Redesigning Cockpit Canvas? 10 Ideas to Consider

After living and cruising 10 years with our cockpit canvas, we continually compiled a wish list of the perfect “family room”, aka cockpit enclosure, never really anticipating actually spending the money to do anything other than replace canvas as it wears out.   Our Cadet Grey Sunbrella needed restitched & new zippers every two years plus we replaced different sections twice during the six years we were in the “serious” tropics — Panama, Honduras, Guatemala.  Although expensive, we calculated we could replace it several times for the price of a hard dodger.

Fast forward 10 years and the Cadet Grey canvas needed replacing again.  It leaked like a sieve and despite using all the 303 Fabric Protectant I had aboard before we left Panama, and then supplementing with Thompson’s Water Seal (a last resort) in Belize to get us back to the US, we decided to take the plunge and completely redesign our family room.   After all, we spend most of our time aboard in the cockpit – eating, relaxing, reading, showering, everything but sleeping.  So we formalized our wish list and invited three different canvas makers aboard to see our wish list and offer their opinions about about our options.

Keith at Riverside Covers fitting our new cockpit canvas.

If you’re considering a complete redesign, here are 10 Ideas to Consider:

1.  What don’t you like about your existing cockpit canvas or enclosure?  We didn’t like the fact that ours was too short – David couldn’t stand up straight under the bimini.   Neither of us could stand straight when coming up the companionway, we had to duck to clear the dodger.  We wanted to raise the dodger 5-6″ and raise the bimini as well.

Cockpit Before — you can see the stainless steel grab bars on the side of the dodger that were retained in the new design.

2.  Boom, Winch & Other Necessary Access:  If the end of your boom is over the dodger or bimini, make sure you have access to work on the end of the boom.  Since we’re commuter cruisers, we take all the canvas including the Mack Pack and mainsail off at the end of each season and easy access to the end of the boom is a requirement.  We also wanted the new enclosure to allow us to use our winch handles under the dodger – the old one didn’t have enough clearance.  We even got alot more clearance on our side winches, although not 360 degree.  Other cockpit details such as a space for the lines that connect the Monitor Windvane to the steering wheel were also painstakingly thought out.  For this step, it’s important to sit in your cockpit with your canvas maker and think through in detail all the things you do in the cockpit while sailing as well as at anchor.

3.  Longevity:  We wanted to increase the longevity if possible and learned that dark canvas surprisingly enough outlasts light colors, so our Cadet Grey was actually contributing to our woes.  Hard to imagine that switching to dark canvas wouldn’t be hotter than a lighter color, but we haven’t noticed a difference.

New Cockpit Canvas, you can see one of the roll up isenglass panel on the side

4.  More Shade!  Both of us agreed that if there was any way we would like more shade and a larger enclosure.  Our current configuraration insured that any time it rained, the rain ran right down our backs when sitting on the cockpit combing.  Since we were investing in new stainless, we were pleased when one of the canvas makers had some innovative ideas to accomplish what we wanted.

5.  Connector.   When we’re sailing, David wants to be in the open air – much better visibility especially for managing the sails.  So we opted for a zip out connector panel between the dodger & bimini.    In addition to opening up the cockpit underway or when approaching a dock. mooring ball or anchoring, visibility is much better.

6.  Privacy: We wanted to add some type of privacy screens for when we’re showering in the cockpit in a crowded anchorage.  The UV sun screens not only add some privacy, but they repel most bugs bigger than noseeums and cut the UV rays and sun’s heat by 70%.

The new stainless grab bar behind the dodger.

7.  Stainless Grab Bars.  We already had stainless grab bars outside the dodger which we incorporated into the new design and also added a stainless grab bar behind the dodger.   All three are invaluable for safety when a great sail turns into Mr Toad’s Wild Ride!

8.  Ventilation & Cooling.  Instead of isenglass panels that stay in place all the time and have U shaped zippers for ventilation, we opted for panels that zip and snap in place and can be removed completely.  They attach to the bimini or connector with a zipper and then roll up or zip off.   The UV Blocking panels are the same and both use the same zipper.  We debated having two zippers so we could use both the UV Blocking panels and the isenglass at the same time, but decided we wouldn’t need that.  Turns out we could have used two zippers since we use the UV Blocking panels for privacy for showering – so far this winter, there have been many times when we have the isenglass up to block the cool breeze and then need to put up the UV panels for shower privacy.   We also opted after the fact to add a UV blocking screen to cover the front dodger window.  We’d never had one & didn’t think we needed it, but a few days of anchoring with a west wind and the 4 PM sun making the cockpit an inferno convinced us that maybe it would be a good idea.  The cockpit window UV cover is made from a different material than the side panels, softer so it doesn’t scratch the Strataglass.

Lots of details make our new enclosure easier to use than the old. One of the smallest but HUGE when it comes to liveability is sewing in tiny tabs marking either port or starboard panels.

