boat-enclosures

The 6 Best Boat Enclosures to Have It Made in the Shade

The weather is fickle.

Your enjoyment of your boat shouldn’t be determined by whether or not the weather is playing nice.

Boating should be fun rain or shine!

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.

Boat Type

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 also 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.

Boat Use

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 against 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.

Boat Location

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.

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.

Water type

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.

Also 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.

Precipitation

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 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 are 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

Preview
Krypt Towers Dolphin Pro2 T Top Splash Guard and Weather Enclosure, Curtain Protects Driver from Weather, Spray, and Wind. The Curtain is Made of .40 Marine Grade Clear Vinyl, Zippers on Easily
Oceansouth Universal T-TOP Enclosure, Spray Shield, Clear, Spray Curtain, for Consoles Over 27½''
Dolphin T Top Windshield. This Windscreen Mounts To Any, and Doubles as a Splash Guard. The curtain is contructed of .040 Marine Grade Clear Vinyl.
Item
Krypt Towers Dolphin Pro2 T Top Splash Guard and Weather Enclosure, Curtain Protects Driver from Weather, Spray, and Wind. The Curtain is Made of .40 Marine Grade Clear Vinyl, Zippers on Easily
Oceansouth Universal T-TOP Enclosure, Spray Shield, Clear, Spray Curtain, for Consoles Over 27½''
Dolphin T Top Windshield. This Windscreen Mounts To Any, and Doubles as a Splash Guard. The curtain is contructed of .040 Marine Grade Clear Vinyl.
Preview
Krypt Towers Dolphin Pro2 T Top Splash Guard and Weather Enclosure, Curtain Protects Driver from Weather, Spray, and Wind. The Curtain is Made of .40 Marine Grade Clear Vinyl, Zippers on Easily
Item
Krypt Towers Dolphin Pro2 T Top Splash Guard and Weather Enclosure, Curtain Protects Driver from Weather, Spray, and Wind. The Curtain is Made of .40 Marine Grade Clear Vinyl, Zippers on Easily
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Preview
Oceansouth Universal T-TOP Enclosure, Spray Shield, Clear, Spray Curtain, for Consoles Over 27½''
Item
Oceansouth Universal T-TOP Enclosure, Spray Shield, Clear, Spray Curtain, for Consoles Over 27½''
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Preview
Dolphin T Top Windshield. This Windscreen Mounts To Any, and Doubles as a Splash Guard. The curtain is contructed of .040 Marine Grade Clear Vinyl.
Item
Dolphin T Top Windshield. This Windscreen Mounts To Any, and Doubles as a Splash Guard. The curtain is contructed of .040 Marine Grade Clear Vinyl.
Check Price

Polycarbonates and acrylics are both essentially transparent plastics—the former is the most durable and the more expensive, while acrylic is more flexible, 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, creative 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

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Clear Vinyl Tarp (8' x 12')
White Tarp Cover Heavy Duty Thick Material, Waterproof, Great for Tarpaulin Canopy Tent, Boat, RV Or Pool Cover (Heavy Duty Poly Tarp White)
Heavy Duty Tarps Waterproof 12mil - Reversible White Brown Tarp - 12x40 with UV Protection for Outdoor Camping RV Truck and Trailers
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Clear Vinyl Tarp (8' x 12')
White Tarp Cover Heavy Duty Thick Material, Waterproof, Great for Tarpaulin Canopy Tent, Boat, RV Or Pool Cover (Heavy Duty Poly Tarp White)
Heavy Duty Tarps Waterproof 12mil - Reversible White Brown Tarp - 12x40 with UV Protection for Outdoor Camping RV Truck and Trailers
Preview
Clear Vinyl Tarp (8' x 12')
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Clear Vinyl Tarp (8' x 12')
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Preview
White Tarp Cover Heavy Duty Thick Material, Waterproof, Great for Tarpaulin Canopy Tent, Boat, RV Or Pool Cover (Heavy Duty Poly Tarp White)
Item
White Tarp Cover Heavy Duty Thick Material, Waterproof, Great for Tarpaulin Canopy Tent, Boat, RV Or Pool Cover (Heavy Duty Poly Tarp White)
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Preview
Heavy Duty Tarps Waterproof 12mil - Reversible White Brown Tarp - 12x40 with UV Protection for Outdoor Camping RV Truck and Trailers
Item
Heavy Duty Tarps Waterproof 12mil - Reversible White Brown Tarp - 12x40 with UV Protection for Outdoor Camping RV Truck and Trailers
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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.

