How to cover a boat for winter: Top tips from a boat restoration expert
Boat restoration expert Will Higgs uncovers the deck cover options for boat owners.
Opinions are divided when it comes to whether you should cover a boat for winter. Some say the boat is best left uncovered to prevent sweating and condensation. In the past, when it was only my own boat that I was considering, it has depended on the intended maintenance activities for the winter in question.
Now that my business, Combined Marine Services, is responsible for the care of many different owners’ yachts, we have to consider not only security and protection from the elements, but also accessibility for boatyard work.
Our head shipwright, Matt Bunney, believes that you should always cover a boat for winter. Considering the length of time many vessels spend laid up, it’s clear that minimising the exposure of the gelcoat to UV will extend its life and good looks by many years.
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Boat covers can protect seals around windows and hatches from damage caused by freezing and then thawing. This also applies to the scuppers and general deck fittings. Side decks and other areas are also insulated from constant penetrating damp and standing water.
Covers help keep the boat as dry as possible to maximise available maintenance time during the winter season, while also protecting paint and brightwork and reducing the amount of mess to clean up in the spring.
This year, for the first time, my boat will be snugly nestled under her own bespoke, breathable, fitted cover. In the past, however, budgetary constraints inspired other more ingenious solutions.
A basic boom tent is a good start. Leaving it at least partially open at both ends to ensure a good air flow is important in keeping the damp at bay unless a dehumidifier is available. This strategy can be further improved by adding a tight line from gooseneck height on the mast down to the pulpit at the bow and stretching a second cover at an angle down between the boom and the forestay.
Make use of the mast
If the mast is down it can be placed on crutches on deck in order to create a ridge and a larger cover used. I’ve always found it effective to tie a long line around the hull just below the waterline and then use shorter lengths to tie the eyelets in the cover down to it. This spreads the load across the cover and makes it easy to adjust sections if they stretch or sag.
Care must be taken to storm lash the cover to stop it billowing in strong winds and being ripped off. I find that a diagonal line each way and three or four lateral lines over the top will keep the cover nice and secure. It’s possible to refine this strategy somewhat by adding hoops under the cover. These help to tension it and also add working space underneath.
Hoops can be attached at the stanchions, although they must be fixed as low as possible to minimise the strain. I’ve found blue water pipe and fibreglass tent poles to be highly effective. These can be braced with battens to hold their shape. If more extensive work is planned and space is at a premium then a tent will offer the best protection.
Bespoke tents can be bought at great expense, but it is possible to use timber or scaffolding to build a frame around part or all of the boat and then cover with a heavy duty tilt. In this case, a very strong cover will be required as well as more robust storm lashing.
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