What to Look For in a Sailboat Winter Cover

Posted by at 12:28PM - Comments: (8)

December 4, 2012

Careful measurement for a snug fit is essential if you want the cover to last (Shipshape Canvas photo).

As the last couple weeks of autumn slip away, I thought it would be a good idea to repost a recent PS Advisor response to a letter from Michigan sailor and Practical Sailor subscriber Alan Hyde. Hyde was curious about boat covers, and except for the fortunate few who are bound below the frost zone this winter, or already there, I imagine a few other Waypoints readers are considering winter options.

We now have a boat—an Allied Seabreeze 35 sloop, hull number 23, from 1965—and overall, it’s a well-kept and sea-kindly boat. Winter is coming, and a winter cover seems in order. The [do-it-yourself] conduit-frame-and-tarp that PS featured is an option, but a fitted canvas (Sunbrella or better) cover is another, which will perhaps pay for itself in about three seasons. What is your view on this?

 Alan Hyde
Wolf Hound, Allied 35
Dover, Mich.

This is a big topic worthy of a larger article. For a snapshot view of the custom-cover options, we talked to Jim Welinski, co-owner of the family-run Shipshape Canvas shop (www.shipshapecanvas.com) in Duluth, Minn., where stored boats face some of the country’s harshest winters.

Most custom covers today are frameless, making them easier to stow and install than the excellent DIY frame-cover described on our website. In either case, a reusable cover will save money in the long haul. A robust, frameless winter cover for a Catalina 30 costs about $1,800 and can last eight to 15 years (with a re-stitching after about eight years), depending on how you treat it. Lighter-weight covers for less-harsh climates sell for just under $1,300 and can last about eight years. A single-season shrinkwrap job will cost $650. You do the math.

For cold-weather covers in dark northern climates, Welinski likes Top Gun, an acrylic-coated polyester that is tough, low-stretch, mildew-resistant, and abrasion resistant, just what is needed to stand up to fierce wind and cold. The material has two cons: It has a tough industrial finish, so a softer material is used to prevent chafe where the cover meets the hull, and it is not breathable, so good vents are essential.

For sunny climates with milder winters, Welinski recommends the UV-stable synthetic blend Weathermax, a breathable fabric that helps prevent mildew and condensation, but is not as strong and abrasion-resistant as Top Gun. Coated acrylics like Sunbrella are another option. Although not as tough or abrasion-resistant as Weathermax (see PS sailcover test, December 2011), Sunbrella’s 10-year warranty (pro-rated) against UV damage tops Weathermax’s five years.

Welinski also recommends using the UV-resistant thread Tenera in sunny places. Some canvas makers charge extra for Tenera, which carries a lifetime warranty, but others like Sailorstailor (www.sailorstailor.com) use it in all their products. Tenera’s downside, Welinski said, is that it can allow water to seep through needle holes when sewn into Top Gun, making it less desirable in this application.

For maximum lifespan, the devil is in the details. (Welinski abhors metal grommets, notorious points of chafe.) We recommend using a reputable local canvas maker that will measure your boat and help you fit the cover properly. All it takes is one fierce winter storm to shred a poorly fitted cover. Proper rope tension is critical.

If no local option exists, look for a company that has already fitted your model boat or has a template on file. Insist the company make adjustments for free within the first year. A high-quality cover should carry a four to five-year warranty for workmanship on top of the warranty for materials.

Comments (8)

I HAVE USED A COVER MADE BY FAIRCLOUGH SAILMAKERS FOR 15 UEARS ON MY SCEPTRE 43. IT IS NEARING THE END OF ITS USEFUL LIFE BUT IT HAS PERFORMED REALLY WELL. I AM NOT SURE BUT I THINK THE FABRIC IS ACRYLIC WHICH STANDS UP PRETTY WELL TO UV. INCIDENTALLY I HAVE A LARGE SOLAR PANAL ON MY DODGER THAT GETS ENOUGH LIGHT THROUGH COVER TO SUPPLY A TRICKLE CHARGE TO KEEP MY 900AH BATTERIES CHARGED.

