The post-pandemic rush to the sea has brought a whole new group of readers into the Practical Sailor family, so although many of you are already solved your winter cover cunundrum and may remember this post from years past, I felt it was a good time to help those new readers who are facing their first winter on the hard.
The onset of winter in the northern hemisphere brings with it that age-old problem: How best to protect the boat from snow and ice? Already boats on Lake Superior are buttoned up, and sailors as far south as the Chesapeake have already settled in for winter. While many powerboats choose shrink-wrapping over a more permanent solution, sailboats-with their masts stepped or unstepped-are perfectly suited for reusable custom, or semi-custom covers.
The topic of winter covers is worthy of a larger article all it’s own. A few years ago, seeking 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 $2,000 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 $1,500 and can last about eight years. A single-season shrinkwrap job will cost $850. 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 Weathermaxs 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.