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Adding a Sun Shade to Your Boat

Keep your cool by mounting a sun shade on your boat.

June 17, 2021

Shade is a rare commodity on the water, and a little more is worth a lot if you can eek some out. These four cool products bring your sunny-side temp down. Best of all, they all stow away when you want that tan.

Slimmshade boat shade in festive colors
Slimmshade comes in festive colors. The system was easy to mount, quick to stow and handy to carry. Randy Vance

SlimmShade

From $249; slimmshade.com

This snazzy-looking shade is designed to mount in T-top rod holders. It comes in eight color patterns including solid black, navy or royal blue ($249.99), and special printed designs such as the US flag, mahi, and blue, orange or tan compass roses ($299.99). SlimmShade will even add your custom logo. The fabric is densely woven of a fast-drying polyester thread and can be machine-washed.

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Most Like: A pop-up tent, but easier to set up.

Works Best On: Designed for rod holders on a T-top or arch.

Withstands Winds Of: Up to 10 mph

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Dimensions: 6 feet wide by 7 feet long

Stowage: It stores in a plastic map-case-style tube with a shoulder strap for easy carrying. Roll the shade snugly around the folded tent poles and slide it in.

Coverage: Covered the entire back of the boat from sunlight directly overhead.

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Installation Time: 10 minutes

Slimmshade connections on boat
Feed the longest two rods up through the bottom of the outboard rod holders. Randy Vance

How It’s Installed: The polyester shade is folded in thirds and rolled around segmented fiberglass tent poles. Shake out the sticks, allowing the elastic to pull the pole segments together. Feed the longest two rods up through the bottom of the outboard rod holders and into receiving sleeves sewn into each side of the shade. It may help to connect pole segments as they are pushed through the rod holder. Connect the elastic tie-down straps to the stern cleats. Snap the spreader pole in place between the long poles at the outer edge of the shade. Then tighten down the elastic to the stern cleats.

Advantages: It stows away easily in a 4-foot plastic map case with a shoulder harness. It’s easy for two people to assemble and mount, and stows away quickly.

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The Slimmshade rolls up for storage
Case in point, the included map case is great storage protection for your shade. Randy Vance

Disadvantages: Without exercising great care, the aluminum joints in the fiberglass poles can scratch the powder-coated finish. Wind can cause the shade to sway from side to side, diminishing steady shade. Unless you have rod holders on the front of the T-top, it’s only capable of aft mounting.

The Verdict: We liked the American flag look, its compact storage container, and the easy way it mounts to the boat. It quickly provided cooling shade. Practice would shorten the installation time, and it provided an excellent value for the price.

The Taco ShadeFin is easy to mount
Go 30 MPH, the maximum speed for the Taco ShadeFin. Mount it in a T-top rod holder for optimal shade. Randy Vance

Taco ShadeFin

$1,149.99; tacomarine.com

The ShadeFin is designed to mount in T-top or hardtop rod holders, but it can also be mounted in gunwale rod holders. In addition, there are several optional mounts ($50 to $299) that add innovative ways to provide shade exactly where it’s needed. Its mounting system holds it rigidly in place. Like all Taco Metals products, it is well-engineered and built for punishing service.

Most Like: An umbrella in a rod holder.

Works Best On: Gimbaled rod holders in a gunwale, hardtop or T-top.

Withstands Winds Of: Up to 30 mph while underway

Dimensions: 5 feet wide by 6 feet long

Stowage: Its zippered storage bag is a custom fit for the folded shade and accompanying rod mounts, and it includes a shoulder strap.

Coverage: It shaded the aft seats on our test boat.

Installation Time: 5 minutes

The ShadeFin locks in place
A locking collar on the top of the rod holder secures the top of the mount. Randy Vance

How It’s Installed: We used the rocket launcher gimbal mount in a T-top rod holder. A locking collar on the top of the rod holder secures the top of the mount, and the slotted bottom is threaded to accept a large locking hand nut on the bottom where threads from the gimbal mount extend. First, unlock the outside arms nearest the rod holder and spread them slightly. Fit the end poles into the corner pockets sewn into the fabric; extend the end arms fully and spread them about halfway. Then extend the other pair until they lock in place—this took quite a bit of force due to the new, taut fabric.

Advantages: It locked firmly in place, and held its position in crosswinds. Using optional mounts for gunwale rod holders, it is possible to direct shade almost anywhere in the boat. We mounted our test unit on both the T-top and the lower leaning-post rod holders to adjust for the late-afternoon sun angle.

