What Makes a Great Wakeboard Tower?
When you love the water, you only want the best accessories for your boat. Unfortunately, picking out the best wakeboard tower may not be as easy as choosing your new phone or your next kitchen appliance. For many boat owners, choosing the right tower for your boat and family can be complicated. With so many options out there, how do you go about picking the perfect wake tower?
This guide goes through the steps you should consider before your make your purchase. Aside from making sure you’ve picked a tower that will fit your boat, match your style and provide all the features you need, you should pick a wakeboard tower that is made of high-quality materials and built with excellent workmanship. When we’re finally out on the lake with family and friends, the last thing we want to worry about is the tower breaking or not performing like it should.
6061-T6 Anodized Aluminum: The Best Metal for Wakeboard Towers
Since your tower will face all the same wind, water, and sun that your boat does, the material your tower is made from is critical. Towing a wakeboarder also puts a lot of pressure and stress on the tower. As you compare different tower models, make sure that you’re choosing a model that is made of a material that will stand up to everything you throw at it.
Aerial Wakeboard towers are made from 2.25” outer diameter 6061-T6 aluminum. 6061-T6 is an aircraft grade aluminum alloy that is both strong and lightweight. “T6” indicates the high level of temper which is a heat treating process that changes the molecular properties to increase strength. There are different temper levels and smaller numbers indicate lower strength. It has properties that will make the bars and welds stand the test of time of towing a person wakeboarding, knee boarding or skiing. Aluminum is also great because it resistant to rust and easy to clean.
Some manufacturers use weaker 6063 aluminum for all the towers. It is NOT aircraft-grade as it is often claimed to be. 6063 has a different composition that gives it lower tensile strength. Some manufacturers don’t even say what level of temper they are using. We feel that 6063 is used by manufacturers only to save cost. A quick Google search online will give you many pages comparing the 6061 to 6063 in detail.
Below is a table illustrating why 6061-T6 is superior and an important feature to find in a tower:
ULTIMATE TENSILE STRENGTH
6061-T6 (Aerial Wakesports)
290 MPa (42,000 psi)
240 MPa (35,000 psi)
190 MPa (28,000 psi)
160 MPa (23,000 psi)
140 MPa (20,000 psi
97 MPa (14,000 psi)
A few manufacturers use stainless steel which is heavier and more expensive. Although that sounds great at first, stainless steel is considered by many to actually be too strong. It’s overkill for the weight of a wakeboarder and when installed on a light fiberglass boat, all that weight can negatively impact a boat’s performance- especially when it’s sitting high above the boat. The tower you choose should be made of thick 6061-T6 aluminum tubing for the frame with solid aluminum billet joints and stainless steel bolting hardware.
When shopping for your wakeboard tower, pay close attention to the type of metal you are getting. Not only will it ensure your tower will stand up to years of wakeboarding sessions, it also means the best in safety for your family, friends and boat.
Picking the Right Finish for a Wakeboard Tower
There are several finishes available on aftermarket wakeboard towers depending on the manufacturer. Beyond just the look you’re getting, you should also know the differences especially when it comes to longevity and the maintenance required.
Polished is the most common finish and is preferred by most customers. Not only is it great looking, it’s also very easy to maintain. With a microfiber cloth and clean water, you can quickly wipe down this finish at the end of the day. Maybe once annually, you will want to use an aluminum polish to really bring out the shine and remove atmospheric pollution that can build up over time.
Powder coating is perfect for the marine industry and a great choice for a wakeboard tower. Most manufacturers offer black but if that's not the look you're going for, you could always buy a polished aluminum finish and have it custom powder coated at your local shop. It is very easy to clean by just wiping down with a micro fiber cloth. There are some special cleaners and polishes on the market made just for it. We recommend at least one good cleaning and polishing per year. Because there is no clear coat, just be aware that you working directly on the paint surface so a little care should be taken.
An anodized finish is most commonly found on boats that frequent salt water. Anodizing is a hard finish that looks dull or matte. Although it provides a nice barrier to the metal, it requires very specific cleaning products and regimens for its care. Use the wrong cleaner or the right cleaner improperly and the finish could be permanently etched or stained. Also, because the process of anodizing is done in a specialized electro-chemical bath to whole sections, it is very difficult and expensive to repair the finish on a wakeboard tower. All the old anodizing will have to be removed first before re-anodizing.
Anodized Brushed Aluminum
Similar to what you might see on a refrigerator or bathroom fixtures, brushed aluminum has a very distinct look. The problem here is that for a wakeboard tower, it’s not very practical. The microscopic ridges and valleys on the metal that give it it’s look are prone to scratches. Combined with the fact that brushed aluminum towers are also anodized, you’ll find removing scratches or repairing the finish is near impossible. Polished aluminum, by contrast, can simply be polished out with some compound and electric polisher if scratched.
Style of Mounting Feet
Another important consideration when shopping for a wakeboard tower is the type of mounting feet. Most are machined out of solid aluminum and feature a pivoting design to allow top, side or angled mounting. A well-designed foot can give you simpler, quicker installation and actually protect your fiberglass hull.
Most of the wake tower models we sell use a single larger bolt per foot which is loaded through the center of the foot. Once tightened down, the weight of the tower is evenly distributed across the mounting surface. Our FreeRide tower features a solid oval mount that uses two large bolts.