Here’s one simple vinyl tarp enclosure that you can use (check price on Amazon).

4. Bimini Top

Preview
Leader Accessories 3 Bow Pacific Blue 6'L x 46" H x 54"-60" W Bimini Top Boat Cover 4 Straps for Front and Rear Includes Mounting Hardwares with 1 Inch Aluminum Frame
Seamander 3 Bow Bimini Top Boat Cover 4 Straps for Front and Rear Includes with Mounting Hardware(3 Bow 6' Lx 61"-66" W x 46" H Navy Blue)
MSC 3 Bow Bimini Boat Top Cover with Rear Support Pole and Storage Boot, Color Grey, Pacific Blue, Burgundy,Navy,Beige,Forest Green Available (Forest Green, 3 Bow 6'L x 46" H x 54"-60" W)
Leader Accessories 4 Bow Light Grey 8'L x 54" H x 91"-96" W Bimini Tops Boat Cover 4 Straps for Front and Rear Includes Mounting Hardwares with 1 Inch Aluminum Frame
Item
Leader Accessories 3 Bow Pacific Blue 6'L x 46" H x 54"-60" W Bimini Top Boat Cover 4 Straps for Front and Rear Includes Mounting Hardwares with 1 Inch Aluminum Frame
Seamander 3 Bow Bimini Top Boat Cover 4 Straps for Front and Rear Includes with Mounting Hardware(3 Bow 6' Lx 61"-66" W x 46" H Navy Blue)
MSC 3 Bow Bimini Boat Top Cover with Rear Support Pole and Storage Boot, Color Grey, Pacific Blue, Burgundy,Navy,Beige,Forest Green Available (Forest Green, 3 Bow 6'L x 46" H x 54"-60" W)
Leader Accessories 4 Bow Light Grey 8'L x 54" H x 91"-96" W Bimini Tops Boat Cover 4 Straps for Front and Rear Includes Mounting Hardwares with 1 Inch Aluminum Frame
Preview
Leader Accessories 3 Bow Pacific Blue 6'L x 46" H x 54"-60" W Bimini Top Boat Cover 4 Straps for Front and Rear Includes Mounting Hardwares with 1 Inch Aluminum Frame
Item
Leader Accessories 3 Bow Pacific Blue 6'L x 46" H x 54"-60" W Bimini Top Boat Cover 4 Straps for Front and Rear Includes Mounting Hardwares with 1 Inch Aluminum Frame
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Preview
Seamander 3 Bow Bimini Top Boat Cover 4 Straps for Front and Rear Includes with Mounting Hardware(3 Bow 6' Lx 61"-66" W x 46" H Navy Blue)
Item
Seamander 3 Bow Bimini Top Boat Cover 4 Straps for Front and Rear Includes with Mounting Hardware(3 Bow 6' Lx 61"-66" W x 46" H Navy Blue)
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Preview
MSC 3 Bow Bimini Boat Top Cover with Rear Support Pole and Storage Boot, Color Grey, Pacific Blue, Burgundy,Navy,Beige,Forest Green Available (Forest Green, 3 Bow 6'L x 46" H x 54"-60" W)
Item
MSC 3 Bow Bimini Boat Top Cover with Rear Support Pole and Storage Boot, Color Grey, Pacific Blue, Burgundy,Navy,Beige,Forest Green Available (Forest Green, 3 Bow 6'L x 46" H x 54"-60" W)
Check Price
Preview
Leader Accessories 4 Bow Light Grey 8'L x 54" H x 91"-96" W Bimini Tops Boat Cover 4 Straps for Front and Rear Includes Mounting Hardwares with 1 Inch Aluminum Frame
Item
Leader Accessories 4 Bow Light Grey 8'L x 54" H x 91"-96" W Bimini Tops Boat Cover 4 Straps for Front and Rear Includes Mounting Hardwares with 1 Inch Aluminum Frame
Check Price

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, after all.

