The 6 Best Boat Enclosures to Have It Made in the Shade
When your boat has the right enclosure, you can use it in all different types of weather. You'll get many more good boating days out of the year compared to what you could do lacking the right cabin or cover.
But notice how I've already referred to two different items that could be considered boat enclosures: cabins and covers. And that's not the end of the list. So, let's be clear about what a boat enclosure actually is before moving forward.
What Is a Boat Enclosure?
There are many types of boat enclosures out there on the water. Some larger vessels, such as a yacht measuring more than 45 feet, usually have multiple interior rooms, often on several different levels.
A cabin cruiser (the term is generally applied to boats measuring between 25 and 45 feet in length) usually has at least one berth and other interior spaces, including a head (toilet facility) and sometimes a galley (AKA the kitchen).
Most of the time when you hear the term "boat enclosure," it's referring to a structure built around the cockpit area of a boat with a generally open deck design. The most common examples of vessels where enclosures are added are pontoon boats, deck boats and motorboats.
When you choose the right boat enclosure for your boat, you can enhance the craft dramatically. You're converting an open, exposed vessel into a boat ready for inclement weather, a boat you can enjoy during overnight outings and a boat that provides you and your passengers more privacy and comfort in all conditions.
How to Choose the Right Boat Enclosure
There are a few factors that impact which boat enclosure will best suit your vessel. These are primarily (though not exclusively) boat type, where you use the boat and how you use the boat.
When choosing a boat enclosure, first and foremost, you have to consider what type of boat you have. A large long pontoon boat or a deck boat with a big open top can usually be enclosed with myriad types of structures, while a speedboat with a built-in windshield and an aerodynamic cockpit area will have fewer options.
Not only is a speedboat often the wrong shape for many types of boat enclosures, but consider the fact that a speedboat traveling at a rapid rate will create enough wind resistance to damage or even dislodge many types of boat enclosures.
If you spend long leisurely hours on your boat, or if you even use your boat for overnight camping, then it's imperative that you get a boat enclosure that affords you real protection against precipitation, wind and the splashing of higher waves.
If, on the other hand, you use your boat for shorter trips of just a few hours, then an enclosure that offers less cover is fine. Any decent boat enclosure will block the sun sufficiently, and you can simply cut the trip short if bad weather arises.
If you keep your boat in a harbor on the Gulf Coast of Florida, you don't have to worry much about freezing temperatures and you probably don't need a boat enclosure that can fully seal off your vessel.
If you spend time traversing the lakes and rivers of the northern reaches of North America, then an enclosure that approximates a room that can trap and hold warmth is quite a good idea.
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Boat Enclosure Material
The type of material from which your boat enclosure is constructed matters, and the locations and ways in which you use your boat play a determining factor in choosing which material suits your boat best.
Even after you have selected the right type/design of boat enclosure for your needs, make sure you choose an enclosure made from the right materials as well.
Salt water is more corrosive than fresh water, so make sure to think about the type of spray and waves that will be splashing over your enclosure. If the boat will be used in both freshwater and out at sea, then treat it as a saltwater vessel.
Sun exposure (UV damage)
If your boat is moored in a shaded area or parked under an awning when not in use, then sun exposure might not be a big issue.
If it's always exposed to sunshine, however, you need to find a material that's highly resistant to sun damage.
Consider updating your existing boat enclosure (or even a full cabin) with high-quality marine window tint to block the heat and damaging UV light created by sunshine.
Rain, sleet, hail and snow are all worth your consideration if any or all of these common types of precipitation are possibilities in your area. An enclosure that's impervious to rain might not be able to support much snow load, for example, or might be easily damaged by heavy hailstones.
The 6 Best Boat Enclosures to Have It Made in the Shade
There's rarely a one-size-fits-all solution to creating an ideal boat enclosure, and that's a good thing. You can use a variety of materials, fabrics and designs to instead create a custom enclosure that fits your needs and your budget.
1. Camper Enclosures
These enclosures create large protected areas of your boat, and they can be used in concert with various types of permanent or removable roof structures (see below on bimini tops).
A camper-style enclosure is usually constructed largely from thick durable fabric that offers protection against the elements and adds privacy, but note that they usually reduce the view out of, and fresh air passing over, large portions of your boat.
