Replacing Canvas

many styles of 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.

Canvas is a necessity on boats these days; but, it is something to keep on top of if you want it looking great all the time.

Even with extreme care, canvas wears and ages, mildew and mold creep in with the dampness and birds and spiders leave their marks. Wind takes a toll when snappers come unfastened or a zipper gets left partially open. Even worse, a storm tears open a corner and wreaks havoc on the rest of the canvas.

Start Now

Now is a great time to assess your canvas to see if repairs, replaced pieces or a total replacement is something you should plan for next winter’s project.

If you determine that your canvas needs replacing or repair this winter, you have a great opportunity to vastly 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. Just ask your marina canvas experts to incorporate some of the following features to end up with a superior canvas.

Research During the Fall

During my 20 years of reviewing new boats for Canadian Yachting Magazine 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 boat manufacturers. No one builder seems to have all the features on one boat, but you can.

During the balance of your boating season, wander down the docks at your harbor to glean some more good ideas to incorporate into your new canvas.

Another source of good ideas is Fall In-Water Boat Shows. Get there early, so you can study new canvas features, before the staff removes the canvas for the Show. As well, keep a critical eye open for canvas “boo-hoos“, that you do not want.

Research over the next few months, look at some other canvas features on other boats, determine whether you need the top raised slightly for your height, and consider all the suggestions of canvas upgrades I share below.

Ask for referrals when hiring someone to repair or create your canvas. Discuss with them what framing is best to use to repair or replace your canvas framing–aluminum or stainless? Also ask for the best fabric to use. Obviously, you need something that won’t shrink, stretch, leak, or let bugs in and that will clean easily. Consider one that is highly resistant to ultraviolet light and decide which colour is best for your boat.

There are several brands of clear vinyl out there, but not all are created equal. 20-30 gauge is most common. Most aluminum fishing boats have 10 gauge vinyl, and canvas shops replace with 20 or 30 gauge. 40 gauge is super thick so has to be laid flat when off. Discuss your options, so that you get the best for your budget.

Also ask your canvas shop about using the “sun guard” type thread to lengthen the life of the stitching so that it lasts as long as the canvas. You don’t want perfectly good canvas to fall apart at the seams or the zipper assemblies to prematurely fall off the canvas.

Order Early for Winter Creation of your new canvas

As a marina operator, I can tell you that you should order early; so that your canvas work is scheduled for completion during the slow winter months. Don’t wait until spring to place your order and end up at the end of the list with your job coming up next June or July.

Order early; so that you can take spring delivery and be ready for summer without any delays.

Canvas Upgrades to Consider

Upside-down Smilies

Upside-down Smiley

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 roll-up 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.

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, then rolled and stored.

Snaps only need to be installed on the ends and across the 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.

Boots and Storage Bags

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

Extra Flap

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.


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 top and front of the hole with Velcro on the aft edge to hold it closed. A bonus to this is that it closes the hole to bugs and mosquitoes, as well.



Velcroed canvas socks around the antenna mounts on arches keeps the water from getting in.

For added sealing, tie the top of the boot around the antenna with a nylon cord, using a tight clove hitch and a couple of half hitches.


Consider snapping canvas when replacing
Straps hanging down

Straps that hang down on the inside, should have a second snap installed along the top of the canvas, so they don’t swing in the wind and scratch the clear vinyl.

Twist and snap to prevent vinyl damage

On either a bimini or a camper, if you have long vertical straps that vibrate violently in the wind, unhook one end, give them one or two turns, then reconnect them.

This will stop the vibration.

Cleat Opening

Extra Flap

To cover the opening around a cleat inside a camper vertical curtain, 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 and doesn’t let in spray.

Canvas Pole wraps

canvas 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 vertical vinyl.

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.


For boats with an aft deck sitting area, screens should be considered outside the clear panels, so your panels can be rolled down to enjoy the breeze, but keep out the bugs. See upside-down smilies picture above.

Dinghy and O/B Boots

I’ve seen 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 we’ve seen in the Bahamas, who carry unsightly plastic jerrycans 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, to protect your pride and joy when you are away from her, 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 with all the canvas on. See picture under “Pole Wraps”

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

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 to be added aft of the horizontal zipper.


Wide horizontal tops tend to pool. The only solution is to bend the railing slightly upwards, so the water will run off. You can 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!


Clear vinyl panels 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 vinyl, 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.


storing canvas

When storing canvas for the day or longer, always roll the clear panel areas–never fold them and be sure they are dry. 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 cordgreen for starboard pieces, red for port pieces and white for the aft or forward centre pieces to simplify sorting pieces when reinstalling them. Also, label with red and green wire on the zipper pulls.

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 also at upholstery and drapery shops. Cut them about 2’ long, eyesplice one end, then 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 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 boating 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

1 thought on “Replacing Canvas”

  1. I have a Bimini top that seems to have shrunk. It’s probably the original top for the 2011 27′ boat. The snaps are between 1″ and 2″ away from where they need to be. The top is Sunbrella material which I did not think would shrink. What are my options?

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