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Hard vs. Soft Top vs. Hybrid vs. Semi Top Boat – Boat Owner’s Experience

Photo collage of hard, soft, hybrid and semi top boats

After spending well over a month researching boats to buy, including taking a few out for a spin, we decided on a Hewescraft 180 Pro V which has a hybrid hard top / soft top.

What’s a hard top boat?

Hard top fishing boat

Hard top boat

A 100% hard top is a boat that is 100% enclosed cabin.

What’s a soft top boat?

Soft top boat

Soft top boat.

It’s a boat with a plastic/canvas top that can be removed.

What’s a semi-top boat?

Semi-top boat - hard overhead no sides.

Semi-top boat – hard overhead no sides.

It’s a boat with a hard roof and open sides.  You get the overhead shelter from the sun but the sides are open.

What’s a hybrid top?

Fishing boat with drop-curtain hard top cabin

A boat with a drop curtain rear is what I term a hybrid hard and soft top boat. As you can see, the drop curtain serving as rear barrier has a zip-out door which is good. It’s easily attached with snaps on the sides and top.

It’s a combination of both hard top and partial soft top.  In our case, the front and sides are hard top and the rear is a drop curtain.  Larger Hewescraft and similar boats are fully hard top. I suspect most boaters would consider our boat a hard top but it does have a drop curtain at the rear instead of being fully enclosed.

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Why did we buy a hybrid top boat (hard on 3 sides with a drop curtain at the rear)?

The following are the advantages and reasons we opted for a hybrid top boat when researching all the different types of boats.

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Cost:  We opted for a shorter Hewescraft which was considerably cheaper than the 20′ and 21′ models that are full hard top.  The difference was about $30,000 Canadian.  Initially, I wanted a full hard top boat but after talking with a few boat dealers, I learned there are advantages to a hybrid.  The two additional advantages for us are as follows.

NOTE:  The additional cost is not just because the rear is fully enclosed.  These slightly longer boats are longer and come with a much more powerful motor.  It’s all of that which increases the price.

One other important consideration though and that is soft tops do need to be replaced at some point and that’s not cheap or convenient.  If you own your boat for 20 years, chances are you’ll change out the soft top two to four times.

More open: More importantly, because we’re using it mostly in good weather, by removing the drop curtain, it’s easier to roam throughout the boat for a more inside/outside experience.

Cargo / Space:  Because we bought our boat as a way to get to our boat access waterfront cabin, we expect to be hauling quite a bit stuff back and forth.  With a fully open rear, we can carry longer items such as furniture, etc.

What are the disadvantages of a soft top (i.e. advantages of hard tops)?

In this regard, I’m referring to a fully soft top boat.

Protection from the elements: Whether hot, cold, windy and/or wet, a hard top provides protection from the elements.  Hybrids do as well.  This is the main reason to get a hard top boat.  Few boaters who have had both prefer a soft top.  Usually, opting for a soft top boils down to budget.

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Hassle: Soft tops can melt, get mildew and need to be cleaned regularly.  If you remove and reattach regularly, that’s a huge hassle.

Resale price: Because more people prefer a hard top, it’s probably easier to sell a hard top boat than one with a soft top.  Of course, you paid more for the hard top initially so it’s hard to know whether you’ll actually come out ahead in the resale market or not.

Dry Storage: Because we have mostly a hard top, anything we want to keep dry on the boat while moored at the marina will stay dry.  This way when we take the boat out, even if it’s raining or recently rained, it’ll be dry inside.  While I don’t anticipate having to take it out often in the wet, I’m sure it’s going to happen.

Security:  A 100% fully enclosed hard top cabin boat is by far the most secure.  You can lock the door and while I’m sure an eager thief bould still break in, it’s not like an open top.  We store our boat at a marina and with the drop curtain it’s not nearly as secure as a fully enclosed cabin with locking door.  Therefore, we can’t keep valuables in it (i.e. expensive sounder, rods, reels, etc.).

Advantages of a 100% soft top boat?

While most boaters would argue there aren’t all that many advantages, they are some.

Cost: A soft top costs less although it’ll need to be replaced every several to ten years which means it’s not less expensive as you might think.

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Weight: A hard top adds weight to the boat which arguably requires a bigger motor and will use more gas.  This will definitely add to the cost of a hard top in the long run.

Space/Mobility: This pertains mostly to smaller boats… a hard top limits mobility.  I’ve noticed this big time with our three-sided hard top Hewescraft.  It’s not easy accessing the side of the boat where the cabin is located… can’t really walk all around the boat.

Can you add a hard top to your boat?

Yes, you can.  It’s a custom job.  It’s costly because it is a custom job.  You are better off buying a hard top boat from the get-go… but sometimes we make decisions we regret later and so yes, if you have a soft top boat but would like to add a hard top to it, that can be done.