Does your boat cover fit like a cheap suit-baggy, wrinkled, and sized for anyone but you? Maybe such a cover is adequate when storing a boat inside, but for outdoor protection, it's time you took a trip to Saville Row. In other words, pay a couple hundred bucks more for a patterned or semi-custom cover that's designed to match your boat's specifications.
What's the big deal about a cover? Consider the shortcomings of lesser ones. If the fit is loose, water pools in the pockets, leading to mildew and-if it leaks onto components-rust. Cheap nylon tarps also break down under UV exposure. While towing, an ill-fitting cover can balloon and shred, causing the fabric and snaps to slap and damage your boat's gel coat. "Anyone can stitch and sew a tablecloth or a tarp," says one cover maker. "Not anyone can sew a tarp that will withstand charging down the freeway at 70 mph."
The most durable covers are made from acrylics and eschew the use of cotton, which deteriorates in harsh conditions. Name-brand polyester fabrics such as Sunbrella and Aqualon hold up to the elements much better. When you look at a cover, the stitching should be straight-no careless zigzags-and reinforced in critical areas such as the bow and around the corners. Opt for a heavy-duty thread such as Tenara, a Teflon-reinforced Gore-Tex material that costs nine times more than standard poly-nylon thread but will outlive the cover it supports. Snaps should be within ¾" from the edge of the cover to prevent the edge from slapping against the side of your boat.
To test the fit and workmanship of top-end covers, we tried ones from Attwood Marine, Covers Inc., and ShoreMaster Fabrics on a Four Winns 190 Horizon. Here's what we found.
Attwood's Boater's Best Heavy-Duty Trailering Cover. Of the three, the Attwood is the most affordable. But keep in mind that the company sews universal-fit, not custom- or pattern-fit, covers. Our Four Winns cover, for example, is meant to enclose a Bayliner 1900 Capri as well. When choosing our tarp, we picked one that matched our boat's length and beam from the catalog. It lacks the snug fit and intense reinforcement around the console and cleats that one made specifically for our boat would have. Nevertheless, the Attwood is a tough blue-collar model with a five-year warranty. ($312; www.attwoodmarine.com)
Covers Inc. This neatly sewn and well-reinforced cover is made from waterproof Aqualon fabric-polyester-woven canvas with a vinyl resin coating. The material isn't breathable, but this cover has two vents behind the console section. If the inside of the boat gets wet, peel back the cover on the first nice day to help it dry out. Beyond the Aqualon's construction, the cover is reinforced with double-coated vinyl on the bow, around the cleats, and over the windshield. Another plus-you can design your own cover on the company's Web site to accommodate for custom features on your boat. ($515; 502/969-1119, www.coversinc.net)
ShoreMaster Fabrics Prism. With a snug fit and high-quality workmanship, the Prism cover fit the Four Winns like a glove. Plus, it was impeccably stitched without zigzags. To protect the gel coat, each fastener on the cover's edge has a flap beneath it, minimizing chafe. The Prism fabric is laden with UV inhibitors and boasts a five-year warranty. It comes in a handy storage bag similar to a tent's. Shore-Master makes patterned covers for 60 boat brands. ($561; 800/203-0563, www.boatcovers.com)