Most of us don’t do the wrapping ourselves, but shell out yet more money to have it done by a pro. This can often be a tough financial pill to swallow at the end of the season. Because of this, I would like to offer a few pointers so you can hold that professional shrink-wrapper to a higher standard while at the same time protecting your boat. We do not provide Shrink-wrapping at Blue Frontier. My purpose here is simply to inform the customer about possible hazards and short-comings of certain practices when it comes to covering your boat during the winter months.
My first advice would be to go ahead and budget your money to get the boat properly shrink-wrapped. It can be very tempting to think we can cheat Mother Nature by going to our local hardware store, picking up some of those “blue tarps”, and spending a few hours of our own time to wrap the boat. When you walk away, the boat looks pretty weathertight, right? However, over the course of the next few months, you will likely find that this solution only leads to more headaches in spring, and quite possibly repairs that far outweigh the perceived savings in the fall.
It only takes a good nor’easter to blow through and start taking the tarp apart. Because those tarps are square and your boat isn’t, it is nearly impossible to get a good seal over your boat. Often, too, you have a seam, where two tarps meet; perhaps around a flybridge tower or a sailboat mast. No matter how many shock cords or feet of clothesline you use, it is virtually impossible to make these seams weathertight. Other weak points include the “pleats” you need to make in order to force the square tarp to be as tight as possible around the very un-square boat. Try as you might, as soon as the wind gets under that tarp, the trouble begins. Once inside, the wind will create a “breathing” action of the cover(s) and begins to separate at the weak links; likely the seam between the tarps. The seam will open and the weather will get inside the wrap. The breathing action also creates chafe anywhere your tarps touch the hull. On a white hull, you will have dull patch the color of the tarp that will have to be buffed out. On a darker hull, like a flagship blue, you will have a dull patch that will be difficult to bring back to the shine of the rest of the hull.
The real danger however, comes from those open tarps allowing precipitation onto the boat. Although we like to think they are watertight structures, most boats—especially older ones-- have some point on them that is a “weak spot”. Likely it is a screw hole or a seam; consider a hull-deck seam, a stanchion base, a connection point for canvas. Any of these things that have a space that is not properly sealed is going to allow moisture in. The real trouble occurs if this point is laid over filler, like foam or balsa core. Once the moisture finds these materials, it is soaked up like a sponge. Then, when the truly cold part of winter sets in and this moisture starts to freeze, it expands. The small hole or crack that allowed the water in also expands, making a small crack a bigger crack and allowing more moisture in. You probably see what I am getting at. It doesn’t take but a few freeze and thaw cycles to have a major fiberglass job on your hands. Ouch! There goes all that money you saved by using the blue tarps.
Another problem I see all too often, especially on sailboats, is the now loose tarps sagging between the “Spine” and the lifelines. Without the pitch of the wrap being very tight, heavy snow doesn’t slide off the “roof” and sags onto the deck. This not only compromises the overall wrap, but puts a significant load on the stanchions and lifelines, potentially bending or even breaking them (see images at bottom).
Clearly, there are many advantages in having a tight seal around the boat that will prevent precipitation—in any form—from getting onto your boat during the winter months. I know we all have to work within the confines of a very real budget to even have a boat, but hopefully you can see my concerns about the “blue tarp” DIY boat wrap. Try to consider the big picture and not just the short-sighted quick savings.
But having said that, and encouraged you to budget for a professionally done shrink-wrap, allow me to give you a few pointers to hold those pros to a higher standard of protection for your boat. As you shop around for someone to wrap the boat, consider these issues and discuss them. A good wrapper will be taking all of these steps anyway, but talking about it upfront lets them know you are an informed consumer and are looking to protect your boat, not create more expenses in the spring
The first process of the wrap is to build a “spine” over the boat. This is the crucial structural piece of the process. You want to make sure there are enough vertical pieces to support the spine. Each vertical piece should have a “foot” on it; a horizontal piece that distributes the loads so it is not pushing into your deck and creating cracks. A good wrapper will put a pad under the foot to protect the gel-coat. Old pieces of carpeting turned upside down are very effective (see image below).
The spine should be high enough to create a steep pitch which will allow snow and ice to slide off. If you think you might be doing some work aboard over the winter, have the spine built high enough to allow headroom inside so you can move around easily. And, of course, a door will likely be necessary to gain access into the cover. Make sure it is put a place that allows you to safely rest a ladder nearby so you can climb in. It doesn’t do you much good if you only have a 6 foot ladder, but the door is up around 9 feet. Talk to the wrapper and tell them where you want a door.
For those of you with radar I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the spine being built OVER the dome or array (see image below). All too often I see wrappers using the radar on a hard-top as part of the spine. The problem with this is the stresses it creates on the radar. On open array, it forces the ends of the array down and allows the four bolts that hold the array to the pedestal to drive up into the array, often leading to crack if not a total failure of the array piece.This can happen before it even snow, just from the pressure created when the wrap is shrunk during installation. Tell the person doing the wrapping that you will be looking for this. Make sure all other antennas or sensors are lowered as far as possible and fall under the pitch of the spine. You do not want the loads of the wrap resting on any of these items.
The wrap itself comes in different colors. White is the most common, but year to year, distributors have different product on hand. One dis-function of a tight seal is condensation as the spring hits and you get temperature differences inside and outside the wrap. This condensation can quickly lead to mildew and mold on deck or below. There should be several vents located around the wrap to allow the air inside to circulate. I know some people have turned to clear wrap for security reasons, ie, it allows you to see under the wrap and make sure there have been no uninvited guests coming aboard. Just be careful because the clear wrap becomes a very effective greenhouse in the spring and quickly creates moisture inside during warm days and cool nights. If you go with clear wrap you want to be one of the first to unwrap in the spring. Otherwise, expect to do some serious mildew removal during commissioning.
Armed with these guidelines (and the accompanying pictures), hopefully you will see the value in a proper shrink-wrapping for your boat in the winter. And when you find someone to do the work, make sure they are doing it in a way that will assure protection of your deck and electronics.
Enjoy the winter. See you in the spring….