You've got the boat, the rods, the reels, and the tackle, and you're ready to head offshore where the big billfish swim. But before you go, you need one more thing: a rugged fighting chair that screams "serious fisherman onboard" to old salts and dock walkers alike. But how and exactly where in the cockpit do you install it once you've found the right chair?
Maybe the placement decision has been made for you: Many boatbuilders laminate an aluminum or steel plate (generally 3/16 to 1/4 inch thick) into the cockpit sole. If that's the case with your boat, drill and tap the plate and fasten the stanchion with machine bolts. If there's no plate, add one—use through-bolts and check under the cockpit first: "In some boats, that area's all tank," says Mike Rybovich of Ryco Marine. If you can get to the underside of the cockpit, he explains, use as large a backing plate as you can—most stanchion bases are ten inches in diameter, so use at least a 16-inch square backer. Bigger is better, but often deck structure will restrict the size of the plate, as the size of the cockpit restricts the size of the chair. If you can't fit a proper backing plate under the cockpit, you shouldn't install a chair.
As for location, you're going to want the maximum space around the chair, says Mike Murray, whose father Frank and uncle Ed built their first Murray Brothers chair in the mid-1960's. Murray advises allowing four feet between the transom coaming and the center of the seat; this leaves eight or nine inches between the footrest and the coaming. Smaller chairs are smaller mostly in the seat depth and width, not the footrest length, so skimp on this measurement with care. Don't install a chair that can't swivel with the footrest extended all the way or one that passes so close to the coaming that the mate has to climb over it; a poorly placed installation translates into lost fish.
While most sportfisherman have a stiff enough cockpit sole for a straight stanchion, says Rybovich, offset stanchions, shaped like a crank, should be mounted on the keel, "because a big guy connected to a big fish on heavy tackle, combined with the leverage of an 18-inch offset, creates a lot of strain." An offset mount lets the chair orbit around its base rather than simply rotate; it moves the angler and the rod tip closer to the corners of the transom on a beamy boat, minimizing break-offs. If the stanchion cannot be keel-mounted, it should be tied into a bulkhead or other structure.
Once the chair is installed, about all you will need do for maintenance is to rinse the salt off, polish the metal, and varnish the teak: The chair's high-tech coatings should last for years, and its modern, Delrin bearings are maintenance-free. If the chair gets hard use, check the fastenings now and then to ensure it stays put in the cockpit. You don't want to lose a trophy fish, and the chair, too.
John Rybovich is generally credited with inventing the modern fighting chair—tradition says in 1933, but no one's sure "when the last coat of varnish went onto the first chair," says Murray. A Rybovich chair prompted the Murray brothers to build their first chair, to replace the one in their 41 Hatteras.
This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.