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Tarp v. Custom Canvas Winter Cover

Discussion in 'Smaller Boats' started by Tyler Rippel, Nov 11, 2017. Add this thread to a FAQ

  1. Tyler Rippel

    Tyler Rippel

    Joined Aug 6, 2017
    56 posts, 3 likes
    Hunter 260
    US Atwood Lake
    I am behind schedule on getting a couple things fixed and covering my boat for winter, but I recently called a local boat cover maker out of curiosity and the quoted price of under $1000 for a custom cover was less than I was expecting.

    I just purchased a 12 mil tarp with plans to construct some sort of support and go the cheap wrap route (knowing it may last 3 years or less), but this cost is making me rethink that whole thing. If I can get a custom cover made with cutouts for around the stanchions and it will last 10-15 years, I may want to go that route.

    Who hear has a custom cover for mast-down winter storage? Thoughts?

  2. LakeShark


    Joined Sep 15, 2016
    316 posts, 98 likes
    Catalina 22
    US Minnesota
    It all depends. I use the tarp route but last year I went with a cheap tarp and only got a year out of it. This year I went with a heavier 30X20 tarp and am hoping for 2 years. We get a lot of snow here so I raise the mast and built a steep pitch with supports of PVC so the snow will slide off. By the time it was all said and done I think I was into the cover the first year for $200 -$300 and a $50 tarp every year or two. However a custom tarp is usually better and will last much longer. If I had the cash I think I would go the custom route but then again where I am at noe of the boats I see are under canvass as shrink wrap is far more popular.

  3. Ward H

    Ward H

    Joined Nov 7, 2011
    1,757 posts, 174 likes
    Catalina 30 Mk II
    US Barnegat, NJ
    1st years I used tarps. They were always sagging and never stayed tight. 2nd year I left the boat uncovered and freeze/ thaw cycle cracked a scupper fitting almost flooding the boat. 3rd year I built a frame and tarped it. A real pain. Last year my wife bought me a fitted cover. Very nice.
    I just bought a C30 and will have a cover made for it next fall. (It is wintering out of state this year)
    I paid $1600 for my 25’ Boat cover. Under $1000 sounds real good.

  4. shemandr


    Joined Jan 1, 2006
    3,422 posts, 528 likes
    Marblehead Skiff 14'
    US Greenport, NY
    You have a nice wife. You should give her a hug!

    flynhi4u and Will Gilmore like this.
  5. Ward H

    Ward H

    Joined Nov 7, 2011
    1,757 posts, 174 likes
    Catalina 30 Mk II
    US Barnegat, NJ
    Ohhh Yeah, I did.

  6. Tally Ho

    Tally Ho

    Joined Jan 7, 2011
    983 posts, 124 likes
    Oday 322
    US East Chicago, IN
    I did the tarp thing the first year I had my O'Day 322. Bought a custom-made tarp the second season.

    Getting a frame or something to attach the tarp to took a lot of work (I used wood all around the perimeter and screwed the tarp,down with some battens. Also had to make an A-frame to support it.

    It was UGLY and took a lot of work to put it on and take it off. See videos. The tarp was pretty much trashed after 1 season.

    The new tarp is easier to install and remove, and seems to be holding up pretty well. Costly to purchase (about $1,200 IIRC).


  7. Will Gilmore

    Will Gilmore

    Joined Oct 19, 2017
    2,581 posts, 1,064 likes
    O'Day 19
    US Littleton, NH
    I wintered my mariner 19 under a large tarp that is big enough to fold in half and still cover my ~25' mast plus generous overhang. I made sure to keep it tight from gunwalls to mast and didn't have any problems, it will go through this winter the same way. Here in Northern New Hampshire, we get snow and lots of big temp changes. Dragonfly stayed perfectly dry, I knocked snow off her twice near the end of winter. I also have an aluminum outboard with a fitted heavy cover. Since we live in the mountains and the woods, I had a tree branch blow down during a storm and ripped the heavy, fitted, expensive, cover open. At $50 for a tarp, you can replace that 20 times to equal the price of a thousand dollar custom cover. Use packing tape and stick cardboard down over the sharp edges of your mast, stanchions, lights, etc. so they are both blunted and smooth to a tarp being pulled across them. when you pull the tarp over everything, tie it down by all points (grommets) so there is no flapping around in a wind. A simple 2x4 A-frame does wonders. You could also use cheaper strapping and improve the whole structure by putting in more supports closer together. I have trouble with PVC because it bends more easily, so putting in more stringers for bracing is required.
    Admittedly, I don't have as much experience with this sort of thing as most people on SBO. I just hope I've given you something to think about.
    -Will (Dragonfly)

    BrianRobin likes this.
  8. dziedzicmj


    Joined Aug 13, 2012
    434 posts, 70 likes
    Catalina 270
    CA Ottawa
    A decent tarp ($200-$300) should last good 5-7 years. A $1000 custom cover is a good deal , if you can get it.
    However, assembling the skeleton for the custom cover may not be a simple job. I had one on the previous boat and it was a pain.

