Purists will argue that boats are designed to have their lines speak for themselves, no dodger or bimini or flybridge cover necessary. But an enclosure adds to boating pleasure in several ways. It protects you from the elements so you arrive less weather-beaten and therefore less fatigued. Rain or cold may keep you in the slip, so a good enclosure will also get you out on the water more often. And finally, an enclosure will protect your furniture, fixtures, and electronics.
Your dodger or bimini or flybridge cover will do all this, that is, if it is well-designed and meets your needs. Here are some essential points to keep in mind.
Good design means the lines of the enclosure will compliment the lines of the boat. The addition should not be too tall or boxy, and the top should have a crown so that water channels away. The design should be void of wrinkles and should be tight, but since most materials shrink over time, there’s a long-term tradeoff between being initially drum-tight, and being reasonably easy to put on and take off later in life.
Sight lines are important. Zippers and fabric connections should be discreet and windows should wrap around corners in a radius, to prevent blind spots that are not only annoying but also are dangerous.
Functionality is crucial. Does the design allow for good ventilation? Does it provide easy access, especially in heavy traffic areas? Does it allow you to close or cover the structure without having to reach around awkwardly or hang outside the boat to zip, cover, or open it?
More are some more factors to consider. How does water and spray move on and around the enclosure? The structure should avoid pooling and should shed water easily. Can it tolerate repeated runs at 25 knots if your boat goes that fast? Does it sag, pull or even squeak when the boat moves? A noisy cover will stress your nerves.
How long do you want your enclosure to last? How much time will you have to take proper care of it? Most structures have a life span of five to eight years depending on maintenance and use, but others have served 10-plus years without fail, especially when you add in a protective cover. Considering that a flybridge enclosure on a 50-foot powerboat can run anywhere from 5 to 20 thousand dollars, it's worth thinking about it as an investment before you make a decision on the quality of materials and the price of experienced labor.
A complicated design will be hard to live with over time and will be more expensive to create initially, not to mention that it may not blend well with the aesthetics of the boat. In many cases, a good enclosure provides nearly invisible functionality. The cleaner and less obtrusive the design, the more thought that probably went into it.
A collaborative effort with your designer will produce the best long-term design. For the duration of your project, your fabricator will be your partner—so pick one you can live with, to create an enclosure you can live with happily for even longer. Here are 10 essential tips for working with your fabricator.
- Word-of-mouth provides the most credibility. Ask your dock neighbors who they’ve worked with on their enclosure projects.
- Walk the docks. Check out label names on enclosures you like and then get feedback from the owners if possible.
- Take pictures of what you like and what you don’t. Then use them to start meaningful conversations with your fabricator.
- Get current pictures of a shop’s work and ask about their turnover, to make sure the people who created the projects in the photographs are still working there.
- See samples of materials at the shop’s office/showroom and understand the tradeoffs of each given your climate, budget and priorities. For a better understanding of what each offers, read Marine Canvas Enclosures: What’s What and What’s New.
- Consider the longevity of the business. Will they be around a few years down the road, to fix whatever happens with your enclosure?
- Understand that this project is a collaborative effort. Stay involved, but stay open to new ideas and solutions.
- Get a detailed and itemized estimate and discuss how cost overruns will be handled —before they happen.
- Ask lots of questions—about materials, upgrades, tradeoffs, cost specifics, delivery times, and anything else you can think of.
- Most fabricators will take a deposit (up to 50 percent) up front, and that’s a good time to ask about their satisfaction warranty. How much time do you have to ask for adjustments, as you learn to live with your new enclosure? Ninety days is typical, and that's long enough to know if the design will work for you.