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How to Choose the Right Boat Cover or Top

By: Ryan Tarrant

Canvas top on boat tied up at dock

The decision to have a new top/cover/canvas built for your boat is driven by two main factors: protection from the elements for passengers, and protection from the elements for your boat. When choosing the right design and your service provider, there are several things to consider, so we’ll do our best to guide you through the process. By the way, just like Hoover was replaced by Vacuum, it’s no longer “canvas” when referring to boat tops as the materials used are well beyond canvas. Let's get started.

Choosing A Cover

Timing Your Purchase is Important

Weather, season, and location are large factors in obtaining the best value for your hard-earned dollar. Transportation of your craft or transportation to your craft must be taken into account. It’s best to have your plan in place before summer ends. If you shop for quotes in the fall and don’t commit to the services until the following spring, you’ll be at the end of the line with only yourself to blame. Timing is key.

Choosing a Service Provider

Here are some different avenues and suggestions for sourcing a new top/cover:

  • The boat manufacturer

    • If you were happy with the factory original top/s for your boat, the boat manufacturer may have access to the manufacturer of your top and it could be reproduced from the original specifications

  • Marinas

    • Customers often ask their marina’s in-house department or a sub-contracted service provider to perform services while you’re away, before your boat goes into storage, or when your boat comes out of storage which can often be the “final fitting”

  • Boater Referrals

    • Ask your friends, walk the docks at some marinas and look at styles and quality

  • Researching and choosing a shop yourself

    • Online research or using directory help from resources like

  • “Big Box Store” universal covers

Ensure you get the quality you want by investigating better than this boat owner did.

Protecting Your Boat

Mooring Covers are designed to cover the deck of your boat to keep rain/hail/sleet/snow and sun from causing damage. They fasten around the upper part of your hull just below the deck.

Pros: they offer ultimate protection when built correctly using the proper support equipment to hold the cover in place and prevent sagging. They can help keep your gel-coat or paint looking new for exceptionally long periods of time.

Cons: they’re hard to install when your boat is in the water, and on certain bunk trailers. In-water installation can sometimes include a long pole or ropes to feed the fastening straps under the boat.

Tonneau or Cockpit Covers simply cover the interior area/s of your boat. They are often attached using snaps on the windshield or hull. They offer a lot of protection when your boat is sitting and sometimes can be driven with it installed and only your head and shoulders exposed to the elements.

Choosing a style and design to Protect your Passengers and Craft

Your imagination, wallet, and service provider are the only things holding you back. We’ll discuss styles first, followed by customization.

Convertible Top

Convertible top built with curtains & stern cover

Convertible Top with Camper

Camper tops are defined by standing height and are used on many hulls

For safety reasons, when purchasing a convertible top, ensure you have a window installed in your back curtain. If you navigate at night then you know that driving away from lights makes it very dark in front of you and thereby looking backwards towards the lights can help you find your bearing. Also, how would you dock or see other boats behind you? The material used is called viewflex and if cleaned properly it will last a long time, or it can be replaced economically when it’s time is up. See our How to Maintain Your Boat Top article for more information.

Bimini Top (With or Without Enclosure)

Bimini tops offer elaborate options, configurations, and designs including a enclosure/camper style. T-tops can serve as a simple way to shade yourself from the sun.

Customizing Your Design

The most important advice we can offer is don’t have your top built and then return a year or two later expecting you can add screens, Viewflex, or other features to a basic convertible top. Boat tops require specific measurements to allow expansion and contraction and to maintain the correct amount of strength at your stitching points. Even the upper portion of a bimini top on a center console is produced differently depending on whether you want a full enclosure or not. Don’t kid yourself about your needs and wants. It will cost much more to upgrade later than by simply building it right the first time. Consider popular upgrade options like bug screens or Viewflex windows when you place your order.

Saving Money

Ease of access to your craft and being a good person to communicate with are the obvious answers to saving money. It's also good protocol to leave a deposit and consider the seasonal timing to give you, and the service provider, the best turnaround time for your needs.

You may wonder if there’s a “cheaper” material. There are basically two grades of material that can be used on modern boats. Any lesser cost material will not breathe and protect your boat, or last as long, as a higher grade material. Quality comes at a price, and "buy it nice or buy it twice." It's that simple.

In Closing

Building a new top can be labour intensive and you want to choose the correct configuration during your initial planning stages to save you the most money in the long run.

Thank you to Jay Morrison Custom Boat Tops & Commercial Sewing, and G. Brunatti & Sons for all of the excellent information, pictures and diagrams.

Thank you for reading and we wish you sunny weather on sandy beaches and undamaged propellers this boating season! #tips #products

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