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

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Taylor Made Products 12003OY Easy-Up Gazebo Shade Top (Cranberry)
Taylor Made Products 12009OS Pontoon Playpen Shade, Bow Area Cover
Taylor Made Products 12006OR Bow Enclosure, Cover, Pontoon Boat Shade & Privacy
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Taylor Made Products 12003OY Easy-Up Gazebo Shade Top (Cranberry)
Taylor Made Products 12009OS Pontoon Playpen Shade, Bow Area Cover
Taylor Made Products 12006OR Bow Enclosure, Cover, Pontoon Boat Shade & Privacy
Preview
Taylor Made Products 12003OY Easy-Up Gazebo Shade Top (Cranberry)
Item
Taylor Made Products 12003OY Easy-Up Gazebo Shade Top (Cranberry)
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Preview
Taylor Made Products 12009OS Pontoon Playpen Shade, Bow Area Cover
Item
Taylor Made Products 12009OS Pontoon Playpen Shade, Bow Area Cover
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Preview
Taylor Made Products 12006OR Bow Enclosure, Cover, Pontoon Boat Shade & Privacy
Item
Taylor Made Products 12006OR Bow Enclosure, Cover, Pontoon Boat Shade & Privacy
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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, allowing 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.

Beach/Patio umbrella

Preview
TropiShade 9 ft Bronze Aluminum Patio Umbrella with Rust Polyester Cover (Base not included)
Abba Patio Outdoor Patio Umbrella 9 Feet Patio Market Table Umbrella with Push Button Tilt and Crank, Turquoise
Blissun 9' Outdoor Patio Umbrella with Fringe, Aluminum Manual Push Button Tilt and Crank Garden Parasol
Item
TropiShade 9 ft Bronze Aluminum Patio Umbrella with Rust Polyester Cover (Base not included)
Abba Patio Outdoor Patio Umbrella 9 Feet Patio Market Table Umbrella with Push Button Tilt and Crank, Turquoise
Blissun 9' Outdoor Patio Umbrella with Fringe, Aluminum Manual Push Button Tilt and Crank Garden Parasol
Preview
TropiShade 9 ft Bronze Aluminum Patio Umbrella with Rust Polyester Cover (Base not included)
Item
TropiShade 9 ft Bronze Aluminum Patio Umbrella with Rust Polyester Cover (Base not included)
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Preview
Abba Patio Outdoor Patio Umbrella 9 Feet Patio Market Table Umbrella with Push Button Tilt and Crank, Turquoise
Item
Abba Patio Outdoor Patio Umbrella 9 Feet Patio Market Table Umbrella with Push Button Tilt and Crank, Turquoise
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Preview
Blissun 9' Outdoor Patio Umbrella with Fringe, Aluminum Manual Push Button Tilt and Crank Garden Parasol
Item
Blissun 9' Outdoor Patio Umbrella with Fringe, Aluminum Manual Push Button Tilt and Crank Garden Parasol
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Your average patio umbrella (check price on Amazon) isn’t a great choice for use in high winds (or at high speeds) but 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

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Quik Shade MAX Shade Chair, Navy
AmazonBasics Foldable Rocking Chair with Canopy - Black
BrylaneHome Camp Chair with Canopy, Breeze
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Quik Shade MAX Shade Chair, Navy
AmazonBasics Foldable Rocking Chair with Canopy - Black
BrylaneHome Camp Chair with Canopy, Breeze
Preview
Quik Shade MAX Shade Chair, Navy
Item
Quik Shade MAX Shade Chair, Navy
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Preview
AmazonBasics Foldable Rocking Chair with Canopy - Black
Item
AmazonBasics Foldable Rocking Chair with Canopy - Black
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Preview
BrylaneHome Camp Chair with Canopy, Breeze
Item
BrylaneHome Camp Chair with Canopy, Breeze
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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, portable unit can serve as both additional boat seating and can offer protection against the elements.

 

Ready to have it made in the shade?

Choose the ideal enclosure for your boat, and get out on the water—rain or shine!