Are you trying to decide between purchasing a
Hard-Top Dodger and an Iverson's iTop Dodger?
If you are in the market for a new dodger and are considering a hardtop, please take a moment and read the following information. It's not uncommon for people researching dodgers to ask us our opinion on hardtop vs i-top.
The question we always ask is, "Why do you want a hardtop dodger?"
Some of the common responses are:
"Because I think hardtops are stronger."
"Because I want to stand on my dodger and I can't with a soft top."
"Because I want to mount solar panels on my dodger and I can't with a soft top."
"Because it will last longer."
All of these reasons are understandable, however not exactly valid. Typically, a brief conversation with people about the hardtop vs the Iverson's i-top dodger will challenge their thoughts. Below are some points to take note of when deciding over a hardtop dodger or the Iverson's i-top dodger.
Let's begin with a brief overview of the Iverson 's i-top...
The i-top dodger design is not a hardtop dodger but instead, an innovative modular soft top design with many beneficial features. The i-top's proprietary frame design is built to counterbalance forces inflicted on it through its unique geometry and utilization of compression and tension to enhance its structural integrity. The hinge points connecting the frame to the deck are pivoting points that absorb any flex or shock inflicted on the dodger and reduce sheer on these connecting points. The tensioned canvas skin on the i-top is an integral component of the structure and its flexibility is quintessential in reducing or cushioning the initial impact of a force such as a wave or wind. To learn more, please visit our "Product Testing" videos.
Traditionally when trying to decide between a hardtop dodger design and the typical soft top dodger the indecision can be understandable. However, the i-top is a unique design and if you have never experienced one first hand then you are in for a treat. Your decision may not be so "hard".
First, as far as structural integrity goes, unless you are planning on going to a custom fiberglass shop and having a complete dodger mold made to custom fit the top of your boat, you will not get a stronger more structural dodger than the i-top. Most of the time when people refer to a hardtop dodger they are referring to a dodger constructed with a flat piece of fiberglass which is stress bent around a common 1" diameter stainless steel dodger frame held on via rivets, screws, and bolts. Then window panels are hung from this fiberglass top with slide tracks, glued on pinch welt, etc. The structure in which the non- molded fiberglass panel is being attached to generally is no different then the common soft top dodger frame configuration.
With that said here are some problems associated with the common hardtop dodger:
Due to the fiberglass not being molded to shape but instead flat, there is a fair amount of stress and pressure required to hold the fiberglass around the curved frame. This is done through use of rivets, and or bolts. The problem with this is that over time these areas can develop stress cracks due to the constant pressure. (See photo #1) Depending on the company you choose to install a hardtop, the results can vary significantly. We have removed many hardtop dodgers over the years to be replaced with our i-top design and have seen many faulty installations of hardtops. The faults in design we have experienced start with the way it is fastened to the deck, the quality of the fiberglass layup, and continue on into the overall configuration of the frame design.
Another thing to consider is the overall aesthetics. When I think of a hardtop dodger that I like, I think of the Halberg Rassy sailboats. Some models come with a very well build hardtop dodger design with glass windshield and all. This is a completely fiberglass molded dodger that has an appearance of being a "fluid" design, a solid unit that isn't pieced together with rivets, bolts, slide tracks, pinch welt (a vinyl edging that finishes raw edges of fiberglass). (Photo #2) The point I'm trying to make is the majority of hard top dodgers look "Jimmy Rigged" in the overall appearance. When so many dislike materials come together and are mechanically fastened to each other you lose continuity. (Photo #3 & 4)
A well designed product has continuity to it, an appearance of intentional design not a "make shift" or after thought appearance. A common look with hardtop designs is the fiberglass portion of the hard top is one color and the canvas portion is another color. So, not only do you have an issue of several dislike materials coming together but now you also have the issue of segmented colors. There is no sense of continuity in the design of the dodger at this point.
The aesthetics of a dodger design greatly influence the overall appearance of your boat. With that said, if you are planning on adding additional canvas to your cockpit such as a bimini, connector panel, or enclosure, the way in which these items integrate to a dodger is important. Generally, hardtop dodgers have no relation or consideration to any additional canvas that may be added and usually require riveted on slide tracks to attach additional canvas. (Photo #5) Maintaining continuity through the integration of these dislike materials can be challenging and the end results may look as I mentioned before, "Jimmy Rigged".
With the Iverson's i-top design, maintaining continuity is a given. When we integrate colors or additional items like the bimini, connector or enclosure, to the i-top we focus on a consistent style throughout the design. The overall design looks like it belongs together, a "fluid" appearance that blends with the sailboat and has continuity.
Some people purchase the hardtop with the mindset that once they buy the hardtop they will never have to worry about the future investment of replacing canvas. Well, that is not entirely true... The hardtop still has canvas window panels that will eventually need to be replaced. The cost of replacing these panels is not much different then what it would cost you to replace the entire canvas on the i-top. With the hardtop though you might also have maintenance issues such as gel coat stress cracks, (Photo #6) corroded aluminum slide tracks or broken plastic slide tracks, failing pinch welts, oxidized gel-coat, etc. (Photo #7) Potentially, all said and done you are no better off financially, buying a hardtop. As a matter of fact, you will have paid more initially to purchase a hardtop and will still have the future costs of replacing the canvas window panels. The math doesn't add up to be in favor of the hardtop.
The benefit with future replacement of the canvas on the i-top is that the entire dodger will look new again. Also, replacing the canvas enables you to change the color scheme without having to paint or refinish the gel-coat, which would be necessary on a hardtop. It can be challenging matching canvas to a faded gel-coat color on a hardtop.
As far as mounting solar panels to your dodger the i-top is an excellent structure for that. We offer a solar panel mounting system for both dodgers and bimini's. Check out our solar panel mount system under "Accessories".
Perhaps you are one of those sailors that just simply says, "There is no way I'm going offshore with a soft top dodger". Well keep in mind the i-top is not a typical soft top dodger. All we can say is that we have been constructing dodgers for many years and a large percentage of our clients have been offshore with our design. Through seeing previous clients at boat shows, receiving emails and phone calls, we have been continually assured that our dodgers have withstood some of the harshest circumstances at sea. Visit our "Customer Feedback" page to learn more.
All in all, there is no right or wrong decision in choosing your dodger design. Hopefully, the above information has given you some food for thought and a better understanding between the differences in the dodger designs. Please contact us if you have further questions.