Reviewed by: Capt. Mike Schoonveld
The Great Lakes are bumpy places. Sure, I’ve been out on each of the five lakes when they were mill-pond smooth, but I’ve been out many more times when the boat I was in was bouncing through, up, over and ultimately down in lumpy waves, chop and rollers.
With over five decades of Great Lakes experience, I’ve learned some boats are worse than others, some sea conditions are worse than others and some of the lumps and bumps are painful. What you might not know is every time your boat splashes down hard enough to make you go “oof,” whether it throws a spike of pain into your butt or up your spine, you are doing damage, often permanent damage, to your spinal column and other joints.
Many factors feed into any particular person’s susceptibility to lower back pain. Some people have backs of steel and can ride bucking horses or bouncing boats for a lifetime and never have a problem. Others end up with chronic back problems for seemingly no reason at all. Everyone else is somewhere in the middle, but one thing is for certain – my tolerance for rough water boating has gone down over the years.
Instead of giving up on fishing on all but the calmest days or buying a larger boat which might smooth the ride, I looked for a “shock mitigating seat” (or seats) to upgrade my current boat and make riding across a bumpy lake surface significantly more tolerable.
I quickly learned most of these mechanisms are huge, almost like bolting a Lazy Boy recliner at the helm; some of them require cutting holes in the boat’s deck to utilize the space between the deck and hull, some require swapping out both the seat and the seat’s mount or pedestal and a few require professional installation. Add more $$$ as complexity increases.
The brand and model I got to save my back and butt is made by Shoxs, an established leader in the shock-mitigating boat seat industry. Called simply the X4, it’s the most compact of any brand I investigated, took up the least amount of room in my boat and was a simple, DIY installation.
Though Shoxs does sell seats to fit atop the X4 pedestal, all I wanted to do was remove the existing seat at my helm from my existing pedestal, then remove the pedestal, then fasten the X4 to the floor and put my old seat on the X4. It was easier than I expected; in fact, removing the original pedestal which had been in place for more than 20 years was the most difficult part of the process.
Installing my existing seat was a snap. The mounting boat holes at the top of the X4 aligned perfectly with my existing seat and the holes to fasten the pedistal to the floor matched perfectly with the original bolt holes. I did increase the size of the lags I used to secure it to the floor from the 1/4″ originals to 3/8″ suggested by Shoxs. Easy-peezy.
The amount of cushion effect on the X4 is adjustable and what adjustment needed depends on both the size of the person sitting in the seat, the waves being encountered and the ride of the boat on which it’s installed. I’m a big guy and need a stiffer setting than if my petite wife would be in the seat. My 21 foot fiberglass boat has a better ride than your 19 foot aluminum model. Adjust as needed.
Adjusting is simple by adding compressed air, or letting out a bit of air through a Schrader valve – like the valve stem on you vehicle’s tires. A bicycle tire pump will do the work.
Does it mitigate the shock? A friend and I tested it out on a windy day on Lake Michigan. The 20 mph wind was pushing steep sided two to fours – mostly three footers. I powered up to a speed a bit faster than the maximum speed I’d usually go in those conditions – for safety and to keep from breaking something. My GPS hovered between 23 to 27 mph.
I’d trimmed the boat to cut through most of the waves, but occasionally it would slam down into the wave troughs. In the seat with the X4 I could feel the waves, but I could also feel the seat cushion the bumps and smooth the ride. My friend (another big guy) and I switched places, I rode in the passenger seat next to the helm and Tom drove the boat at the same speed.
We agreed, the ride in the drivers seat was “significantly” smoother than in the passenger seat. “Significantly,” in this case means money well spent to make my days on the lake more comfortable and save wear and tear on my spine and other joints in the long run. That’s what I think and that’s what other customers including the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy think. Both have installed Shox seats and pedestals on many of their fast response vessels.
Available direct at the Shox website: https://allsalt.com/landing/shoxs, other online marine suppliers and some retail outlets.