Want to have it made in the shade?
Then an enclosure is an excellent upgrade for your pontoon.
Enclosures just have so many uses, from adding a dry space for fishing off the stern to adding an entertaining porch are for guests.
You can even bring in a heater and keep warm during winter months, or have complete privacy for pontoon camping during the summer.
But to assist in the decision-making before you decide to purchase, I’ve put together a brief buyer’s guide based on my personal experience. For those of you still on the fence about whether or not you really need this, I’ll give you a few reasons why you should consider the purchase of an enclosure.
The Benefits of Pontoon Enclosures
Enclosures can protect from the sun’s harsh rays which cause skin sensitivities, sun allergies and even cancer. For those traveling with babies and young children, enclosures should be required!
Aside from providing some shade for people, these also shade your upholstery from damaging UV rays and prevents the vinyl from drying out, allowing it to last longer.
Strong winds (and of course rain) make for rough waters, already making it difficult to enjoy being on the water. Investing in an enclosure can help with this situation.
I’m not suggesting to become a full live-aboard, but if you haven’t taken a pontoon camping trip yet, you’re missing out!
Not only does it make for an inexpensive family vacation or weekend trip, but even if you just tie up to your own dock, you’ll love waking up in the crisp fresh air in the morning.
With enclosures, you can also enjoy a much longer boating season! Instead of dreading the end of summer—knowing you have to winterize your ‘toon and store it away—you might still have a few months left before really needing to pack it in.
7 Favorite Enclosures for Pontoons
1. Bimini Top
Best Choice carries a well-made top which is very easy to assemble and install. The canvas is a heavy denier and the frames are made of round, double-walled aluminum.
The great thing about this bimini top is that it’s not factory-made or boat-specific, and it can pretty much fit any size pontoon. On the flip-side—this also means it’s not as sturdy. I wouldn’t drive more than 25 mph with this set up.
2. Rain Shield
If you need just a bit more protection than a bimini due to rainy climates and unexpected thunderstorms, a rain shield is an inexpensive option.
The 20 gauge marine-grade plastic window will allow you to steer without squinting and protect your face from stinging hard rain while running full throttle.
But if you’re leaning towards a rain shield, keep in mind that it will attach to either an existing hard top or bimini.
3. PlayPen Shade
I recommend the Taylor Made Playpen Shade (click here to see more of its unique design!). The fabric is a lightweight, acrylic-coated polyester and resistant to both mildew and UV light.
It’s made to fit anywhere from a 22-foot to a 24-foot pontoon with up to a 102-inch beam. It secures to a bimini or hard top and also the railing by adjustable, quick-release buckle straps which makes it easy to pop up in the open water.
However, I found one downside. This playpen shade does obstruct the captain’s view and should only be popped up when anchored, but never while driving!
4. Gazebo Shade Top
A cool option by Taylor Made is this inexpensive gazebo shade top (click here to see different colors and pricing). I like this shade top because it hovers above the front bow of the pontoon like a gazebo. This means that, unlike the playpen, you can enjoy the view of the water while still staying under shade.
But I wouldn’t recommend using these types of shades while underway or in strong winds. They’re really only meant for sun protection.
You may notice that this top has mixed reviews everywhere, but if you pay attention to the negatives, most seem to be due to issues like the rods breaking while in motion.
5. Half Enclosures
A half enclosure is essentially a bimini top but with added privacy curtains on the sides, stern and bow. Unlike a full enclosure, these can be stored away in a boot like a standard bimini.
This type of enclosure allows the boat’s bow to still be accessible for fishing while giving you a place to stay dry or camp out on longer trips.
Once you start getting into enclosures of this size, you’ll find it hard to purchase a one-size-fits-all product. This is where you get into the territory of more costly, custom-made products with all the bells and whistles like windows and screens.
Canvas Craft manufactures custom-fitted pontoon covers of hand-stitched, marine-grade fabric. You can also tell they put a lot of engineering thought into their designs, which include adjustable poles allowing water drainage, built-in vents and screens for airflow and Velcro rail mounts for a secure fit.
Plus, they can fit their enclosures to a top you already own. And unlike many enclosures, they’re made in the USA!
6. Half with Bow Cover
This type of enclosure is similar to a half but with canvas stretching over the front toward the bow. If you’re looking for something a bit more economical but still need to keep the dry bow for storage—this is a great option!
Bow covers or playpens covers help protect the deck from dirt and debris while in storage or at mooring. These playpen areas typically come with supports or poles to lift the canvas so that it does not collect rain puddles.
Somewhere between this type of cover and a full enclosure is also the half with a front slant curtain. The curtain acts as a bow cover but at an angle. It has more floor space but less head room; you might sleep under it, but you can’t stand.
7. Full Enclosures
It wraps the entire pontoon, turning its living quarters into something resembling houseboat meets pop-up camper. The full enclosure is perfect for both entertaining and complete privacy.
Again, just like half enclosures, these need to be custom made by a local canvas craftsman or an online retailer like Canvas Craft mentioned above. And, by the way, the sleek enclosure on the left is a Canvas Craft creation, so be sure to contact them if it looks appealing.
As a heads up, a full enclosure can cost you around $2000 to $4000, depending on the specifications.
Pontoon Enclosure Maintenance
When you prepare to winterize your pontoon, take the enclosure off. This isn’t something to leave on year-round and you’ll still need to invest in a pontoon cover.
The only exception is if you own a half, half with bow or full enclosure–these are protecting the interior more than a standard cover.
There’s a variety of marine grade cleaners for maintenance, but the most important one to pay attention to is what’s used on PVC plastic windows or isinglass.
On these, be careful not to use harsh chemicals! Certain chemicals can eat away and destroy plastic, creating a clouded view. I recommend the IMAR Strataglass Protective Cleaner as a great cleaner; it’s made specifically for this purpose.
Similar to any type of canvas—such as a camping tent—you’ll want to be certain it’s as dry as possible before folding and putting it away into storage. Failure to do so can create mold growth really fast and that’s just no good. Even if you manage to wash it off, there are still spores buried inside the threads.
But if you find a few spores breaking out in clusters, use the Star brite Mildew Stain Remover. This cleaner will remove mildew with a spray, a light scrub and a rinse.
I also like that it’s a practical cleaner and useful for other materials like fiberglass and marine upholstery. If you live in a humid climate—you know mold grows on more than just canvas enclosures.
Whether you purchase a pontoon enclosure for a simple shade against the hot sun, or as a full enclosure against all elements—you’re sure to get more enjoyment out of the initial investment of your boat!
Adding this one small creature comfort can convince friends or family members—even those who aren’t too keen on the outdoors or water—to come aboard.
And everyone will find excuses to be on it that much more!