Title:
Marine folding tower
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A system that will result in less physical effort in the lowering or raising of a marine folding tower, spotting station, driving station, fishing tower, or tuna tower. The system will be installed on a fishing boat, pleasure boat, or other marine vessel. The system comprises at least one gas spring, or hydraulic or electric ram or shock absorber of any size or style that attaches to both the upper frame assembly and lower frame assembly of the tower or other station.



Inventors:
Blumberg, Ryan (Port Charlotte, FL, US)
Application Number:
12/215668
Publication Date:
12/31/2009
Filing Date:
06/30/2008
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B63B17/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
OLSON, LARS A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
HARRY S. COLBURN, JR., ESQ (Englewood, FL, US)
Claims:
Having thus set forth the nature of the invention, what is claimed is:

1. A folding tower attached to a marine vessel, said tower comprising: A lower frame assembly held in fixed relation to the vessel and including a plurality of spaced apart forward support legs and aft support legs with lower ends or footers fixably attached to the deck of the vessel and with upper ends fixably connected to pairs of longitudinal rails and transverse rails which provide support for the upper frame assembly when the tower is in the upright position; An upper frame assembly in rotational relation and pivotably connected to the lower frame assembly including spaced apart lower side rails, spaced apart upper side rails, spaced apart lower transverse rails, and spaced apart upper transverse rails, with such rails attached to spaced apart support posts; pivotal connections at port and starboard pivot points between the lower frame assembly and the upper frame assembly, accommodating rotational movement of the upper frame assembly between an upright position over the deck of a vessel and a lowered or folded position; A gas spring or shock absorber attached at its upper end by side mount to a forward support post of the tower's upper frame assembly and at its lower end by side mount to a forward support leg of the tower's lower frame assembly.

2. The apparatus of claim 1 further including a means for releasably securing the upper frame assembly in the upright position.

3. The apparatus of claim 2 further including a means for locking said means for releasably securing.

4. The apparatus of claim 1 further including a means for releasably securing the upper frame assembly in the folded position.

5. The apparatus of claim 4 further including a means for locking said means for releasably securing.

6. A folding tower attached to a marine vessel, said tower comprising: A lower frame assembly held in fixed relation to the vessel and including a plurality of spaced apart forward support legs and aft support legs with lower ends or footers fixably attached to the deck of the vessel and with upper ends fixably connected to pairs of longitudinal rails and transverse rails which provide support for the upper frame assembly when the tower is in the upright position; An upper frame assembly in rotational relation and pivotably connected to the lower frame assembly including spaced apart lower side rails, spaced apart upper side rails, spaced apart lower transverse rails, and spaced apart upper transverse rails, with such rails attached to spaced apart support posts; pivotal connections at port and starboard pivot points between the lower frame assembly and the upper frame assembly, accommodating rotational movement of the upper frame assembly between an upright position over the deck of a vessel and a lowered or folded position; A plurality of gas springs or shock absorbers attached at their upper ends by side mounts to forward support posts of the tower's upper frame assembly and at their lower ends by side mounts to forward support legs of the tower's lower frame assembly.

7. The apparatus of claim 6 further including a means for releasably securing the upper frame assembly in the upright position.

8. The apparatus of claim 7 further including a means for locking said means for releasably securing.

9. The apparatus of claim 6 further including a means for releasably securing the upper frame assembly in the folded position.

10. The apparatus of claim 9 further including a means for locking said means for releasably securing.

11. A folding tower attached to a marine vessel, said tower comprising: A lower frame assembly held in fixed relation to the vessel and including a plurality of spaced apart forward support legs and aft support legs with lower ends or footers fixably attached to the deck of the vessel and with upper ends fixably connected to pairs of longitudinal rails and transverse rails which provide support for the upper frame assembly when the tower is in the upright position; An upper frame assembly in rotational relation and pivotably connected to the lower frame assembly including spaced apart lower side rails, spaced apart upper side rails, spaced apart lower transverse rails, and spaced apart upper transverse rails, with such rails attached to spaced apart support posts; pivotal connections at port and starboard pivot points between the lower frame assembly and the upper frame assembly, accommodating rotational movement of the upper frame assembly between an upright position over the deck of a vessel and a lowered or folded position; A gas spring or shock absorber attached at its upper end by front mount to a forward support post of the tower's upper frame assembly and at its lower end by front mount to a forward support leg of the tower's lower frame assembly.

