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Choose the Right Boat Cover

There’s a long and varied list of factors that determine which boat cover is best for you.

October 13, 2016
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Choose the Right Boat Cover
Custom-top shops, like M&J Tops in Hampton, Virginia, make covers the old-fashioned way: by hand. John Tiger

The boat cover protects your vessel’s finish, interior and instruments from weather degradation, and helps keep critters out as well. In summer, the cover also helps keep rain out if your boat is kept in the water, preserving your boat’s batteries, bilge pump and, possibly, buoyancy. But is a custom cover worth it, or will an off-the-rack boat cover serve you just as well? Consider these issues.

Custom or Stock?
Owners of popular, late-model brand-name boats can purchase custom-fitted covers for their boats at discount prices online. Type in the year, make and model, and chances are good there’s a cover for your rig for less than half of what it would cost to get a high-quality cover made at a local custom-canvas shop.

For owners of older models or boats built in smaller quantities, or for those who have added accessory tops or towers to their boats, buying an off-the-shelf cover gets chancy. Most vendors offer semicustom covers listed under generic headings like ski boat, bass boat and runabout. This means they sort of fit. This is where paying a local custom shop more money may prove to be the better choice.

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Choose the Right Boat Cover
Generic boat covers are sold at big-box retailers. These will fit but are not custom-fitted. John Tiger

What’s It Made Of?
Buy the cover that best suits your intended use. If your boat stays outside year-round, then buy a higher-grade cover; it’ll last longer and protect your investment better. If you have a garage queen that sees the light of day only when you use it, a lesser-quality cover that keeps the dust off will do just fine. Generally, polyester fabrics, like West Marine’s Hot Shot or the ever-popular Sunbrella, will wear better, be less prone to mildew, and last longer than natural fabrics such as cotton or cotton blends. These cost more too.

Choose the Right Boat Cover
The cover ordered from an online retailer for a ski boat fits too tightly over the rub rails and is difficult to keep in place. John Tiger

Cost Considerations
We compared some off-the-shelf cover prices against custom quotes from Jill Brinson, owner of M&J Tops in Hampton, Virginia. Online, covers for boats in the popular 20- to 23-foot range averaged less than $750 in mid-2016, while Brinson would charge over $1,000, depending upon the specific customizations required.

Choose the Right Boat Cover
For specialty boats, like a wakeboard boat, a custom-cover shop is the likely place to go. For a cockpit or other specialty cover such as a box cover, seat cover and dash/equipment cover, you’ll have to work with a local shop. John Tiger

That’s no surprise. Do note that custom covers made locally will almost always fit tighter, look better, last longer and have custom features, like cleat flaps, Velcro closures, or vented support poles or access, that mass-produced covers won’t have. Also, Brinson notes: “While a cover from a local shop like ours may cost more than an Internet or mail-order cover, we’re right here, available, and we service what we sell. You can’t get that from a mail-order supplier.”

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