In the Swim
A new swim platform will let you really enjoy the water this summer. But what should that new platform be made of?
What’s a boat without a swim platform? Not much fun, is what! A swim platform doesn’t just make for easy access and egress from the briny—it’s also a good place to hang out, dangling your feet in the water while possibly enjoying a beverage or two. If your boat’s currently platform-free, or the one you already have is getting tired, now, well before the summer season gets rolling, is a good time to install a new one. It’s a simple job for do-it-yourselfers—you can do it in an easy day—and it shouldn’t cost too much, either. But first you have to decide what material to choose.
How About Glass?
Most bolt-on swim platforms that come with a boat, or as a factory option, are molded fiberglass. Fiberglass platforms are as durable as most other fiberglass structures, so unless you really whack yours hard in an unfortunate docking adventure you probably will never have to replace it. But you can order an add-on molded fiberglass platform from a number of aftermarket manufacturers. Swim Platforms, Inc. (www.swimplatforms.com), for example, builds easy-to-install platforms to fit hundreds of boat models. You can add options like swim ladders, boarding handles, lights, drink holders, and so forth, and even specify solid or two-tone gelcoat colors to match your boat’s topsides. Scott Samuelson spent 15 years at Sea Ray Boats in Phoenix, Arizona, before starting Swim Platforms after building a platform for his own boat. Now the company, still based in Phoenix, claims to be the world’s largest builder of aftermarket fiberglass swim platforms.
Teak: The Yachtsman’s Choice
Fiberglass makes a great swim platform, but it’s not the right material for every boat. If you own a classically styled trawler yacht, for instance, you’re probably thinking teak, the go-to wood for many marine applications. Nothing gets a traditional-minded yachtie’s heart racing faster than immaculate teak, whether it’s brightwork gleaming with 12 coats of spar varnish or decks made golden with multiple coats of teak oil.
There are many purveyors of teak swim platforms you can install yourself (or have the yard do it at minimal cost) and some sell their products online. For instance, the ubiquitous West Marine (www.westmarine.com) sells ready-to-install teak platforms that stretch up to 90 inches wide. The platforms are assembled with waterproof glue and screws, with all screw heads countersunk and plugged. Cost of the 90-inch platform is $970, not including mounting brackets (about $100 each, and you’ll want one about every 2 feet). If you’re looking for a functional swim platform at an attractive price, and can engineer the installation, this is an affordable option. But not as fancy as many people want.
The teak slats in West Marine’s platforms, and in the platforms of many other mass-market chandleries, are straight, running at right angles to the boat’s centerline. This is fine for straight transoms, but leaves a gap at each end if the transom is curved. West Marine’s solution is to include a wide margin plank that can be scribed and cut to fit precisely against the transom; it can be beveled if the transom is raked. Again, this is perfectly functional, but not as elegant as a platform with the curved slats.
If you agree, contact a custom builder like Steve Shuler’s S&P Custom, Inc., (www.teakmarinewoodwork.com). Shuler’s craftspeople assemble your platform on a jig to match your transom’s curvature. S&P fastens the teak slats together with waterproof glue and threaded stainless-steel through-rods, then protects the platform edges with a peripheral teak molding and optional stainless rubrails. S&P calls this their “yacht style” platform. Shuler is a third-generation craftsman and mechanical engineer whose team builds its platforms, along with a wide variety of other products, in the S&P shop in St. Petersburg, Florida. If your platform will have to fit around trim-tab cylinders or other transom obstacles, a custom shop like S&P can make the necessary adjustments so it fits like a glove.
When teak is lovingly cared for, you can’t beat it for looks, but whatever you start doing, you have to keep doing: Varnish it and you’re soon facing the tyranny of the brush; use teak oil and you’ll be recoating it regularly. Leave the wood bare and all you have to do is deck-brush during every washdown, but it won’t have that teaky golden glow. Whatever path you follow, slack off on upkeep and your teak will soon look mangy.
But there’s no such worry if you install a “synthetic teak” platform, the choice of many skippers who’d rather go boating than swing a brush. Synthetic, or faux, teak—in other words, plastic molded and colored to look like teak—is long-lasting, keeps its teak-like appearance, and is virtually maintenance-free. Synthetic teak is becoming popular for decking as well as platforms, since, while it may not look quite as “yachty” as real teak, it looks a lot better than teak that’s not been kept up. Moreover, it provides excellent footing when dry and the traction gets better when the surface is wet. And, if you’re not afraid of being a little unorthodox, synthetic teak doesn’t even have to look like teak at all: It comes in different colors and can look like painted wood or, let’s be honest, textured plastic.
PlasTEAK (www.plasteak.com) is a family-owned company in Akron, Ohio, that sells synthetic teak products made from recycled high-density polyethylene, mostly used milk bottles. Founded in 1995 when company president William Gribble used plastic lumber from lawn furniture to build a swim platform for his boat, PlasTEAK manufactures not only platforms, but also exterior and interior decking, bow pulpits, handrails, hatch covers, and other marine accessories. Their synthetic teak comes in white, black, and off-white as well as teak, and the company will mix colors if you want a zebra-striped platform. Because both the color and UV filters are added during molding, PlasTEAK never fades, and never needs attention other than a little soap and water. It resists gasoline, oil, solvents, seagull droppings, almost anything—hey, it’s plastic! It’ll outlive all of us.
PlasTEAK swim platforms are made to order. The slats are bent to match the transom curve on a table jig and the shape is locked in with glue and fastenings. Nevertheless, says a company spokesman, it’s easy for an owner or boatyard to repair a damaged platform by bending in new slats. The platforms cost $.40 per square inch, not including under-platform mounting brackets (again, spaced one every two feet) and other accessories. (The company quotes $691.20 for a standard 72-inch by 24-inch platform.) Like all the companies mentioned here, PlasTEAK supplies complete information for ordering and installing the platform.
Some skippers love working on their boats, making them shine like museum pieces—which includes painstakingly coddling their teak. Maybe you’re one of them; if so, you can buy a yacht-worthy teak swim platform to grace your transom without breaking the bank. On the other hand, if you’re not into becoming a slave to teak, you might want to think about synthetic teak or molded fiberglass; both are easygoing shipmates. And any swim platform is better than no swim platform: Summer’s coming and the water’s getting warmer. Don’t be left on deck.
This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.