The Big Boat Cover-up

One of my pet peeves with businesses in the marine industry is not showing up for appointments when we need an estimate. I can't count how many times we have called someone locally and said we were ready to spend some money, but needed to have them come out and give us an estimate. The response is always, "no problem, we will be there on XYZ day." That day comes and you wait...and wait...and wait. Finally, you give up when they are a no-show. We absolutely will not call someone back and beg them to take our money. Besides, if they won't show up for the estimate, what would happen if we gave them a job to do? The biggest offenders, in our opinion, are the canvas shops. I mean, if your not coming, call and say so, and if your too busy to take another job, tell me your too busy! But I am amazed how so many cry about how terrible business is and blame it on the economy, cheap boaters and all kinds of other influences.

Our solution was to buy a heavy duty sewing machine from Sailrite and make our own covers. We started small with the easy stuff and slowly progressed to the more complicated projects. We have made a couple of our own biminis and they may not be perfect and as good as the pros might do, but they sure look pretty good and we get lots of compliments. We wrote about the bimini project in this post. A recent project brought all of this home once again. We needed a replacement cover for the seats in the flybridge after the two-year-old vinyl covers completely wore out. Finding these anymore is difficult and they just don't last long. Of course, this time we did not even consider getting someone else to do this for us.

A friend in Annapolis gave us a few bolts of cloth in various colors and textures. Being one of those "cheap boaters," we decided to make the cover out of one of the bolts, even though it's not the same color as all of the other canvas. Beside, this is Beach House and we want to maintain that "Caribbean" look. We had a very nice bolt of a waterproof material in a dark blue that would be perfect, and there was enough material on the bolt. The pros like to make patterns out of sections of plastic material, but my preference is to use the actual material I'm working with to make as much of the pattern as I can. Doing some measuring and marking things off with chalk is a good start for me.

There is no room at all on the boat to lay out material of this size so the dock becomes my cutting floor. It does require some sweeping and cleaning of the dock before I get started. If the wind is blowing, I also need a few sandbags to keep everything in place. Using a yardstick and some chalk, or a chalkline for really long cuts, the bigger pieces are cut to size, allowing for any strange shapes and adding for the seams and bottom hem.

The material was a little too flimsy to make the patterns for the side pieces so I used my old standby; underlayment designed for laminate floor. It can be found everywhere, is very cheap, easy to mark and cut, and is just the right thickness to work with. Once I had the pattern marked off and cut, it was taken to the dock and laid over the material. I cut and marked the pattern to the exact size and then added another 1/4 inch for sewing the seams and an inch and a quarter where the bottom hem would be.

The sewing is usually done at the table in the main salon. For larger projects, it can be a struggle so we will try and find a picnic table somewhere to work. The Sailrite has been a great machine and has paid for itself many times over. We buy most of our thread and materials from them also. All of our covers are sewn with a UV resistant thread, and very seldom have we ever had a problem with the seams coming apart because the thread has deteriorated.

There might be several fittings and adjustments made before the final hem is sewn in place. Typically, there might need to be some tightening of the seams or adjustments on the curves to make a better fit and give it a better overall look. Once everything fits okay, the bottom hem is marked using the yardstick and chalk.

One more final fitting, a little more adjustment and the job is done. We are hoping that this one will last a lot longer than the store bought one. This project took a total of about two hours. The amount of time it takes depends on the complexity of the cover. But it's fun and we like the feeling of doing it ourselves and really like the money we save.

We have made covers for our windows, screens for the opening windows and the sliding entrance door, and a weather cloth for the flybridge. We even use a good quality white plastic tarp for sun awnings. We cut the tarps and resew them to give us semi-custom sun shades for a very small fraction of what the cost would be to have it professionally done or to even do them with a heavier-duty material. This way, we don't feel bad if we forget to take them down during some of those afternoon squalls with 30- and 40-knot winds. They still seem to survive quite nicely, will typically last us a few years and then we replace them. The awnings lower the temperature inside the boat by five to 10 degrees and cut down significantly on the amount of time the air conditioners have to run. All in all, we have been quite pleased with our results and even more pleased with all of the begging we have not had to do to get someone to take our money.


  1. Very nice work Chuck & Susan. My wife, Lori, has done all our zip in windows and will be doing all the sewing on our new boat too! We'd like to get a Sailrite but have to settle for our old Singer industrial. It gets the job done. Have you thought of using outdoor shade cloth for your window covers etc.? I've read of a few who have used it and like it.

    Rick & Lori

  2. Rick & Lori, My first sewing machine was a Singer heavy duty machine and it served me well for years until some gears broke and I could only get plastic replacements. That did it for that machine. I have used the outdoor shade cloth in the past to make awnings and it worked great. It is really inexpensive. We like using the different color material but the shade cloth would be a good choice. If the Singer gives it up, the Sailrite machines come up often on Ebay and other places at good prices. Have fun. Chuck

  3. Chuck and Susan- I'm with you. I have NEVER seen such a lacksadiasical attitude towards sales as I have in the marine business. And like you, I'm not going to fight with someone to take my money.

    Those sewing projects came out real nice, by the way. Good job!

  4. Thanks for the compliment. Unfortunately you are all too correct and it is not just the canvas folks that are guilty. Being in the industry for over 30 years, I am still appalled at the lack of response from some companies. But there are many out there that still do a great job. They are just getting harder to find. Chuck


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