Boat Enclosures–Extend the Life of Your Outdoor Room

The Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) 2014 Gam has come and gone.  It marked the end of our first year of cruising on Magnolia full time.  This was our fourth SSCA gathering at Camp Letts on the Rhode River in Maryland.  We love the Rhode River so this gathering feels like home for us.  Good folks and good information sharing.  Some new info, some info that confirms my understanding of different things and some that I already knew (that experience itself is new as I used to feel that I knew zip!)

Magnolia Underway in the ICW

This year there was a session on caring for boat enclosures.  Our enclosed cockpit is our outdoor “great room” where we spend a good bit of our time. I previously wrote about it here.  There were two speakers during this session.  Dan Wood of Canvas Creations in Annapolis offered several good tips on canvas and vinyl and Bill Creadon who talked about new advances in hard enclosure designs.  The following are tips from Dan with a few of my thoughts thrown in.

Sea spray – Flush the canvas and vinyl with fresh water to remove salt and debris when you can or about once a month.  Brush off bird droppings with a soft cloth or soft brush.

Waterproofing – If your canvas is fairly new wait until your canvas leaks before waterproofing.  The best waterproofing application is the one that the manufacturer initially applies.  Don’t mess with a good thing. Sunbrella says wait up to five years. If you use cleaners on the enclosure you may have waterproof sooner.  When your canvas is leaking, do waterproof.  Take off your vinyl windows, take the bimini down, clean it, and try a garden sprayer as an applicator.  Products like 303 and Aquatight were recommended.

Tip:  If you have some leaky thread holes such as those seams around a sail viewing window, try rubbing beeswax on the holes on a sunny day.

Life of Sunbrella – Dan suggested that as an example a sail cover made of Sunbrella fabric has a life expectancy of 10 or so years on the fabric.  You are more likely to encounter failing zippers and fading or rotting thread before that.  Restitching can prolong the life of the cover for a reasonable fee if you can’t do it yourself. Using black or white thread reduces noticeable fading. I use black thread on Captain Navy for exterior projects.  Dan’s opinion on Tenara thread is to consider all its properties.  Because it doesn’t swell, the larger holes tend to be leaky.   He also suggested using a very sharp needle if you choose to work with Tenara.  My opinion to date is considering the cost of Tenara I can buy a lot of V92 polyester thread and restitch as needed.  Full disclosure – I haven’t tried sewing with Tenara yet. Our enclosure was sewn with Tenara and doesn’t leak to date. Dan said that he often uses V138 and a # 17 needle.

Mildew – Sunbrella recommends a light non-chlorine bleach mixture with liquid soap (think Dawn or Woolite) in a gallon of water.  Test for colorfastness. You can try disinfectant wipes (after color fast test on a scrap or inconspicuous place) to try and keep mildew at bay. Sunbrella Plus is more water resistant, but breathes less so more apt to have mildew.

Zippers and Fasteners – Be sure to lube the zippers and fasteners that are exposed to weather periodically. My goal is to do it about once a quarter.  If you have leaky zippers consider adding flaps over them or building those into your next design.

Covers – Cover your vinyl glass to enhance its life expectancy as the sun’s UV rays are the most damaging to vinyl next to…

Harsh Chemicals – Be careful to avoid harsh chemicals on your vinyl windows.  NO: sunscreen, 303 waterproofing overspray, acetone, ammonia or Windex, Pledge, Rainex, or other chemicals that would alter the chemically-treated coating on the vinyl.  DO use: soft, clean, damp cloths like microfiber or chamois. Use products safe for plastics.  Novus, Plexus, Imar products work well, although expensive.  On Magnolia we think Plexus is worth it to help preserve the integrity of our vinyl which is two years old.

Restoring Vinyl – You may be able to buff out light marks and scratches.  But you probably can’t remove those deeper scratches that you can feel with your fingernail. You may be able to reduce cloudiness which is an indicator of aging vinyl that is starting to separate.  EisenShine is a fairly new retail product that you can use yourself to buff your vinyl windows.  It received high marks from Practical Sailor. The Practical Sailor articles add some information about using restoration products and discusses the pros and cons of a few others.  EisenShine is a bit pricey at $59. Watch for a gam or boat show discount.

The word from some vendors is that the quality of Strataglass is starting to vary and it may be loosing its mystique as the pre-eminent (read: costly) vinyl glass product. Some are seeing more defects and premature aging.  Some are recommending O’Sullivan and Regalite as a very good produce and slightly better price.  Regalite 40 gauge is what we have on Magnolia and are very happy with it.  The marks that we have on our two year old vinyl are self inflicted.  We like to think it shows we are really using our boat. I’ll be working with Eisen Shine to try and take out the marks. Talk to your fabricator about his or her current experience with different vinyls if you are selecting new glass.

A Different Enclosure Hard Top
A Different Enclosure Hard Top

Hard Binimis – Bill Creadon spoke about making hard dodgers and biminis out of a starboard-like hard plastic material that comes in a handful of light colors.  Working with Dan they have a way to insert vinyl windows on a bolt rope type system.  The windows can be pushed up underneath and out of the way.  Screens can be added.  Very interesting concept. Last year when they first set up as a vendor I wrote about the hard bimini here.



Sunbrella care:

7 thoughts on “Boat Enclosures–Extend the Life of Your Outdoor Room

      1. I will be glad to…you do a GREAT job on your blog! I have been doing all of my own canvas work for years (on an OLD metal singer) …then I was lucky enough to have a boat neighbor that shared his old sailrite (he felt sorry for me I think-lol)….I had so many people pushing me to do canvas work that I bit the bullet and bought a new sailrite. I have finished 4 (paying) projects and they are spreading the word…so I will really be looking to your blogs for tips. I already am going to use your covered pipe insulation idea to prevent burning the vinyl! i have covered pipe insulation with sunbrella for lifeline covers and it works great!! Thanks again. Keep up the good work!!

    1. Elizabeth, Thanks for checking in. Initially I started gathering info for myself and needed a way to organize it so I turned it into a blog. Glad it’s helpful to others as well. – Annette

  1. We use Novus on our eisenglass twice yearly. Here in the Great Lakes we boat for about 5 months. So we usually do it in the spring and again in August. It is great stuff. It really keeps your glass flexible and clear. We also are very careful with our eisenglass. I made BIG pillowcases for them out of t-shirt fabric. Our boat came with large canvas enclosures and we layer the eisenglass in the cases inside the canvas bag. We lay it flat in our forward berth. We’ve replaced quite a few panels about five years ago. Our eisenglass looks better than our neighbors that is only three years old. I just cringe when I see people roll it up and stuff it somewhere.

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