Sailboat Winter Covers: What to Look For

9

The approach 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 being pulled from the water, and sailors as far south as the Chesapeake are beginning to think about buttoning up 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.

Several seasons ago, Michigan sailor and Practical Sailor subscriber Alan Hyde posed that age-old question in our PS Advisor column, which I have reposted below.

We now have a boat-an Allied Seabreeze 35 sloop, hull number 23, from 1965-and overall, its 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 described in an archived PS report 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.

Sailboat Winter Covers: What to Look For
A reusable winter cover saves money over the long haul and reduces impact on the environment.

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 $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.

Sailboat Winter Covers: What to Look For
A Catalina 35.5 is buttoned down for winter in Marquette, MI. Vents allow for air flow that can prevent mildew.

 

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.

Sailboat Winter Covers: What to Look For
Reader Eric Wommack uses conduit, junction boxes, and furring strips from a local hardware store to create the frame of his winter cover in Delaware.

 

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.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

9 COMMENTS

  1. It’s great that you talked about sailboat’s winter covers and which one adapts to your weather. My dad’s thinking about getting a boat. He’s always wanted one, but since we live in a place where the temperature during the winter goes crazy, he’s worried about how to keep it well covered. That’s why I think this article is going to help him be prepared for it. Thanks for the information on how for cold weather, it’s important to find a cover to stand up to the fierce wind and coldness.

  2. The PO of my Bristol 35.5 purchased a frame and cover from Fairclough in CT in around 2000. I bought the boat in 2013, and by 2018 the cover needed to be replaced. I called Fairclough, they not only had the measurements, they still had the original purchase order! They quoted me around $1,600 for new canvas, since the frame is still fine.

  3. Darrell, a very timely article with the link to the PS sailcover test of 2011 just as informative. I bought a two-piece canvas tarp from that “reputable local canvas maker” (he is) in 2007 that weathered 14 seasons with only minor rips and tears until this past winter when the aft piece tore laterally from side to side. I went cheap on the frames, making my own wooden supports, very amateurish but adequate. From what you say, I seem to have gotten a goodly number of seasons for the $1200 I paid back then. The tarp is currently in for repairs. Fingers crossed that it will cover my 27-ft, mast-up sloop for a few more years here under the heavy falls of snow off southern Georgian Bay.

  4. My boat partner and I invested in a Fairclough custom cover (mast up) in 2008 for our 89’ Sabre 34 and although we’ve had several restitchings done through the years, I feel we made the right decision both economically and environmentally. Suggestions: Wrap foam pipe insulators around any and all possible chafing points using 3M Scotch #893 filament tape. Having a zippered door to use off season is a big plus as well as the vents for circulation.

  5. Rarely seen now are waxed cotton canvas covers. I worked for decades at a yacht club in Toronto and there were some covers that were over 30 years old. They were heavy but ridiculously durable. The only thing that seemed to kill them was poor storage. If left lying on a cradle all summer they would rot but if stored dry indoors were fine.

  6. We have a 2001 Catalina 42 which came with Top Flight cover. We replaced the cover with a new one from Top Flight, and had additions for storing with the mast up. We modified the rear to accommodate our new Tower in a Box, which required four new zippers and flaps to wrap around the tower.
    So 17 seasons from the first cover, and the new one going on three. Beats having to buy plastic shrink wrap every year, and filling up our waste dumps with all that plastic, and at less expense. And Top Flight is very responsive when you need parts (new conduit or brackets) or to modify the existing cover for new things.

  7. Here on Lake Erie we reuse shrink wrap I get 8yrs of use out of it Mast down with framework on a 42′ sailboat with 13.5′ beam. Some of powerboats are on 17 years of the same wrap a little tape goes along way.

  8. I built a cover for my 43′ sloop using different color scrap strips of Sunbrella fabric. At the boatyard they call it the Circus tent. After the first season the wear points were pretty worn (Sunbrella doesn’t have much abrasion resistance.) I made wear patches from an old cut up dingy and they have held without any obvious wear for the next 3 seasons.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here