Some tower manufacturers have up to 4 small bolts per foot which is a whopping 16 total for one tower! Why is this problem? Not only does it compromise the integrity of the fiberglass, it also increases the probability of gel coat spider cracking over time. Their smaller diameter bolts can also snap more easily.
Few boat owners feel comfortable drilling holes in their pride and joy. We have made many over the past decade and can assure you, if you are using well designed mounting feet, you can easily do it yourself. Knowing the right type of mounting type could help you avoid damage to your hull in the future.
It's important to note that regardless or the tower manufacturer, you have to periodically re-torque all bolts, nuts and set screws. Pressure exterted from wakeboarding, choppy waters and even towing your boat over bumpy roads could loosen hardware over time. We have seen some videos online of towers that sway wildly several inches side-to-side with just a push. Some towers are stronger and firmer than others but in many cases, we can see exactly where the boat owner just need to tighten their bolts down.
Wakeboard towers are popular not just because they’re needed for proper wakeboarding, but also because they are fully customizable. With a full range and styles of speakers, racks, lights and biminis for shade, you can dial in your tower until it’s the envy of the lake. While most towers are compatible with accessories that have a “universal” clamp for 2.25” tubing, there are some tower models that have accessories uniquely designed to fit them. Talk with the manufacturers and make sure you know what the limitations are before adding items to your shopping cart.
Although most of the time you can add one company’s speakers to another brand’s tower, most customers decide to buy all from the same company. We, for example, give extra discounts for every accessory you add on making for a great tower package price. Lastly, if you ever need to return, exchange or make a warranty claim, it’s much easier to do it through the same company.
Folding Wakeboard Tower
Just like factory wakeboard towers, most aftermarket options feature a folding capability. If you are planning on storing your boat in a garage, you will definitely want a tower that collapses. In the folded position, you can fit you fit the door clearance with the boat on the trailer. Towers are all designed differently and have a different process for breaking them down. Typically, you will remove some bolts to disconnect the upright leg sections and rest will lay down close to the level of your windshield. Depending on the configuration of your specific boat’s layout, this height will vary. To make folding easier, we sell sets of quick-release knobs that replace the original allen head bolts. Their big grooved handles make removal a breeze.
Wakeboard Tower Installation
All our towers are designed for as easy DIY installation you and a buddy can complete on a weekend morning. Some of our customers prefer to leave it to a professional at their local boat shop. Whichever route you decide, you remember that the average installation time is 3-5 hours.
Before you buy, here’s a quick checklist to consider:
- Installation guides:
Most manufacturers post their installation guides online. You can download and review them before purchasing to see what is involved. Similar to the new office coffee maker we just bought, we have noticed that some wake tower installation guides were written out of the country- the English was broken and hard to follow.
- Customer gallery:
Look through the manufacturer’s customer photo gallery. It’s very probable one of their customers with a similar boat to yours has installed the tower you’re looking at. Not only will you see how it looks installed, you can also take notes on their mounting location.
- Tools required:
When considering your budget for getting an wakeboard tower on your boat, ask the manufacturer or refer to their installation guides to see what tools you will need. It’s likely you or a buddy already have what you need, but just in case, know what tools you’ll need on installation day and save some time. Some common tools we recommend to have on installation day:
- Power drill with variable speeds and reverse
- Variety of drill bits
- 45 degree chamfer bit (for chamfering the gel coat and fiberglass)
- Allen keys in a variety of sizes
- 5200 Marine Adhesive
- Tape measure
- Washable marking pen or wax pencil
- Socket wrench set
- Painter’s tape
- Friend or "coerced" son or daughter for installation help
- Backing plate kit:
This is especially recommended for older boats that were manufactured with thinner hulls or might have degraded over time. A backing plate kit is usually a ½” thick hard material about 5” x 8” that will distribute the pressure exerted through the wakeboard tower mounting feet to your boat’s hull. These plates go on the inside of the hull of your boat and your tower’s hardware goes through it. While every wakeboard tower should come with backing washers for the inside of your hull, they are only 2” to 3” in diameter. Some boat owners may simply want to increase that surface area. In that case, we recommend buying a backing plate kit of something like marine-grade plywood and a marine adhesive like 3M’s 5200 inside the hull to add extra reinforcement. You can buy a kit here or source your materials from your local hardware store.
- Customer service:
How easy is it to get a hold of the business you are thinking of buying from? We frequently hear complaints about some companies that are impossible to get on the phone or email response from. It’s a good idea to call and email a couple of manufacturers and measure their response time. You should ask where they are located, their business hours and how many work in their call center. Here at Aerial, we have a dedicated full time, fully staffed sales and support team located in Southern California.
This may all seem like a lot but it's ultimately an investment in your boat, it’s resale value as well as the fun and safety of you, your family and friends for years to come. Every reputable wakeboard tower dealer and manufacturer will be able to answer your questions about their towers.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact our customer support team via phone at (949) 407-5009, email, or chat. We’re happy to answer your questions, chat about your specific model, or help you create a customized wakeboard tower package. You can also search our customer photo gallery here for you boat to see what works well with it.
Happy shopping and happy boating!