Posted by: ROBERT F | January 6, 2013 9:45 PM    Report this comment

For my Sabre 28, I spent about $200. on a tarp and some 2x4 lumber for frames (fore and aft) to hold my mast about 7 ft above the cockpit floor (so I can stand up in the cockpit). Drapped the tarp over the horizontal mast, covered the safety line stantions with sponge rubber pipe insulation, then tied the tarp down. Had no serious tarp abrasions last winter (in Marion, MA), and have reinstalled it. Cheap but effective. Ware Fuller

Posted by: Ware F | December 7, 2012 7:13 PM    Report this comment

I am surprised by the low prices quoted for the custom covers. I was given an informal quote (not based on measurements) of $8-10,000 by a local canvas guy when I asked. I have a Gozzard 36 with a bowsprit and dinghy davits on the back. Does anyone have a tip on where I can find more reasonably priced options? Seems to me it would have to be a local guy to do the measuring and fitting, but maybe there is a DIY option. I have no experience or equipment for sewing a cover myself. I am in Anacortes, WA.

Posted by: Walter G | December 6, 2012 1:49 PM    Report this comment

An ounce of prevention is definitely worth the cost vs. the pond of cure in this area. Quality overkill are worth it in the long run. In 50 years of boat work, the more one can do to protect your "baby", is definitely worth preventing the headaches that shortcuts or cheap fix's cost. That applies to when your boat is being used during the rest of the year. Too many owners only use covers during the winter months being lazy or in a hurry to party etc. after they dock. Take the time to give a thorough wash down and dry and cover your investment. It will save you thousands of dollars in bright work repair and parts replacement, especially if you have someone else doing the labor on top of the parts replacement. Don't forget to wash those covers too, salt air & water help rapid deterioration of those items as well. You can never be too attentive in taking care of the details.

Posted by: Unknown | December 5, 2012 11:50 PM    Report this comment

I recently purchased a ShipShape cover for my 1970 Morgan 33 and it fit perfectly, I am very pleased with the construction and material. I added short lengths of foam pipe insulation on the hold down lines to keep them from rubbing on the hull and since my genoa wire/rope halyard is tight to the mast, I ran 4' lengths of pipe insulation up the halyard past my spreader ( taped together with duct tape ) to keep the haylard from fraying against the spreader and to stop the halyard from "slapping" against the mast.

Posted by: gary g | December 5, 2012 5:30 PM    Report this comment

Wish you had put this article out about a month ago. Has great info I'll save to consider next year. John G.

Posted by: john g | December 5, 2012 2:00 PM    Report this comment

Medium cost option: For our 35.5" sailboat that is hauled during the winter months on the Chesapeake was to design and construct a full cover using Top Gun. We completed the cover for last year and was very pleased with how it fit and the protection that it gave from rain,snow, and wind. After looking at various commercially made covers it was decided that our would be sectioned off into 5 sections, with each section connected to its adjoining sections with zippers. To increase the UV protection to the zippers a flap was designed into each section. the smaller sections and the zippers really make it so much easier to install in the fall and remove an stow in the spring. It is also designed to extend over the toerails to enable the water to drain off and not collect at the toerail. Yes we use tie down ropes that can be adjusted from the ground and have installed the brass tie down grommets on reinforced tabs that are sewn to the sections.This being the start of our second season we are very pleased with the cover and it is so much better then our old method of using plastic tarps and frames.

Bob Pulyer

Posted by: Robert P | December 5, 2012 12:06 PM    Report this comment

Our low cost option: Our 30' sailboat winters moored at Chesapeake Bay house (ice on the surface is very rare). Since 2008, we cover most of cabin & cockpit with a 20' long tarp over the boom (lowered to top of steering wheel). The heavy white tarp (best we found on eBay)costs <$60, lasts 2 yrs., easily accepts the needed grommets and, @ 8.5 ft. wide, our cover works as a sun shade when bamboo poles are rolled each end. At each tarp corner, nylon straps with bulky, figure-8 knots distribute the pull of the taunt tie-downs on the grommets, plus ~24" of nylon strap is glued (or sewn) to underside of tarp (in straight line of the pull). Yes, its important to keep all cover straps taunt. The center cut of the tent-cover, ahead of the mast, depends upon the cabin/ deck shape; ours had to allow sunlight to the 2 solar vents.

Posted by: John R | December 4, 2012 3:43 PM    Report this comment


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