Bob Latham is a household name in the boating industry. For over 50 years, he has been designing, engineering, and manufacturing high-quality hardware, steering, and custom solutions for offshore boats and other vessels. Today, Latham holds numerous patents on parts and systems, from hydraulic steering rams and tie bars to sea strainers, custom rudders, hydraulic lifts, and spacer kits. Continue reading to learn about his partnership with John Tomlinson of TNT Custom Marine.
“This doesn’t work. Can you make one better?”
Bob Latham, founder of Latham Marine, has heard this question for the past 50 years while designing, engineering and manufacturing hardware, steering and more. In some cases, his metal parts outlast the vessels where they’re mounted. As an example of durability, Latham regularly services steering rams every 15 to 30 years by polishing, adding new seals and fluid, and returning them for another 15 or more years of use.
From the Beginning
Bob Latham grew up tinkering with bicycles and fast cars in South Florida, learning electronics from his father who was the chief engineer for a Miami television station. He also put together a 17-foot Chris-Craft boat that his dad bought for the family in the 1950s.
Latham got into performance boats through a neighboring boat broker, John Nagler (grandfather of Yellowfin president Wylie Nagler), who in the 1960s sold Magnum boats in the burgeoning offshore powerboat racing segment. Few people knew how to work on high-powered engines, and Latham became the go-to guy. He also got into the cockpit, perfecting rigging systems and learning how to coax the most from equipment without breaking it.
At first, Latham Marine was a mobile engine repair and rigging outfit that fabricated parts. Later, there was a shop in North Miami. In 1979, Latham bought a lathe, taught himself how to use it, and created a hydraulic steering ram that, in 1981, helped win several racing titles. Latham soon met John “JT” Tomlinson, who today looks to Latham to create parts for his TNT Custom Marine teams out of North Miami.
“We just say, ‘This is what we need,’ and always trust that what Bob gives us will work,” Tomlinson says. The Latham quick-release steering wheel is an example. When Tomlinson told Latham that steering columns were binding up, Latham had a solution two weeks later: a steering column and wheel that could be moved to various positions on the dash. In the late 1990s, Tomlinson asked Latham for a new trim system and strut assembly for a racing catamaran. With the new parts, the boat became a world champion and a speed record holder that still runs today.