Sailboat Winter Covers: What to Look For

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sailboat winter cover

Shipshape Canvas

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 being pulled from the water, and sailors as far south as the Chesapeake are beginning to think about buttoning up for winter. While many power boats 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 an archived PS reportis 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 countrys 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), Sunbrellas 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. Teneras 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.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and his girlfriend Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. 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.

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