    Lately, I use the mast as the spine and a number of ribs made of the conduit and 1" PVC water line. The cost is substantially lower (all in under $400 CAD) than custom cover ($around $2500) and the time and effort to setup and tear down is similar.

    I find that the PVC/conduit is lighter than wood (2x4?), so it is easier to set up.

    No question that the custom cover would fit better.

    Btw. the important thing is to set the cover with high enough pitch so it would shed the snow. On top of that if the spine is high enough you can walk under the tarp (as opposed to crawl).

    Will Gilmore likes this.
  9. David in Sandusky

    David in Sandusky

    Joined Nov 8, 2007
    1,059 posts, 136 likes
    Hunter 27_75-84
    US Sandusky Harbor Marina, Lake Erie
    Another viewpoint:

    We have stored Lady Lillie uncovered outside for 18 winters with no damage to her. Fiberglass, aluminum, and stainless are impervious to cold and snow. Ultraviolet which does deteriorate our gelcoat is minimized by snow, clouds, and short days. I do pull the wood and replace it with pine so I can maintain it as required over the winter. Just sayin’...

    Last edited: Nov 12, 2017
  10. Tyler Rippel

    Tyler Rippel

    Joined Aug 6, 2017
    56 posts, 3 likes
    Hunter 260
    US Atwood Lake
    Thanks. Lots of good points and things to consider. Still no closer to making up my own indecisive mind :)

  11. Crazy Dave Condon

    Crazy Dave Condon

    Joined Jun 8, 2004
    6,423 posts, 501 likes
    -na -NA
    US Anywhere USA
    Again as I tell everyone, I would not use the mast for placing a tarp over. If you do you better at least support it. Either way you could damage that mast and you will have a heck of a price to pay for it and no insurance will not cover in many cases unless specified. That applies to snow, rain, hail, etc.

    Captain Larry-DH likes this.
  12. Kings Gambit

    Kings Gambit

    Joined Jul 27, 2011
    2,684 posts, 469 likes
    Bavaria 38E
    US Alamitos Bay
    Buy the custom cover and move on--how could it be a wrong decision?

  13. Maine Sail

    Maine Sail Moderator

    Joined Feb 6, 1998
    10,648 posts, 481 likes
    Canadian Sailcraft 36T
    US Casco Bay, ME
    If you plan to keep the boat, or any boat, for more than a few years, you may want to consider investing in a shrink wrap gun and supplies.

    The cost to shrink wrap our boat is less than a custom cover by quite a bit even when amortizing the equipment into the cost, yet it si done exactly how I want it.. I found my Shrink-Fast gun on Craig's list, during the off season, advertised as "used once" but when I got it I honestly don't think it had ever been opened. I picked it up for over 70% off even the best on-line prices. I simply set a google alert and specifically searched in the off-season.. Initially I wanted a custom made canvas cover but I could not find a single company willing to build the cover I needed. I DO NOT cover the hull and the cover stops at the toe rail. Nothing touches our painted hull. Even Fairclough declined to build the cover I wanted.

    The key with any cover is frame design and frame pitch, especially for those of us in close proximity to the water where the snow can be very wet and heavy. I have yet to see any snow stick to our cover enough to cause it to sag..


    * Search for a shrink gun in the off-season and you'll save big money.

    * I buy my shrink wrap in bulk/wholesale and each roll gives me 5 years of shrinking at a total cost of about $48.00 per year for a 36' boat. Actual cover is closer to 39' due to vestibule design.

    * The frame is simple & made of doubled up 1X3 strapping for the ridge pole & 2X3's for the uprights and cross ties.. Total cost of materials was less than $70.00 for the frame and screws but this frame is going on 8 years old now. I label it, store it, and re-use it.

    * I use ceramic coated deck screws and they are re-used each year, the screws are going on 10 years use.

    *The shrink wrap is 100% recyclable and I have a guy that picks it up each spring and recycles it. (I think he actually sells it to the plastics recycler for .XX per pound).

    Cross-Ties (2X3's) & perimeter boards (1x3's) prevent snow load from bending stanchions:

    Cross-tie end detail. This makes them 100% removable, from inside the cover for any deck work etc...

    Vestibule entrance...

    BTW this cover just recently survived the storm that took out power for 491,000 homes & businesses in Maine. Casco Bay is right on the other side of the hedge about 100' away. Our neighbor behind us lost a 125' tall pine tree in that storm.......

  14. Crazy Dave Condon

    Crazy Dave Condon

    Joined Jun 8, 2004
    6,423 posts, 501 likes
    -na -NA
    US Anywhere USA
    Mainsail hit it on the head, the higher the pitch the better snow and ice will fall away. That is why you see more homes now with steeper pitches. A lot of good information here and will leave that to others.

  15. SeaTR


    Joined Jan 24, 2009
    350 posts, 2 likes
    Hunter 22
    US Groton
    I trailer my boat to/from the mooring in Pine Island Bay every year, and after haul out, store on my driveway.

    Yes Crazy Dave, I use two layers of heavy duty tarp OVER MY MAST (blasphemy I know..), which is supported at both ends with self made adjustable crutches and an intermediate support at ~ the 1/2 way distance. The 20' x 30' tarps ($ 80-100/ea) last for ~2-3 years in the sun during the off season (NOV - APR). When the exposed top tarp succumbs to the sun's UV rays, it gets rotated to the bottom layer of the 2 layers, protected from the UV rays.

