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Spring Cleaning - How to Maintain Your Boat Top

By: Ryan Tarrant

Today we are going to debunk the fear of maintaining your boat top.

Spring has sprung and we are all excited to turn our winter boating dreams into reality. Mechanical checks, scheduled projects, and cleaning/detailing often take precedence. One maintenance topic that is often overlooked is maintaining our tops/canvas.

Once our crafts are removed from their winter births, the first thing we do is install our tops to keep our precious boat and ourselves protected from the elements. At this time, we often find dirty surfaces we would prefer to have clean, pulled stitching, Viewflex windows that need replacing, stretched or saggy sections, and so on. This often strikes fear in boat owners because we are uneducated about maintaining our tops, and that fear can lead us to wait until the bitter end until we simply bear the cost of full replacement when we could have made our canvas last by maintaining it earlier. Realistically, your top could last 15-20 years.

Cleaning & Retreating Fabrics

The important thing to remember is that your fabric is woven to specifications to keep water out while still allowing air and moisture to vent through. If that weave is damaged it will leak water into your boat. Washing machines and pressure washers are a definite no-no. The fabric manufacturer Sunbrella recommends the following regular cleaning procedures:

1) Brush off loose dirt

2) Spay on a cleaning solution of water and mild non-detergent soap

3) Use a soft bristle brush to clean

4) Allow cleaning solution to soak into the fabric

5) Rinse thoroughly until all soap residue is removed

6) Air dry

For Stains and Mildew:

1) Prepare a solution of 1 cup of bleach and one forth cup mild soap per gallon of clean water

2) Allow mixture to soap into fabric for up to 15 minutes

3) Blot stains with a sponge or clean towel (*limited to certain fabrics, check your manufacturers recommendation)

4) Rinse thoroughly until all soap residue is removed

5) Air dry

Re-treating Fabrics

Many fabrics are treated from the factory and will for years. But once you experience seep through, or have washed them multiple times, retreating the fabric with products like 303 Fabric Guard for Marine Fabrics, or Scotchgard Water and Sun Sheild is a good way to keep the boat dry. Follow the guidelines and use products that your fabric manufacturer recommends. If you do not know what type of fabric you have, reach out to your preferred shop and ask them for guidance.

Protectant 303 Fabric Guard
Sunbrella recommends the 303 Product

Cleaning and Treating Viewflex Windows and Plexiglass/Lexan

Being able well to see through your Viewflex/windows is important for keeping you and your loved ones safe. Using cleaners or detergents or ammonia will actually remove the natural oils in the plastic, so do not use them.

Damaged Viewflex reducing visibility
Damaged Viewflex reducing visibility

Using your Viewflex windows without washing or UV treatment can shorten it’s lifespan. Luckily many shops can replace existing Viewflex panels without having to purchase a completely new top. Being able to see clearly is important, so please maintain your Viewflex to reduce the odds of an accident.

One of the best ways to clean Viewflex is to rinse with a low-pressure garden hose, mix a bucket of non-detergent dish soap like Dawn with 4 parts water, and handwash the panels using a soft microfibre cloth. We often see people using glass window cleaner on plastics which can damage the surface, or people using soft bristled brushes which sometimes combine with dirt/dust to further scratch your surfaces.

Microfibre cloth on Viewflex
Use a microfibre cloth on Viewflex

Always use a soft cloth when washing Viewflex. To reduce damage caused by UV rays, we recommend using a product like 303 Aerospace Protectant. Be sure to follow the directions and only apply to a clean surface in the correct temperature range.

Protectant 303 for Viewflex
UV products like Protectant 303 will extend the life of your Viewflex

Degraded Stitching, Zippers, and Replacing Viewflex

Seeing deteriorating stitching and discoloured/scratched Viewflex gives boaters the cold sweats, but it does not have to. Stitching and Viewflex can be replaced and will greatly increase the life of your top. This applies to zippers as well. Maybe you are a young boater that has never replaced a zipper on a jacket. Zipper replacement is much less expensive than replacing the whole panel. Having your service provider repair or replace individual pieces throughout the lifetime of your top will greatly reduce the cold sweats by making small repair investments over time.

Some Final Tips

Maybe the more modern word is “hacks” but lingo aside, here are some random tips to help you even further:

1) We use the word “canvas” because many people refer to their tops as such but remember that canvas is no longer used as a fabric and instead most boat tops are made of a synthetic acrylic topping.

2) Dehumidifying buckets (or a proper dehumidifier if you have the power) will greatly reduce the moisture inside of your boat when the top is on. If you have mold issues from a wet climate, using a dehumidifying bucket while your boat sits after a damp ride will help reduce the growth of mold. Be aware that chemicals like calcium chloride are used in these buckets and they must be disposed of properly to ensure you, your kids, or your dog do not get sick, and so that you are reducing pollution to the environment.

3) Retreating fabrics with a silicone waterproofing spray will stop your top from breathing and will hold moisture and cause mold. It is important to know that the weave of your fabric is designed to be water resistant, not waterproof, so it can breathe and release moisture.

4) You will notice that on a cold morning, which often includes dew, that your boat top will appear to sag. Do not worry! When the sun comes up it will dry the dew and the heat from the sun will tighten up the weave. Gently removing the dew will accelerate drying. If your top was made too loose and pools water, or is too tight and you cannot install the fasteners, consider having a service provider take a look to see if they can repair the problem.

Thanks for reading and we wish you gentle winds and wonderful memories this boating season!

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