The ShadeFin is easy to load up
Bagged in a polyester and mesh case, the ShadeFin will be safe and easy to load up. Randy Vance

Disadvantages: The ShadeFin might be a little heavy for smaller users.

The Verdict: Its $1,200 price tag is justified by its durable construction, versatility and effective sun protection. Taco’s marketing materials suggest consulting with the manufacturers of your T-top and rod holders for carrying capacity.

Stern cleats provide mounting points for the shade
Anchor Shade III uses a central pole and D-rings for connecting straps to the stern cleats. Randy Vance

Taylor Made Anchor Shade III

$159.99; taylormadeproducts.com

This no-fuss boat shade is easy to install on open boats, or boats with hardtops or Bimini tops for extra coverage. It comes in eight different colors to complement your boat. The square canopy gives beam-to-beam coverage and is as easy to use as an umbrella. It’s light and easy to stow, and the center pole can be adjusted to various heights.

Most Like: A beach umbrella

Works Best On: We think it would be useful on any boat with an area that needs shade, whether a bowrider, center-console, dual-console, express or closed-bow boat.

Dimensions: 6-by-6 feet

Withstands Winds Of: Up to 10 mph

Stowage: Comes with a canvas storage bag that easily fits the umbrella and the two-part pole.

Coverage: It provided excellent cockpit coverage beginning just aft and also just forward of our T-top.

Installation Time: 5 minutes

Shade mounted to aft cleats
Aft cleats provide the perfect mounting points. Randy Vance

How It’s Installed: We just popped it up like the umbrella it is, then secured the four corner straps to cleats aft and T-top storage forward. Once the straps are taut, the umbrella is secure in all but the strongest winds. It can also be stepped into floor sockets for fishing chairs or cocktail tables.

Advantages: Easy installation, low price and effective shade are all big pluses. With tie-down tent stakes, it could be used on a beach as well. Plus, the fabric offers some protection from rain.

The shade is easy to transport
Stowage is simple, light and compact. A shoulder strap makes it easy to carry to the beach too. Randy Vance

Disadvantages: Its single drawback is the obstruction of the pole in the middle of the area it is shading.

The Verdict: Outstanding value from a reputable company, durable construction, simplicity and broad color selection make it a top contender. It is light and easy to install, and once lashed down, it is extremely steady in wind.

The T-top Boat Shade Kit is stable at higher speeds
Stout telescopic poles fit in rod holders to keep the T-top Boat Shade Kit secure at speeds of up to 30 mph. Randy Vance

Taylor Made T-Top Boat Shade Kit

$549.99 to $749.99; ttopcoversforboats.com

Two heavy-duty telescopic poles fit snugly into gunwale or shotgun rod holders on the transom or forward rod holders at the bow. Nylon sleeves ensure a rattle-free fit. The heavy canvas blocks out direct sunlight, in our case from the back of the T-top to just beyond the back seat. It’s available in widths of 5 feet and lengths of 4, 5 and 6 feet.

Most Like: An awning that extends from the T-top.

Works Best On: Boats with gunwale or shotgun rod holders, and a hardtop or T-top to secure the edge.

Dimensions: 4 feet wide by 5 feet long

Withstands Winds Of: Up to approximately 30 mph

Stowage: The aluminum poles telescope down from 6 feet to just over 3 feet and fit in the zippered carrying bag along with the rolled-up canopy.

Coverage: Though its slack dimensions are just 4-by-5 feet, the resilient fabric stretched from 4 to 7 feet in width, and to 9 feet long with elasticity to spare. Our tests suggest it would cover most of the cockpit in an 8-foot-6-inch-beam boat.

Installation Time: 5 minutes

Web straps keep the shade in place
Web straps and polymer buckles secure it to the T-top rod holders. Randy Vance

How It’s Installed: It took about 15 minutes to install the first time. Once done with all the adjustments, it can be put in place in no more than five minutes. We set poles in the shotgun rod holders on the transom to spread the trailing edge over the aft seat. Web straps and polymer buckles secure it to the T-top rod holders.

Advantages: Easy setup is one great advantage, and it was one of the most compact in our tests when stored.

This shade is easily stored
Simple installation and storage are the design mantra for T-top Boat Shade Kit. Randy Vance

Disadvantages: The elastic fabric provides outstanding shade but no protection from rain.

The Verdict: It provided a taut beam-to-beam cover in our boat. Gunwale rod holders angled outward will increase the coverage with the fabric’s elasticity.

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