12. The apparatus of claim 11 further including a means for releasably securing the upper frame assembly in the upright position.

13. The apparatus of claim 12 further including a means for locking said means for releasably securing.

14. The apparatus of claim 11 further including a means for releasably securing the upper frame assembly in the folded position.

15. The apparatus of claim 14 further including a means for locking said means for releasably securing.

16. A folding tower attached to a marine vessel, said tower comprising: A lower frame assembly held in fixed relation to the vessel and including a plurality of spaced apart forward support legs and aft support legs with lower ends or footers fixably attached to the deck of the vessel and with upper ends fixably connected to pairs of longitudinal rails and transverse rails which provide support for the upper frame assembly when the tower is in the upright position; An upper frame assembly in rotational relation and pivotably connected to the lower frame assembly including spaced apart lower side rails, spaced apart upper side rails, spaced apart lower transverse rails, and spaced apart upper transverse rails, with such rails attached to spaced apart support posts; pivotal connections at port and starboard pivot points between the lower frame assembly and the upper frame assembly, accommodating rotational movement of the upper frame assembly between an upright position over the deck of a vessel and a lowered or folded position; A plurality of gas springs or shock absorbers attached at their upper ends by front mounts to forward support posts of the tower's upper frame assembly and at their lower ends by front mounts to forward support legs of the tower's lower frame assembly.

17. The apparatus of claim 16 further including a means for releasably securing the upper frame assembly in the upright position.

18. The apparatus of claim 17 further including a means for locking said means for releasably securing.

19. The apparatus of claim 16 further including a means for releasably securing the upper frame assembly in the folded position.

20. The apparatus of claim 19 further including a means for locking said means for releasably securing.

Description:

The present invention relates to marine folding towers mounted over the deck area of recreational, pleasure, and fishing boats.

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

Not Applicable.

STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERAL RESEARCH

There are no rights to this invention under federally sponsored research and development.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Various types of towers generally referred to as “boat towers”, “tuna towers”, or “fishing towers” are in common use on recreational, pleasure, and fishing boats. Such towers form a structure over part of the deck surface of the boat to provide an elevated piloting or control station, a spotting station, a location for mounting electronic equipment, shelter from the elements, and shade from the sun.

These marine tower structures must be lowered to pass beneath limited clearance bridges and other objects, to permit safe transport on vehicles, and to facilitate storage. Folding boat towers which pivot in a forward and downward direction, or a backward and downward direction, into a temporarily stored position are known in the art. Previous devices in use require either considerable physical effort to move the tower between the upright and lowered positions or additional, expensive parts and equipment for automatic operation.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,988,461 B1 to James discloses a telescoping boat tower apparatus on the deck structure of a boat. The apparatus includes lower and upper frame assemblies, tubular supports, and a standing platform positioned above the console of the boat. An elongated sealed interior chamber defined between tubular supports in telescoping coaxial alignment is connected to a source of pressurized fluid whereby the upper frame assembly is vertically movable with respect to the lower frame assembly. Four pressurization chambers are required, and additional parts, including either a plastic alignment cap or guides or centering rollers, sealing o-rings, and air compressors, are necessary to avoid binding, insure uniform lifting, reduce friction, and improve alignment.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,983,716 B1 to Ankney et al. discloses a frame assembly for a lift mechanism for Bimini tops which is automatic and not manually operated and which utilizes a combination of a pneumatic, hydraulic, or electromechanical system and springs. The Bimini top is raised or lowered without a manual stage by toggling a switch at the helm.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,865,999 B2 to Bierbower discloses a light-weight rotatable watersport tower used for wakeboarding.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,860,222 B2 to Himmel discloses a vertically moveable roof for a yacht. A plurality of hydraulically operated telescopic bars allow vertical displacement of the roof. The roof is not rotatable, and a compressor powered by batteries is required to force the flow of hydraulic fluid and move the telescopic bars.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,854,413 B2 to Jackson et al. discloses a hinge assembly and releasable footer for folding a light-weight boat tower of the type used to pull a wakeboarder or water skier.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,666,163 to Pastor et al. discloses a light weight adjustable boat top with a hydraulic piston and spring mechanism connected to the top frame and a leg of the boat top assembly.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,349,666 to Hastings discloses an articulated, pivotable boat top assembly appropriate for light-weight tee-tops which provide cover for boat center consoles.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,044,788 to Larson et al. discloses a boat tower which can be rotated from an upright position to a lowered position. The tower is attached to the boat with pinned connections. The pins are removed from the aft connections and the tower rotates about the pins of the forward connections. This arrangement is only appropriate for light-weight boat towers such as water sport performance systems. In addition, in this arrangement the pins must be removed from the connections, resulting in loose parts that must be stored, and removal of the pins may require the use of tools, depending upon the configuration.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,582,016 to Hansen discloses a segmented, collapsible frame structure for a convertible boat top with pivotable connections between frame members.

