Replacing Canvas

When your canvas needs replacing, you have a great opportunity to improve the canvas over what was there before. I have a list of things for you to consider when installing new canvas or replacing your worn canvas to help you accomplish this. Just ask your marina canvas people to incorporate the following features to end up with a superior canvas job.

During my 20 years of reviewing new boats for Canadian yachting and Power Boating Canada Magazine, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to canvas. Our list of tips is a compilation of good ideas from many manufacturers. No one builder seems to have all the features on one boat, but you can.

Upside-down Smilies

Zippered openings should be an upside-down smiley so you have a pair of zippers that start opening at the centre top. This way, you can roll down 6” or 12” or whatever. You don’t have to have the whole window open to give you standing visibility.

The zippers should be installed so they don’t leak. If water does leak or run onto the clear plastic/vinyl rollup panels from the hardtop for example, then closing the zippers so they both end on the side may help. You could also try installing a rain deflector so the drain drips off the deflector away from the zippers and glass instead of draining onto the glass.

Extra Flap

Most boat manufacturers are having their canvas departments add an extra flap beyond the zipper that is secured with a continuous strip of Velcro that double seals the more prone seams and joints; for example, around windshields, arches and camper tops.

Boots and Storage Bags

Boots and Storage Bags are great for storing canvas. Neat, easy to handle and protects canvas.


Velcroed canvas socks around the antenna mounts or arches keeps the water from getting in. For added sealing, tie the top of the boot around the antenna with a tight clove hitch and a couple of half hitches.


Straps that hang down should have a second snap installed across the top of the canvas so they don’t swing in the wind and scratch the isinglass. On either a bimini or a camper, if you have long vertical straps that vibrate violently in the wind, unhook them, give them one or two turns then reconnect them. This will stop the vibration.


For corners where the zippers don’t or can’t go all the way to the top or bottom, have the canvas installer sew an extra flap of canvas over the hole with Velcro on one side to hold it closed. The sewing should be done on the forward edge and top edge to prevent leaks. A bonus to this is that it closes the hole to bugs and mosquitos as well.

Cleat Opening

To cover the opening around a cleat, have them install a separate flap of material that velcroes in place to seal it for rain and bugs. Velcro is more forgiving than snaps when you may have a rope on the cleat. The top of the flap is sewn and the sides are velcroed so that the flap can’t get lost.

Pole wraps

Some other features to consider depending on your boat are pole wraps made of canvas with a full length Velcro fastener to prevent the stainless bows from discoloring and burning the isinglass. Some yachts with a ton of teak have had canvas teak wraps made that snap over the teak taffrails and hand rails to protect them from the UV rays of the sun when not aboard.

Forward Cabin Windows

Many yachts and trawlers have large forward salon windows that either leak and/or allow in too much afternoon sun making it unbearably hot inside. Instead of battling with interior drapes with top and bottom tracks or mini blinds with top and bottom fasteners, consider installing a snap-on canvas panel on the outside. It can be installed and removed easily depending on the weather and rolled and stored out of the way. Snaps only need to be installed on the ends and across he bottom. Usually not across the top, because the eyebrow or overhang of the bridge will hold it in place. Your installer will know how many snaps.


For boats with an aft deck sitting area, screens should be considered outside the isinglass panels so your panels can be rolled down to enjoy the breeze but keep out the bugs.

Dinghy and O/B Boots

Others have had canvas boots made for their inflatable dinghy and outboard motor to protect them from the burning rays of the sun and keep the rain water out. Some of the sailors in the Bahamas that carry unsightly plastic jerry cans on their foredeck have had canvas covers fabricated to camouflage them with the boat colors.

Other Boots and Covers

Whether you are in the Bahamas or Muskokas when you are away from your pride and joy, you may want to consider having your canvas guy create a snap-on cover for your varnished transom or other bright work. In lieu of a full bridge cover, many boaters have opted to have individual boots or covers made to snap over individual pieces of electronics or the whole dash and the individual seats.

Use Big Zippers

Big zippers with coarse teeth are stronger than the fine ones that either let go or jam with stray pieces of fabric.

Maximize Glass Area

Maximize the glass area and minimize the canvas area for improved visibility when sitting, standing or docking with the canvas on. When you sit or rest in your cockpit, look out over your taffrail and you’ll see how low you should have the clear panels go so you will be able to see out when seated when all the canvas is on.

Once when we had our windows repaired (because the clear vinyl went foggy), the canvas installer sewed the new vinyll on the inside of the canvas creating a trough on the outside that collected rainwater like an evestrough with no drain. It all turned green. Have your replacement panels sewn on the outside of your old canvas if you are just replacing the clear areas to avoid this.

Attaching to Hard Flat Surfaces

For attaching canvas to arches and hardtops, have them screw or rivet, then seal a track to the hard surface and sew the matching bead to the canvas edge so that there is a leak proof seal when the bead is slid into the track. With just snaps, any horizontal surface will leak causing you to have to move everything in the way every time it rains.

To further eliminate leaks on horizontal surfaces, ask for an extra flap of canvas with velcro fasteners to be added.


Wide horizontal tops tend to pool. The only solution is to bend the railing slightly upwards so the water will run off and even add a few more straps for added support.


Use the waterproofing recommended by the manufacturer and follow the instructions carefully. All water proofing isn’t the same!


Isinglass should be cleaned with fresh water and dried with a chamois only. Most canvas people say you shouldn’t use cleaners like Windex. Care should be taken when rolling Isinglass so you don’t scratch the surface. Leaving it rolled up for extended periods could cause discoloration. If material does become scratched, use the product recommended by the manufacturer and follow the instructions carefully.


When storing canvas for the day or longer, always roll the clear panels–never fold them.. The canvas round the glass can be folded. An easy way to do this is to fold the canvas around the glass over the back of a double wide helm seat or rectangular table to keep it from creasing. Once rolled, tie with a light nylon cord—green for starboard pieces, red for port pieces and white for the aft or forward centre pieces to simplify sorting pieces.

When reinstalling, just place the port pieces on the port side and the starboard pieces on the starboard side and the white pieces in the centre. This greatly decreases the time required to sort out the puzzle. You will especially appreciate this during a surprise weather change when time is critical.

Colored cord is available at some marine stores and upholstery and drapery shops. Cut them about 2’ long, eyesplice one end and backsplice or whip the other end. Then, all you need once wrapped around the rolled canvas, is to put the end through the eye and secure with a simple slip knot so it undoes quickly like a bow on a shoe.

Plan your Install and Reap the Benefits

Spending time planning your canvas install will save you many hours of grief repeatedly over and over again. Even if the initial cost is a little more, it will be a good investment. And remember, quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.

All these tricks will make life so much easier for you and your canvas crew.

If you have some more canvas ideas, please send them in so we can share them.


See also:

Canvas Repair-Don’t Wait

Solve the Canvas Puzzle

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