Winter Boat Covers: The Boat Owner’s Complete Guide to Covering Up

Winter Boat Covers: The Boat Owner’s Complete Guide to Covering Up

Plastic or canvas?

Does the color matter?

What size? What brand?

There are so many options when it comes to winter boat covers that making the right choice can be a bit overwhelming.

But you've got to figure it out.

When it comes to boat maintenance, winter boat covers are an absolute necessity. With this guide on general boat covers (plus a few extra tips on proper storage techniques), you can keep your boat protected all winter long.

Types of Winter Boat Covers

The styles of winter boat covers range from custom-fitted boat covers to styled-to-fit boat covers.

If you plan on transporting your boat and not leaving it on a boat lift, you'll certainly need a custom-fitted boat cover. Can you imagine what would happen if you drove down the highway and the wind got trapped beneath?

Boat cover colors are a giant debate among boat owners and boat cover manufacturers.

Dark colors like black will absorb heat. In hotter climates, this is considered a good thing. The black color will make temperatures beneath the canvas so hot that mold and mildew won't grow. You can thank all the Florida boaters for that trick.

In other climates, light colors reflect the sun and keep your boat cool beneath its cover, but they also show dirt and stains.

My simple suggestion? Ask locals in the area with both light and dark covers about any issues they have. When in doubt, go somewhere in the middle with a charcoal grey.

Winterization Shrink Wrapping

Shrink wrap for boats was for transporting brand spanking new watercraft to boat dealerships. But now, shrink wrapping services are widely offered at many marinas and storage facilities.

Once reserved for vessels with teak wood finishes and not fiberglass, shrink wrap was absolutely necessary to protect wood from ice and snow. While I personally don't find shrink wrap necessary for modern fiberglass watercraft, it still has its advantages.

Shrink wraps are so suction-tight that they protect against rodents, insects and even dust particles. The material is also non-abrasive and will never chafe or scuff up your fiberglass.

Up until a few years ago, it wasn't even considered an easy DIY project. Today, boat owners can get their hands on the necessary tools for the job. For example, you can buy shrink wrap right on Amazon. Still, I would recommend hiring a professional.

A major disadvantage of shrink wrap is its price. It isn't an affordable option, and worse, you can't re-use the wrap come the following year. You have to throw it away, and, if you're lucky, find a recycling center to dispose of it.

Custom-fitted Boat Covers

There are several custom-fitted boat cover manufacturers to choose from, including: Carver, Shoretex Boat and Westland. As noted earlier, a custom-fitted boat cover is great for frequent travelers. The cover won't billow while you're driving down highways.

Bimini Boot Covers

Don't forget your bimini storage boot! If your boat doesn't have a boot to store your bimini, this will add another layer of protection.

I suggest the Survivor Marine Products Bimini Top Storage Boot (check price on Amazon here).

Boat Cover Materials: Plastic vs. Canvas

Aside from a shrink-wrapped boat cover, the most common boat covers are made from plastic and canvas materials. Of course, they both have their advantages and disadvantages.

A canvas-like fabric gives a balance of being both watertight and a breathable. You need the breathability to allow built-up condensation to evaporate but also to keep out rain and snow.

Plastic Boat Covers

When comparing plastic boat covers, look for something rated with 600 Denier and marine-grade PU. These features will act as a waterproof barrier and protection against the sun's UV rays.

Here's a heavy-duty plastic boat cover (check price on Amazon here), which comes with tie-down straps and a carrying bag. Consider the option of telescoping boat cover poles to help keep it from drooping and collecting rain and snow (which could damage the cover).


Plastic boat covers are the more affordable option. Plus, you can find them at online retailers and order them for relatively fast arrival.


Plastic boat covers will never be a truly snug fit. Wind and strong storms can carry them off your boat, leaving it open to the elements.

Even when investing in 600 Denier marine-grade plastic, there's only so much it can handle. Oftentimes due to the loose fitting, grommets have been known to tear off, and there will be several areas where tie-down ropes have chafed and thinned.

