini top can be folded either forward or to the rear, lay down, and still have access to the rod holders in most upright positions.
Another fitting—the tube hinge—allows the pipe to be cut, insert fitting, and rivet into place. You can fold up the handrail and collapse the bimini back. I use this same fitting on center-console boats to make the handrail fold down so smaller center-counsels can fit into garages. (Many homeowner associations do not allow a boat to be parked outside.) With quick-release windshield fasteners, the windshield can also be taken off to shorten the overall height.
One fitting that has become familiar with most marine fabricators is the weakest link in our arsenal of fittings. On the old style aluminum slide for moving bimini tops into positions after being laid down, I find the aluminum slide track is fine, but mounting a stainless-steel 1-inch .065 frame on the unit will have to have a plastic base fitting. At high speeds, these are the weak link. I found a supplier who provides a stainless steel tracking system and stainless fasteners. This system is a little more expensive, but the final result of the bimini staying on the boat at cruising speed is well worth the investment.
The expansion to complete the line of Split Jaw fasteners allows us to add fittings to existing projects that already have been fabricated. Grab-rail fittings can be added at a breeze.
Split clamps allow us to adapt a top to ski towers and make for a variety of installations on 2-inch tubing such as T-tops and wakeboard towers. Also, with the addition of double-sided slide jaw fittings, we can easily add to an existing top to create a brow or aft cockpit shade.
Another item is the premade side handrail, which is available in 2-inch increments from 18 to 32 inches. This makes for a unique installation in the frame after the bimini is mounted and can be sold to the customer to install. They’re especially handy on sailboat biminis and dodgers.
Tensioning fittings are being used by fabricators who want the nice, tight fit we all desire. By using these fittings, we can tighten the structure after installation and the customer can loosen the fittings if needed over the years as the fabric stretches or shrinks. Using these is one way to stay ahead of the competition. And the customer is always looking for the easiest installation and removal of his canvas.
For those with experience in bending aluminum in the freshwater environment, the H2ube has many handy applications. It can also be used for awnings and anywhere you do not want to add a pocket that encapsulates the pipe. It requires a good pattern person and a few tries to get it down without wrinkles, but it becomes a very nice option to tops that gives a clean appearance. Keder welt is sewed into the fabric and the fabric is slid onto the frame; two tracks allow for enclosure curtains to be installed the same way. Try it, and you will be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
Fasteners are becoming really unique and are being designed to make installing much simpler. With the invention of Snads, adhesively attached snaps, we now can install snaps in locations not previously possible. Trying to put a fastener in Plexiglas or glass has been a real issue. Also, customers are demanding that we not drill a lot of holes in their new boats. When I first used these, I was amazed at their holding power; we can now install covers on aluminum decks, inside cabin bulkheads, on mirrors and even on overhead hatches without fear of damage. Installation of carpet to the deck with Snads makes more sense than drilling holes in a beautiful non-skid deck, especially over a rear cabin. It provides a sense of professionalism while ensuring no possible water penetration into the living quarters. The low profile provides minimal protrusion upward and can be walked on without stubbing your toe. They can be put on top of coolers without damage. We cut our carpet and bind it, then put the snaps in the carpet with Snads on the bottom. That saves us a trip to install, as a novice can install these himself.
The newest fastener I found at the IFAI Expo and which won the Innovation Award is the Q-Snap. It addresses the cases where you are trying to put the snap on the boat and trying to pull the canvas tight. This little invention does both and ensures the secure tight fit we all strive for in the industry. Along with that is the Perfix fastener that secures to the fitting and must be lifted to release or remove—no more covers blowing off on the highway!
Another fastener we have used for years and which makes patterning a breeze is the Quickfit fastener. It is installed on top of the existing snap screw stud in the vessel and creates a pin that sticks up. The fabric can be pulled over the pin, and the location of the new fastener will be noted by a small hole. We mark the spot where the pin protrudes through the fabric with a circle around it. You can also measure down from the hole while on the table to mark cutting lines for the binding and webbing around the perimeter. This makes for a perfect fit on all covers. It gives the installer the edge of having some snaps installed by the patterning person and makes for faster installation. One note of caution: We mark the boat with a piece of orange fabric when they are installed as they will allow your DNA to be left on the vessel if it comes in contact with your skin. They are available in plastic and metal.
Easy installation is what the customer is looking for. If we can show him our fabrication is designed around his ease of installing and removal, he will probably hire you to do the job.
Remember: Clean up the job site better than you found it. And leave a calling card for their friends.