9. Details. We wanted to eliminate the straps that connected the bimini to the dodger – yuck.  No problem with the new stainless.  Also wanted the stainless bimini frame to be able to add solar panels above the bimini at some future date, the new stainless frame will accommodate more solar.  We eliminated the isenglass sailview window on the bimini.  Since we sail with the connector out, we view the sails from outside anyway.  Our original sailview window quickly yellowed until we couldn’t see out of it anyway and it ALWAYS leaked.

10.  Ease of Removal.   When we leave the boat for hurricane season, every scrap of canvas comes off and is stored down below.  Redoing the entire enclosure was the perfect time to include ease of removal as one of the requirements.  We even take the bimini stainless off & store it below, although it folds back neatly just like the dodger frame folds down.

We hope this list has provoked some thoughts about your own cockpit canvas.  If you have other ideas or things we may have incorporated that we’ve since forgotten, please leave a comment and share!   Cheers!   Jan

Cockpit Canvas before … anchored at the Vivorillos Cayes, Honduras

Being visual people, we just couldn’t picture our dark hulled boat with dark canvas — too much dark. Our eventual canvas maker did some computer graphics to illustrate what the boat would look like with different color canvas. Cool! Convinced us!




  1. Hi!

    We have been talking about making some of these improvements to our enclosure. One of the questions we have is do the side curtains connect to the boat or do than just hang there? Is there any way you could add some photos of that section of the enclosure?



  2. Thanks for the great info Jan! This post is perfect timing, as we’ve been thinking about what our new bimini should have for the past week. Glad to hear our Forest Green Sunbrella is a better choice than a light color. We’re also going with black UV thread and zippers.

    What softer UV material did you use to protect your Eisenglass? We’re going to use Strataglass for a bimini window with a Sunbrella piece velcroed over it. We never thought about leaks … hmmm. Any tips for our seamstress? We can’t see anything with our over-sized bimini! We really like the large size and are using our original frame.

    We had already planned on having zippers to easily remove the bimini, and planned to add a zipper around the perimeter before we leave to add shade/rain protection. Good to know that you recommend TWO zippers .. we were wondering if we should do that and now know to add two.

  3. Hi. We are making our final decisions on new dodger/bimini/enclosure. If you would could you tell me what panels you have (i.e. glass, shade & % UV blocked, bug, winder cover). Thank you for your time and quick response in advance.

    1985 42′ Passport
    Annapolis, MD

    • Hi Cheryl! Unfortunately, I don’t remember exactly & we’re camping in Zion Nat’ls Park. I do know that we have Strataglass in our dodger, and more flexible isinglass in the roll down panels. I believe the UV panels are 70% but I could be wrong. The UV panel that covers the dodger windows is a soft mesh so as not to scratch the Strataglass. The only regret we have on our enclosure is not putting two sets of zippers so we could use isinglass and UV panels at the same time. Good Luck! You’ll love a full enclosure! Cheers, Jan

      • Thank you! Love Zion’s. We came from CA in RV last summer traveling. Love your web site sooo much great info. Happy travels.

  4. Claudia Klein says:

    We are having a new dodger,bimini and enclosure made for our 41 Morgan OI. The hull is white with a black boot stripe. All our canvas is black. The bimini gets hot enough to lb cook on. So on we are wondering how tacky would it look if we did bimini in sunbfella oyster and dodger and enclosure in black?

    • Be sure that you’re aware that light color sunbrella deteriorates much faster than dark colors. Which is why we switched from cadet grey to dark green. I really really liked the cadet grey, but after replacing it and/or having it restitched too many times, the canvas maker talked us into dark green. Click here for the post where I discuss lots of things about our cockpit enclosure redesign, but if you scroll to the bottom, there are photos showing the boat with the cadet grey and the mockup our canvas maker did with the dark green. Maybe your canvas maker could do a mockup of your new design so you could “see” it before you spend the money?

      • Peter Baillie says:

        I’ve got a deck tent on my 21′ catamaran, which has been fantastic for getting out of the elements, but it is dark green and in summer in tropical Queensland where I usually manage to go sailing, it is as hot as hadies. The design allows to open the front back and sides for maximum ventilation, but the heat radiating from the underside of the canvas is intense, and I’ve taken to tying a cheap silver poly tarp over the top to make it bearable underneath – this works of a fashion but is a bit tedious.
        I was on the point of ordering a new tent in a light colour on the assumption that the heat transfer would be much less, so was very surprised when you said your darker green didn’t seem much hotter than the light grey. Is that still your impression?
        As the boat is out of the water when not being used, the longevity of the lighter colour isn’t such an issue for me.

        • Hi Peter! Yes, we still think the dark green had little effect on the temperature in our cockpit. And the dark sunbrella definitely held up better than light cadet grey. Our canvas was off and stored during hurricane season each year – usually May to late October, so it was only in the elements 7 months a year. Cheers! Jan

  5. There are so many details to take into account when putting in a marine canvas. Thanks for naming some of them for me, because I would be one to forget about things like ease of removal. With all the benefits of the marine canvas, sometimes you don’t want it on, and then it is important how easy it is to remove.


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