Canvas Boat Covers

Canvas boat covers can be purchased as generic model sizes and custom-made specifically for your boat. Boaters can also order custom-fitted canvas boat covers.

This is the most ideal, yet expensive option, but it's well worth protecting your investment.

Having a custom-fitted cover means that all the ropes and grommets, and anything that might otherwise get whipped about in wind, will cause minimal damage to your boat's bright work and fiberglass.

For an all-around universal boat cover, I recommend the MSC Heavy Duty Canvas Boat Cover (check price on Amazon here). It fits a variety of boats including V-hulls, tri-hulls and runabouts.


Due to a weightier fabric construction, canvas boat covers won't flap around in windy conditions (and potentially blow away).

Canvas is an excellent boat cover material for boaters who keep their boats in locations with extreme weather conditions. A quality canvas boat cover should survive and protect your boat for many years to come and through many seasons.


Canvas boat covers are the more expensive option out of the two.

Although canvas is more breathable, it's less waterproof. Boaters may need to reapply a fabric waterproofing spray every couple of seasons or so.

Canvas can be affected by sun damage. It can weaken the threads and cause rotting and even chafe where you properly secure down the cover along the edges.

When it comes to repairing a tear or hole, a canvas boat cover that's not custom-fitted is more costly to have a professional patch-up. For boaters, it's less expensive to toss away a plastic cover and purchase a new one every year.

How to Properly Apply a Boat Cover (With Some Preparation)

The first thing you need to do is prepare your boat for winterization. Whether you're winterizing an inboard boat motor or an outboard boat motor, these steps are crucial beforehand.

After winterizing the engine, clean your boat inside and out with boat soap. Remove the bimini top. Clean the canvas, and make sure it's good and dry.

Anything that's absorbent - like fabrics, upholstery and carpet - needs to be thoroughly dry or you'll develop mildew (more on that below).

After the bimini is dry, place it in the boot. Make sure the entire boat is completely dry before even thinking of applying the boat cover.

When winterizing your boat, it's important to disconnect and remove all batteries and electronics, like fish finders and boat GPS devices. You'll need to charge them through winter anyway, so take them out of the boat and away from the elements.

The same goes for anything with liquid filled gauges and speedometers. You'll want to store them at home or in a garage where it's above freezing temperatures.

Critters, of course, are another issue. In winter, anything from birds to squirrels, to even raccoons try to seek shelter and your boat is the perfect place to claim squatting rights.

Regardless of how cute they are, they can chew wires, scratch up upholstery and do quite a lot of damage. These days, however, there are a number of animal deterrents and pest control tips to keep them from destroying your boat.

Combating Mildew with Proper Air Circulation

Give your boat's interior proper air-circulation. If you don't take the proper steps, you'll find mildew and even mold around your boat come spring. Trust me that's one distinct odor!

My suggestion is to invest in these two crucial tools to combat mildew on your boat:

Marine Support Poles

Propping up a few support poles beneath the canvas adds air circulation and keeps your cover from developing pools of water.

If your cover collects a pond, the water can saturate canvas or break down plastic, resulting in a wet flooring. And a wet floor can lead to a petri dish of mold come spring. 

I recommend Better Boat telescoping boat cover poles. Made from marine-grade aluminum, they adjust to any height from 23.5 to 56 inches. It has a sturdy base and comes with a button-style snap ned and a mushroom-style top to accommodate a variety of situations.

For full support, also take a look at the Taylor Boat Cover Support System (check price on Amazon).


Invest in a boat dehumidifier.The Better Boat refillable dehumidifier container uses pellets (available in handy bags) made of activated charcoal to keep musty odors away.

Through the winter, check in on your boat every now and then. If it sits outdoor seven if beneath a shed or shelter of some sort make sure the cover has not been damaged.

Even when storing your boat inside a marina with a locked gate, theft is a concern. Be vigilant and visit your boat. Let her know you miss her!