Large or small, the upper helm station and deck offer unmatched vision, excellent for operating the boat, spotting fish or just letting the seascape unfurl around you.
Driving a vessel from the flybridge helm during good times is a great joy — yet being a guest on the flybridge with absolutely no responsibility might rank higher. While taking in the sweeping views from a comfortable seat, the ocean vistas present themselves at every glance, and someone else is doing the driving.
Flybridge designs have evolved over the years, and now flybridge models are becoming more common in the range of 35 feet and under. Having the ability to operate the boat while inside and protected — or outside when the time is right — is a main draw of the flybridge design, but there is much more.
The flybridge is functional, recreational and tactical — all at the same time. When a lucky angler is locked in battle with a fish, the flybridge is the best location to maneuver the boat, so the chance of landing a big one is increased. Indeed, on many sportfishing boats the flybridge helm station is small, but its primary purpose is to assist in angling.
However, in times of trouble, or in difficult docking situations, the flybridge offers clear views for the captain and crew, and you can hear what’s happening as well as see it.
There are also drawbacks to the flybridge design — no design is perfect — that are worth considering. For example, if it’s always wet and rainy where you go boating, the flybridge might not get used much because of the wet stairs or ladders and the lack of protection from the elements. In addition, a flybridge increases the vessel’s windage. Not only is the boat taller with a higher center of gravity, but canvas coverings, glass and hardtops act like sails. On the flybridge, the captain might feel all alone or, worse, be left isolated to make decisions or actions when a little help is needed. It’s also harder up top to gain assurance that all is well throughout the boat.
If you haven’t thought much about flybridges, maybe now’s the time. Their appeal is widespread, especially since they’ve evolved to be more than a utilitarian top deck, and their use has expanded to new size ranges and styles.
From galleys to entertainment systems to comfy couches and sunpads, flybridges have them, and, as a result, are a sought-after place to hang out. On the Hampton 560 Sedan, the upper station features an L-shaped settee with a table amidships and to port. There’s also a wet bar, and deck space aft can be used for an optional tender and davit.
“The visibility for the captain and increased entertainment space for guests are two big reasons why people like flybridge boats,” said Scott Hauck, Hampton Yachts Group’s product specialist. “Having space for a galley is important up top, and then when you arrive at your destination you have a place for a table and chairs for guests. That’s where you want to be. It is also a more exhilarating feeling running the boat up top when the weather is better, hearing the wind and water.”
The 560 Sedan’s hardtop over the forward portion of the flybridge is standard, and it’s a feature many people like on their flybridge, though others like their bridge enclosed and air conditioned, which is an option on the 560 and many other yachts. Absolute Yachts’ 64 Fly offers an open upper deck that can be shaded with a Bimini top that easily stows away when not in use, for versatility that makes the flybridge more attractive. The top deck features the helm to starboard, with a sunpad, a large settee and a double-seat helm station.
Flybridge — The Only Bridge?
Because more owners are choosing to operate their boats exclusively from the flybridge helm station, one manufacturer is rethinking the concept of having both a main deck and flybridge helm station. Outer Reef Yachts is making the flybridge helm station the only true place to fully run the boat, if that’s the owner’s choice, while turning the main deck helm’s former space into a country kitchen.
“We are finding a trend toward abandoning the lower helm because no one uses it,” said Jeff Druek, CEO and president of Outer Reef. “That allows you to open up a lot of extra space where the lower helm was, and instead of a small galley put in a larger country kitchen.”
Boats with a single flybridge helm station need to be properly enclosed in the event of bad weather.
“On a boat with a single flybridge helm, we use a solid glass enclosure for the front of the boat,” Druek said. “You have to be able to run windshield wipers in a gale, and you can only do that properly on glass. For the sides, we use EZ2CY, which offers a more rigid surface than products like Strataglass, and also doesn’t yellow or fade. When the weather is nice, the side panels can be hinged upward to allow a partially enclosed flybridge area.”
