Taking care of the canvas accessories of your boat need not be a time consuming or difficult task. A little regular maintenance and attention to detail when you are boating will make your canvas last the life of your boat.
Normally the canvas components of a boat are very few: a convertible top, side curtains (which usually are not really used much), boots, and boat covers. Let’s address each of these items.
Most boats have some sort of convertible top. Whether yours is a small fishing boat, a runabout, a sailboat or a family cruiser, thy all employ the same basic principle. There is a metal (usually aluminum or stainless) frame that is attached to the gunwale of the boat by means of a swiveling piece of hardware which permits the top to fold down or stand up in a position to yield sufficient shade to the boat’s occupants. When deployed the top may be attached to a permanent windshield or other boat structure by means of small button snaps or perhaps by means of a zipper. Care must always be taken when attaching or detaching the canvas to pull the snaps directly up from a grasp that is very close to the snap. Many tops have been ruined by crew members trying to grab the canvas at one end and, with a single yank, try to unsnap more than a single snap. Where zippers are used, care must be taken to get the zipper started properly before attempting to zip the length of the zipper. You may ease this process by removing pressure on the canvas by detaching the aft end of the top from its clips to get the zipper started. You will find this to be considerably easier. Marine zippers tend to get dry and hard to work. Applying a little Snap Stick along the zipper and zipping it open and closed a couple of times will tend to ease zipper problems greatly.
Whenever the canvas convertible top is not deployed, it should be secured in it appropriate ‘Boot” (Usually a small zip up canvas cover that safely covers the folded up convertible top in its closed position.) or secured in such a way that it will not ‘catch air’ as the boat moves along in the water. When closing the top to place it in the boot, be sure that it is neatly folded and not simply crammed into the boot. If you must cover the top when it is wet, be certain to open it up and let it air dry before leaving it in the boot for any extended period of time. To store a wet piece of canvas is to ask for mold and mildew which are the biggest enemies of canvas beyond human neglect.
Many times, there are small, custom made pieces of clear plastic which provide closure between a deployed convertible top and the gunwale of the boat. This is to fully enclose the area under the top from the weather elements. Usually the side curtains are attached to the convertible top by means of a zipper or small, metal button snaps and also attached to the gunwale or windshield of the boat by button snaps. Care must me taken when storing these curtains to ensure that the clear plastic material is rolled up and not pinched as it is stored as this will result in cracks and tears in the plastic material. Like the snaps on the top, the buttons should be removed one at a time to ensure that they do not tear or rip.
Zippers should be periodically lubricated with wax or Snap Stick. When the side curtains are stored, make certain that they are stored in a dry space and that heavy objects are not placed upon them or other items which might tend to move and scratch the plastic.
There may also be an aft curtain to fully enclose the cockpit. Usually, these are mostly canvas and sometimes contain a clear plastic window. The same techniques for storing, folding and deploying apply as with side curtains.
When mooring, storing or trailering the boat, it is advisable to cover the boat from the elements. When left outside and uncovered for any extended period of time, boats tend to get very weathered and lose much of their appeal and value. Boat covers tend to come in two varieties – Storage covers which fully enclose the boat and are tied down to the trailer for movement along a highway, and Mooring covers which are intended to cover the boat while it is docked, moored or otherwise sitting still. Most mooring covers are not intended for use while trailering as the wind can sometimes get under the cover and cause it to rip off of the boat. Having left a couple of very expensive mooring covers along the highway, I would strongly advise against pulling a boat along at highway speeds with a mooring cover in place.
Mooring covers are usually designed to snap onto the gunwale (and perhaps the windshield) with small, metal button snaps. When attaching a cover, if you will pull the canvas a snap or two ahead of the one that you are intending to attach, it will make the process go much smoother. When removing the mooring cover, be sure to remove on snap at a time to avoid damaging the canvas or the snap
All marine supply stores sell rather inexpensive repair kits and extra snaps so that damaged snaps can easily be repaired. It pays to do this in advance of the need for the cover.
A little bit of prevention thinking and care and maintenance of your boat’s canvas will save you a lot of trouble and make your voyage a lot more enjoyable! Have a great cruise!