These types of boat enclosures are also typically custom-made. For example, here's a variety of boat camper enclosures from Great Lakes Skipper. However, If you're not too keen on this route, there are still plenty of ready-built and makeshift DIY options listed for you below.
2. Polycarbonate or Acrylic Panels
Polycarbonates and acrylics are both essentially transparent plastics. The former is the most durable and the more expensive, while acrylic is more flexible and more affordable, but not quite so shatterproof.
You can have a see-through enclosure fabricated out of these materials in almost any shape and design. Create a weather-resistant and wind-resistant enclosure around as much of your boat as you would like.
Most boaters design such enclosures around the driver's area and the seating nearest to the cockpit. More readily removable fabric or vinyl sheeting can always be used in concert with plastic paneling. Check out some examples here.
3. Fabric and Vinyl Sheet Enclosures
Using sheets made of fabric (usually canvas) and/or vinyl (prized for usually being see-through) to create an enclosed area around seating, a wheel area or other deck areas is often the most cost-effective way to create a boat enclosure.
Fabric and vinyl are also good choices because they're usually kept in place with zipper and/or snaps and can be rolled up and out of the way to create the open deck you love in fair weather.
An enclosure made of sheeting is also remarkably easy to customize and use in tandem with both permanent and removable walls and roofing.
4. Bimini Top
Sometimes the best boat enclosure is simply one that offers you some protection from the sun when you need it. Keeping rain off you is also a plus. In other words, sometimes all you need from a boat enclosure is a roof that covers a portion of the deck.
Two of the most common roof-only types of boat enclosures are the bimini and gazebo. The bimini is the ideal choice for the boater who doesn't want to limit their space and freedom to run around. Some boats were designed with plenty of open space without cabins, walls and a roof for a reason.
If you use your boat for fishing, as a platform for research or photography or for a variety of other uses, easy freedom of movement may be important. You can't well run from bow to stern of a boat as a prized marlin pulls at your line if you've erected a massive enclosure around most of the vessel.
You can find bimini top boat coverings for sale on Amazon for not much more than $100, depending on the size of roofing you need. Here's one great bimini option from Leader Accessories (check price on Amazon).
Make sure that whatever bimini boat top you choose, it's made from marine-grade material and that the frame can be easily attached to your boat.
5. Gazebos and Playpens
It's little wonder where these basic but reliable boat roofs got their name. They resemble the domed top of a standard gazebo.
They provide much the same function for your boat as a gazebo does for a property in that they create an area that's protected from the sunshine.
Gazebo shades, like this one by Taylor Made (check price on Amazon), will have to be lowered before you cruise at higher speeds, but they provide plentiful shaded coverage while in place.
While some are more open and some playpens are partially enclosed, they make great additions for the bow of a pontoon where they allow cover from the sun. Coasting at a gentler speed, you may even be able to keep these on while moving.
6. Alternatives to a Fixed Boat Enclosure
Whether you're watching your budget or if you simply don't want to add a permanent or even a semi-permanent fixture to your boat, you can still enjoy many of the benefits of a boat enclosure using more temporary, portable and cost-effective ideas.
Many of the same items that provide you respite from the sun, rain and wind back on land can be used on your boat.
Your average patio umbrella (check price on Amazon) isn't a great choice for use in high winds (or at high speeds), but it provides great relief from the shade and from light rains when deployed on the deck of your boat.
Use it when stationary or trolling slowly along. Just keep in mind that you'll need to bring the same heavily-weighted umbrella base (check price on Amazon) that keeps an umbrella upright on a deck or patio along for the nautical journey.
Camp chair with shade
Many camp chairs, such as this Quik Shade MAX (check price on Amazon), come with a built-in (and almost always retractable) sun shade. That means one affordable and portable unit can serve as both additional boat seating and can offer protection against the elements.
Better Boat's Fabric Waterproofing Spray is a terrific way to add a water-repellent barrier to fabrics, which will keep umbrellas and bimini tops from leaking and getting mold and mildew stains. It's safe for canvas, nylon, polyester and leather.
Ready to have it made in the shade? Choose the ideal enclosure for your boat, and get out on the water rain or shine!