U.S. Pat. No. 3,724,595 to Green discloses a tuna tower which may be prefabricated in quantity and packaged in cartons as a plurality of sub-assemblies, spars and braces and which may be mounted on a plurality of boats having different beam measurements.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

This invention comprises a folding marine tower apparatus attachable atop and extending upward from the deck structure of a vessel, including one or more gas spring or hydraulic or electric rams or shock absorbers attached to the upper and lower frame assemblies of the folding tower or station. By attaching one end of the gas spring or shock absorber to the upper frame assembly and the other end to the lower frame assembly, the folding action requires substantially less manual effort. The gas spring/shock absorbers may be of different lengths, diameters, and materials, and may operate by electric, gas, hydraulic, air, or other function. The present invention provides an improved alternative by providing a folding boat tower which, by the utilization of pressurized fluid, preferably pressurized air, facilitates the downward movement of the upper frame assembly into a lowered position to allow clear passage of the vessel under bridges and other objects and easier and more stable transport of the vessel on trailers with less wind drag and noise, and further facilitates the upward movement required to return the upper frame assembly to the upright, operating position above the lower frame assembly.

The purpose of this invention is to provide a convenient means for temporarily reducing the height clearance of a vessel equipped with the folding marine tower apparatus which has the following characteristics: ease of use; safe, convenient, and quick operation of a heavy folding boat tower with minimal physical effort by only one person having limited technical skill and knowledge; simple, low-cost construction, with few parts; ease of installation on new vessels; ease of retrofitting existing vessels; and low maintenance and high energy efficiency, resulting from a simple, durable construction having few parts none of which are motorized.

In every action involving a lifting or lowering motion, such as folding a boat tower, there are masses in movement which must be controlled. Otherwise, the kinetic energy caused by the mass in motion can result in damage to the vessel and injury to the operator. Gas spring/shock absorbers are used when return assistance or load support counterbalance is required throughout the motion. Gas spring/shock absorbers counter-balance heavy loads to provide assistance in raising, lowering, controlling opening and closing forces, slowing rate of movement, and setting alternative positions. Pneumatic springs and hydraulic shock absorbers respectively use a compressed gas or fluid, contained in a cylinder and variably compressed by a sliding piston, to exert a force. The spring or shock absorber smooths out or dampens a sudden shock impulse and dissipates kinetic energy as the air or fluid pressure builds to resist force exerted on the piston.

With the above and other objects in view, the present invention consists of the combination and arrangement of parts hereinafter more fully described, illustrated in the accompanying drawing and more particularly point out in the appended claims, it being understood that changes may be made in the form, size, proportions and minor details of construction without departing from the spirit or sacrificing any of the advantages of the invention.

