Center Console Enclosures

Published On: May 1, 2023Categories: Exterior and Cover, Projects
Center console boats are a popular style of boat in Yorktown, Va. The author believes that center console enclosures are some of the most complicated enclosures to design, and also among the most rewarding.

Center console boats are a popular style of boat in my area, Yorktown, Va., along with sportfish, cruisers, trawlers and sailboats. In my opinion, center console enclosures are some of the most complicated enclosures to design. This style of boat usually has many challenges to overcome in order to get the job done cleanly and have it function properly. Personally, these challenges are what make center console enclosures fun for me and why I love doing them so much. They tend to keep my wheels turning and keep me learning and creating new ways to solve problems and issues. 

Design considerations 

Here are some of the things that I consider when designing an enclosure:

  • Ensure clients have a full range of visibility. I don’t want to block their view in any areas that might be critical for the captain when maneuvering the boat.
  • Ensure clients have easy access to the center console door. This can be a safety issue because a lot of people store their life jackets in their console. 
  • Ensure clients can access the bow of the boat quickly and easily. You never know when you need to get to the bow of the boat in a hurry. The doorway/access panels to the bow need to be designed with the fewest number of zippers and straps possible, as these panels will be the most used panels on this style of boat.
  • Understand the speed of the boat receiving the enclosure. This is a question you need to ask yourself because some of these boats now have anywhere from one to five engines on the back and can go as fast as 70 mph or even faster. You will need to keep this in mind and add extra straps, reinforcement or even double rows of stitching where needed to make sure the enclosure is strong enough to handle the boat that it is being installed on. 
  • Understand whether the boat will be trailered often. If this is the case, I make sure I add extra strength to these enclosures because they will be driven at 80 mph down the highway, which can be equal to hurricane-strength winds. Also, I do tell my customers that trailering the boat with the enclosure on is not something I recommend. They do so at their own risk. 
This style of enclosure usually has many challenges to overcome in order to get the job done cleanly and have it function properly.

Wet boat worries

These boats are the type that leave boaters very exposed to the elements. They are designed with little to no protection from wind and water. They are typically what we call “wet boats.” When I say a wet boat, I am referring to the spray of water that gets blown back into the boat when hitting a wave. 

Challenges spur creativity 

When designing an enclosure, you need to keep in mind whether it will protect the captain and crew in the way they want and need. Sometimes when you’re out on your boat, you just don’t want to be getting splashed with water constantly or feel like you’re sticking your head out the car window everywhere you go. In the hot summer months people don’t seem to mind as much about getting wet. But if you live in an area that gets cold in the winter, customers will want an enclosure to keep them dry and out of the wind. The bottom line to pass along to customers is that having an enclosure on their boat can greatly extend their boating season. 

As I mentioned earlier, designing enclosures for center console boats means coping with multiple challenges. But if you keep in mind the design considerations mentioned in this column, those challenges can also be a source of great creativity and satisfaction.  

Mike Charlton, with his wife Rachel, owns Charlton’s Marine Canvas in Yorktown, Va. He has been in business for six years with the goal of providing high-end, award-winning canvas to customers. He and his wife have a strong passion for boating and being on the water with their daughters, Mersades and Nikki.

SIDEBAR: Enclosure style choices

When quoting a price to customers for an enclosure, I ask them two questions: How much coverage or protection do you want? How are you going to use the boat? Depending on the answer, I will direct them to one of these three popular styles. There are many other styles and many other versions of these three enclosures, but these are the most common.

Phone booth enclosure 

This is the smallest style of enclosure with the least amount of protection. I like to call it a glorified windshield. It typically consists of three panels. It’s a front center panel and two side panels that wrap around the four vertical support poles of the T-top, but it also can be designed to install inside the support poles. It blocks the wind for the captain and maybe one other passenger. It also can block some water spray depending on where you are standing, but I would not count on it keeping you completely dry. This enclosure is usually used year-round and is rarely taken off the boat. Sometimes we will even uninstall the factory windshield to make visibility better, and the boat will have a cleaner look.

Phone booth with wings  

This style consists of the phone booth enclosure but with additional wings that attach to the aft edge of the enclosure or the aft two vertical support poles of the T-top and then extend out to the gunwale of the boat. Because the wings are installed more aft of the boat, they are much closer to the captain at the helm. This provides much more protection from the water spray that comes back into the boat. Although this style provides better protection than the phone booth alone, it still does not have a lot of room for very many passengers to be protected. This is designed to keep two to three passengers protected at best. The wings of this enclosure are sometimes not needed and will be taken off the boat, but the phone booth part is usually left on the boat permanently.

Full five-piece enclosure  

The full five-piece enclosure is the best bang for your buck. It consists of a front center panel, two wings that shoot out to the gunwales, and then two additional panels that connect to the wings and extend down the sides to the aft edge of the T-top. This style can keep six or more crew members comfortable, dry and out of the wind. This is designed so that the side panels can roll up and the wings can fold into the console, creating an open feel when the enclosure is not needed. When bad weather hits, customers can quickly roll down and swing out panes for protection. I find that some people leave this enclosure on year-round because of its functionality of being able to roll up and swing in out of the way. I also find others will take everything off but leave the front center panel on.