Good, Better and Best Views
Spotting birds, bait balls and other such signs of fish, as well as simply getting a better view of what’s around the boat, is a tremendous advantage of the flybridge. Some smaller sportfishing boats have a two-person helm station fixed atop pipework — that’s still a flybridge.
“The Bertram 31 is a classic and has the flybridge on it even though you can only sit two up there,” said Blake Oversmith, a yacht sales professional at Stan Miller Yachts in San Diego. “The Hatteras and Viking convertibles we sell, they are also considered flybridge yachts, the names ‘flybridge’ and ‘convertible’ are interchangeable. The Hatteras 77 and Viking 92 convertibles are big boats and the goal for better vision is the same.”
Increased vision is also an important factor when docking or maneuvering around other boats, and the captain can see and hear what the crew is doing on deck.
One drawback is that while vision improves on a flybridge, the captain is also less connected to crewmembers and guests. That can lead to anxiety and miscommunication. Here’s where handheld family channel radios or intercom systems can help link captain, crew and guests together. Also, the use of video cameras that show what’s happening on the boat — from bow to stern, engine room to galley — also help the captain know what’s going on. The video feeds can be easily shown on the multifunction display.
Flybridge helm stations have become extremely well outfitted and offer navigational control on par with the main helm down below. However, electronics are a bit more limited in terms of multifunction displays and controls.
On the new Prestige 750 Fly, for example, while the main helm dash offers space for two Raymarine MFDs, the flybridge helm dash has a single MFD. However, the flybridge dash is laid out with everything the captain needs for full control of the vessel, from the VHF radio, Volvo Penta throttle and Joystick controls, accessory switches and MFD.
Some flybridge boats are completely closed off with glass and a rear bulkhead with a door or slider, and temperature is controlled with heating and air conditioning. Others can be closed off to the elements and air-conditioned, or the enclosures can be removed and stowed.
Flybridge boats generally have larger windows down below in the salon, which opens up the living space. “People like a flybridge boat because of the larger windows [that having a flybridge allows builders to put in the salon],” Crow’s Nest’s Dale Partna said.
Sea Ray’s 510 Sundancer is an example of an express-style, singlehelm boat that still offers plenty of window space with a large windshield and huge side windows. The Sea Ray 510 Fly simply adds to the feeling of openness with the flybridge deck. Here you have couches, tables and sunpads, while the helm station is forward to starboard.
“For a lot of customers, the bridge offers the perfect complementary outdoor space for these new salons,” said Matt Guilford, vice president of Sea Ray’s marketing group. “It’s relatively inexpensive additional squarefootage for entertaining or sunbathing, while also offering a great vantage point for maneuvering in close quarters. Several of our customers prefer to begin and end their journey with the sightlines and open air of the bridge, while opting for the cooler, quieter lower station once underway.”
Not Just for Big Boats
Flybridge designs have become more popular on smaller boats, such as the Carver C34, the Jeanneau Velasco 37F and the Ranger Tugs R-31 Command Bridge. On the C34, the flybridge deck features the helm to starboard and a U-shaped lounge to port. Aft is a large sunpad and the staircase runs down to the cockpit on the starboard side.
The Jeanneau Velasco 37F offers a similar layout, with a ladder instead of a staircase. Both the Carver and Jeanneau have fully outfitted helm stations on the main deck, and in Carver’s case the C34 main helm is optional.
Ranger’s bridge is small — room for two at the helm and some water toys — but it has electronic controls and is retractable, to keep the boat trailerable.
Whether the boat is large or small, the flybridge view while underway, at anchor or at the marina is unbeatable. The combination of clear sightlines and height helps the captain, entertains guests and adds to their overall enjoyment of the boat and water.
How often have you seen or been a passenger on a flybridge — whether open or partially enclosed — packed with happy guests? The setting may be at anchor when the weather is calm or rolling slowly through the harbor with a party occupying the top deck, young people doing what young people do. It’s clear the flybridge isn’t an old thing or young thing. For many boat owners, it’s “the” thing.