The instant invention satisfies the foregoing needs and fulfills additional objects and advantages that will become apparent from the description which follows in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a marine folding tower in the upright position mounted on a boat, with side-mounted gas springs or shock absorbers.

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a marine folding tower in the upright position with side-mounted gas springs or shock absorbers.

FIG. 3 is a side view of a marine folding tower in the upright position with a side-mounted gas spring or shock absorber.

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a marine folding tower in a partially folded down position with side-mounted gas springs or shock absorbers.

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of a marine folding tower in a completely folded down position with a side-mounted gas spring or shock absorber.

FIG. 6 is a front view of a marine folding tower in the upright position with front-mounted gas springs or shock absorbers.

FIG. 7 is a side view of a marine folding tower in the upright position with a front-mounted gas spring or shock absorber.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

With reference to the drawings, like reference numerals designate like or similar parts throughout the various views. FIG. 1 illustrates the marine folding tower 10 of the present invention mounted on the deck 11 of a boat 12. The boat has a bow or forward area 13, bow rails 14, center console 15, port side 16, starboard side 17, gunwhales 18 on each side, a stern or aft area 19, and a hull 20.

The tower is comprised of two sections or frame assemblies, a lower frame assembly 30, which is fixed in a stationary position to the boat's deck, and an upper frame assembly 50, which is rotatable from an upright position as shown in FIGS. 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7 to a downward or folded position around pivot points 31 on the port side and starboard sides of the lower frame assembly 30 as shown in FIGS. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7.

The tower's lower frame assembly 30 typically includes a plurality of spaced apart forward support legs 32 and aft support legs 33 having upper ends 34 and lower ends or footers 35. The footers 35 are fixably attached to the deck 11, hull 20, gunwhales 18, or center console 15. Appropriate fittings attached to the deck 11 or other described surface receive the legs 32 and 33 of the lower frame assembly 30 to maintain the lower frame assembly 30 in an upright position. The upper ends 34 of the support legs 32 and 33 fixably connect to pairs of longitudinal rails 37 and transverse rails 38. As represented in FIG. 4 and FIG. 6, an inverted U-shaped strut 39 on the aft side of the lower frame assembly 30 furnishes additional stability. The support legs 32 and 33 and rails 37 and 38 together support the upper frame assembly 50 of the tower 10 when the tower is in the upright position. A floor 36 is attached to the rails 38 as foot support for the operator of the vessel.

A pair of opposed ladder sub-assemblies 40 provide access to and additional support for the tower's upper frame assembly 50. Each ladder sub-assembly 40 is comprised of a pair of spaced apart, side rails 41 and 42, connected as by welding to a plurality of parallel rungs 43. The lower portion of the aft side rails 42 is fixably attached to the deck 11, hull 20, or gunwhales 18. As displayed in FIG. 2 and FIG. 3, the lower portion of the forward side rails 41 may be fixably attached to the aft side rails 42. The aft support legs 33 of the tower's lower frame assembly 30 may be identical to the aft side rails 42 of the ladder sub-assemblies 40.

The tower's upper frame assembly 50 typically includes a pair of spaced apart lower side rails 51, a pair of spaced apart upper side rails 52, a pair of spaced apart lower transverse rails 53, and a pair of spaced apart upper transverse rails 54. The rails 51, 52, 53, and 54 are attached to spaced apart forward support posts 55 and aft support posts 56. An upper control console 57 with steering 58 and electrical control box 59 may be mounted on the forward upper transverse rail 54. The upper frame assembly 50 may be locked in an upright position above the lower frame assembly 30 by any of a variety of known releasable attachment devices, such as male/female connectors, at the lower ends of the aft support posts 56 of the upper frame assembly and the upper ends of the aft support legs 33 or the aft side rails 42 of the tower's lower frame assembly. A seat assembly 70 consisting of a bench 71, seat-back 72, and a pair of spaced apart, parallel arm rest rails 73 may be mounted on the aft upper transverse rail 54. Legs, rails, and struts of the tower frame assemblies 30 and 50 and the ladder sub-assemblies 40 may be fabricated from metal tubing or pipe.