    I'm careful to not let the degradation of the top tarp to go 'too far', as it will flake off onto / into the boat when it is rotated to the inside layer. The tarps are tied down to the trailer. I've used this method for the past 11 years with great success. The slope of the tarps sheds rain and snow, while allowing access for off season maintenance activities ( allowed by our "wonderful" Southern New England winter weather).

  16. Tally Ho

    Tally Ho

    Joined Jan 7, 2011
    983 posts, 124 likes
    Oday 322
    US East Chicago, IN
    My cover uses the boom as a tent pole, and the bow section uses a halyard to hold it up. I put mine on last weekend, by myself, in under 2 hours, and that included time to shovel 5”of snow off the side decks and out of the cockpit.



  17. Will Gilmore

    Will Gilmore

    Joined Oct 19, 2017
    2,581 posts, 1,064 likes
    O'Day 19
    US Littleton, NH
    :wow3:, Maine Sail!
    You know, if you made that cover just a tiny bit bigger and supported it with legs instead of the boat, you could just leave it up and back your boat in and out of it. Kinda like a garage.:)

    -Will (Dragonfly)

  18. Richard Bryer

    Richard Bryer

    Joined Jun 3, 2004
    856 posts, 30 likes
    Hunter 34
    CA Toronto, Ontario Canada
    I have covered my H34 with a wooden frame and tarps for 13 years now. I build the frame out of 1X3's with a double layer for the ridge pole, which is covered with a strip of cheap outdoor carpet. The frame is assembled with 1.25 wood screws. I take it apart every spring and bundle the ridge pole sections in one bundle, the starboard side ribs in another, the port side in a third and the vertical pieces in the 4th. I cover it with two tarps- easier to handle than 1 big one- the front is 20X30 and the rear is 16X20. They overlap by about 2 feet. The frame has cost me about $100 in total over the past 13 years, the tarps cost about $175 for the two HD tarps. They have lasted at least 4 years- I am on my third set now- so a total cost of 625 for 13 years or just under $50 per year. Throw in another $20 for replacement tie down line and HD duct tape to mend holes each year.

  19. flynhi4u


    Joined Oct 28, 2013
    619 posts, 160 likes
    Hunter 20
    US Lake Monroe
    I fought the tarp on our boat the first season we had here. No amount of pitch sheds freezing rain and we had 3 rounds of it that winter.
    I now give my parking spot in the garage to the Memory Maker. Its a tight squeeze and I have to remove the mast and replace the 13 inch tires and wheels with a set of 5 bolthole 8 inch tires and wheels. This gives me about an inch of clearance under the door. So much nicer storing her inside.
    Cindy wants a bigger boat with a englosed head. We are searching for a First 235 but first a I am building a boat bay on our garage big enough to hold it. Once you have stored inside, you won't go back.

    Sam, in the Indiana deep freeze

  20. TomY

    TomY Alden Forum Moderator

    Joined Jun 22, 2004
    1,151 posts, 659 likes
    Alden 38' Challenger yawl
    US Rockport Harbor
    This has worked well enough for a decade +. It's simple, just a 3 piece ridge pole and 4 A frame supports. This system works because my bronze stanchions slip in and out of bases for easy removal.

    Goes on fast! I do it alone in about a half a day. Unconventional - I buy 30x50 tarps to run down over the topsides well below the waterline. As well as tying under the keel, the tarp is held by the jack stands. The main reason it holds up is the ends are rolled up between 2 2x's scraps that are screwed together. That captures the hull like a net. It's quite rugged.

    The tarp is loose enough to allow air to move over the topsides(I once had awl-grip bubble from shrink wrap incorrectly covering the topsides tightly-don't let anyone do that!), but there is no chafe as grommets etc, are below the waterline.

    On the harbor edge the boats are exposed to 50 -60 knots(the most I've seen in winter). Wet snow will stick to it and catch at the toe rail so it's not 'maintenance free', but close to it. I live very close to keep an eye on it. Xmas covered.jpg

    This cover is a good compromise for doing some off season work. In the early spring the solar gain below can make it quite pleasant to get a jump on something that needs doing(like this: restoring cockpit coamings).

    Boat work under cover 2 (1 of 1).jpg
    Cons: if the wind is blowing you will go insane after a short time inside. The tarps don't last that long if you want to stay dry below(2 years avg). But as a builder I recycle the tarps for multi purposes before they are disposed of.

    Pros: In spring you can easily un-roll the bow or stern to allow working below in warm(not blistering hot) dry conditions. Then easily roll the cover back out to allow coatings to dry in the cool moist spring conditions we deal with here in Maine.

    Cover open.jpg Cover open far.jpg
    There is one custom covered boat in the yard. It's nice but the owner and a helper spend the better part of 2 days erecting the frame (metal conduit system) and cover on a 42' boat.

    Shrink wrap looks like the best all around system to me. But it's not fool proof, no cover is(only heated indoor is that). Many attempts I see at covering a boat are far worse than no cover at all.