The tower's upper frame assembly 50 is rotatably attached to the tower's lower frame assembly 30 by ball and socket joint, clevis pin, or other commonly used hinge assembly at port and starboard pivot points 31. The invention utilizes one or more gas spring/shock absorbers to facilitate manual raising and lowering of the tower's upper frame assembly by rotation about the pivot points 31. The gas spring/shock absorber assemblies 60 typically include a cylindrical body 61 under pressure with a sealed upper end 62 and lower end 63, and a piston rod 64. The gas spring/shock absorber assemblies 60 have an upper end 65 and a lower end 66.

FIG. 1, FIG. 2, FIG. 3, FIG. 4 and FIG. 5 depict a pair of gas spring/shock absorbers 60 attached at the upper end 65 by side mounts 80 to a flange 81 attached to the forward support posts 55 of the tower's upper frame assembly 50 and at the lower end 66 by side mounts 82 to a flange 83 attached to the tower's lower frame assembly 30. The side mounts 80 and 82 may be any of a number of known hinge assemblies.

FIG. 4 demonstrates operation of the side mounted gas spring/shock absorbers 60 to move the tower's upper frame assembly 50 into a folded down position. The operator 100 can lower or raise the upper frame assembly 50 of the tower manually by pulling with one or both hands on a side rail 51 or 52, a transverse rail 53 or 54, a forward support post 55, or an aft support post 56.

The upper frame assembly 50 may be locked in the fully open, downward position to the deck 11, center console 15, hull 20, or lower frame assembly 30 by any of a variety of known releasable attachment devices.

FIG. 6 and FIG. 7 show an alternate configuration of the invention consisting of a pair of gas spring/shock absorbers 60 attached at the upper end 65 by front mounts 90 to the forward support posts 55 of the tower's upper frame assembly 50 and at the lower end 66 by front mounts 91 to the forward support legs 32 having pivot points 31 on the tower's lower frame assembly 30. The front mounts 90 and 91 may be any of a number of known hinge assemblies.

Gas spring/shock absorbers accommodate a wide range of end fittings. Connecting parts for attaching the gas spring/shock absorbers 60 to the tower parts may be such known devices as hinge heads, fork heads, elbow joints, ball and socket joints, clevis style end fittings, or mounting brackets. A ball and socket joint allows rotation about the mounting point to prevent side loading and eliminate misalignment. A locking shroud can be used to fix the gas spring in the extended position.

Gas spring/shock absorbers have several advantages when installed as part of a marine folding tower assembly. When one or more gas spring/shock absorbers are properly placed to achieve leverage and force to lift or lower the top frame assembly of a tower or other station, the physical effort to move the top frame assembly is greatly reduced. The gas spring/shock absorbers can be used manually or with power. Gas spring/shock absorbers are self contained, maintenance free devices and are supplied ready for installation. On compression, gas spring/shock absorbers do not bounce back, and the extension rate can be controlled, giving a smooth return. Gas spring/shock absorbers can be provided in a wide range of body sizes and stroke lengths. The force provided can be specified to suit the particular application. Extension and compression velocities can be customized. Locking gas spring/shock absorbers can be locked in any position throughout the stroke. Gas spring/shock absorbers can be made of aluminum where low weight is important.

While the invention has been particularly shown and described with reference to various embodiments of the invention, persons skilled in the art will understand that various other changes in the form and details may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. The optimum dimensional relationships of the parts of the invention, including variations in size, materials, shape, form, function and manner of operation, assembly and use, are readily apparent and obvious to those persons skilled in the art. All equivalent relationships to those illustrated in the drawings and described in the specification are intended to be encompassed by the present invention. For example, while the embodiments illustrated depict a marine tower which folds in a downward direction for storage over the bow area of a vessel, the scope of the invention also includes a marine tower which folds in a downward direction for storage over the aft area.





 
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