Hard cover for storage and trailering?

When not in use, I've always relied on soft covers as seems to be the standard for dinghies, but I'm not really sure why.

They have a tendency to pool water, which at best gets dirty/mouldy and looks a mess, and at worst leaks or the cover fails under the weight. And after a few trips on the motorway, the stress of the high winds over it seems to significantly reduce their life span, no matter how well you pad and tighten it. They seem to be a constant headache, have to be regularly replaced, they're not cheap, and it's difficult to get a good one.

Yet I don't think I've ever seen anyone try a hard cover on a dinghy. And I'm not sure why. Has anyone ever considered it?

There's various ways I can imagine making one, most likely marine ply with a frame underneath to reinforce it, seal the joints somehow, and varnish.

I'm surprised none of the boat builders have considered offering a 100% GRP cover. OK it'd be a lot more expensive initially, but it'd pretty much last forever. When you think about how much time and money I spend faffing with soft covers over the years, it would've probably been more economical to have paid a lot of money for a GRP one all those years ago, and it'd still be going strong.

Also the cost of buying it might offset the cost of repairing the damage the soft ones do to your boat and its equipment when they leak.

Maybe I'm missing something, and there's a good reason people don't?

PuffinInTegel's picture

The advantage would of course be the watertightness and guaranteed camber to prevent puddles forming.
Modern materials enable very light structures, so weight shouldn't be a problem.
The downside is that it would be a very big item that takes up a lot of space when not on the boat and may get blown about if not anchored somehow. It would be impossible to take it along on the dinghy (unless yout tow it behind your boat).
A textile cover can be folded up for stowage and suitable hoops prevent water puddles collecting on it. I suspect that is the main reason why they are the main form of outdoor protection.
Just MHO ....

beermatt's picture

One problem with hoops or a frame underneath, is having to remove it every time you want to take the boat out, and then put it back together again afterwards. It might not be a huge job, but when you're trying to do a day sail and have a 4 round trip in the car, every little helps. I'm trying to simplify and expedite everything I can at the moment, there's no single thing that takes a huge amount of time, but all the little things that add up. A single hard cover could simply be lifted off, and then lifted back on again. You wouldn't even need to fold it up like a soft cover.

It would take up a lot of space when not in use, but so does the trailer. I need to find somewhere to put the trailer, so I can just leave the cover on that. (Or leave it on the roof rack if you're using that method to transport the boat.)

I've never taken the boat cover out sailing with me.... is that something people do? It's no good as a tent because it's not tall enough, so I can't think of a reason for taking it. I always fold mine up and slide it underneath the car (rather than putting the big grubby thing in the already heavily packed boot).

There's still the issue of soft covers taking a battering from the motorway winds too. They flap about frantically, similar to a sail flogging when it is perpendicular to the wind, and in the same way (but worse because we don't usually go sailing in 60mph winds!) it damages them when done for too long. A hard cover wouldn't flail around in the wind so wouldn't suffer any significant wear and tear, just like for example it doesn't bother a roof box, kayaks, the boat hull, etc.

I've never really had a problem with a soft cover. I cut down three lengths of bamboo, covered them with sponge foam pipe lagging and tied them together with a long piece of string. I bend them up into three arches at points along the boat. I attached a carbine hook to each end of the string (one is out of a Christmas cracker!!) and hook one to the mainsheet eye on the transom and one to the forestay fitting in the bows. I bend the arches into shape and put a tarpaulin over all of that and then put a boat cover over that. Red Kite remains as dry as a bone. As far as trailering is concerned, I don't have any cover on at all, so no flapping to worry about. As long as the spars are tying down well, there shouldn't be a problem. You are of course right. I see many boats with their flat-lying covers full of water. Just a bit of bamboo or plastic pipe bent into an arch, any it works fine. Both the cover and the bamboo arches are easy to stow in the car. I'll post a photo if I can.
John B
Red Kite 53814

I don't think I really addressed your point. I have definitely seen a flat hard cover for a dinghy. I can't recall what it was. If I can find it I'll post a link. I think you would find a hard cover a hindrance rather than a help. If you're using it while trailing, I would be very concerned about the wind getting under it and blowing it off at 60mph! It would be difficult to attach such a device to a dinghy such that it was absolutely rigidly tied down. Also, I think it would get in your way as you're trying to set the dinghy up. Where would you put it while setting up? Too big to go in the car probably. Would it be safe from thieves if left on the roof rack? There is probably a good reason why dinghy sailors have never gone for hard covers, but you may be able to prove us all wrong! Good luck!
Red Kite 53814

beermatt's picture

Thanks for your suggestions John. Yes photos of your bamboo setup would be interesting to see. I've noticed most soft covers you buy have a seam around the gunwale where the top joins the skirts, that isn't waterproof so when building a frame underneath you have to be careful not to lift the cover too much so that water can get into the boat through that seam.

I do consider going coverless for the car journey, but it makes life a lot easier being able to leave rudder, centerboard, seats, sails, and various other paraphernalia in the boat without taking up space in the car or them flying out with the bumps/wind.

I too suspect there may be a good reason why you don't see hard covers, but I can't think what it is!

Possibly manufacturing hard covers isn't in anyone's interest because of planned obsolescence. Same reason the marine industry love selling inflatable boats/tenders - fiberglass will almost last forever, so you never have to buy a replacement, whereas inflatables and soft covers don't so people buying new ones is a reliable revenue stream for the industry.

As the majority of the dinghies in the world spend their life at a sailing club or boat park, the disadvantages of a soft cover aren't significant enough for people to make their own, and you can't buy hard covers so people just take the easy option.

I wondered about theft too, but it's not something that's easy to pawn/resell, you could fit a lock to it if you were worried about it (with varying levels of deterrence vs ease of deployment), it's not easy to steal because of the sheer size of it - you can hardly put it in your pocket and run off, and if for some reason someone is so determined to go to the lengths of breaking the lock and and arranging something capable of transporting it.... I'd be more worried about my trailer than the cover!

The issue of where to put it when setting up is a good point. When it's on the boat it doesn't take up space and when the boat's on the water it can be left on a trailer.... but yes the transition stage could be inconvenient. It would get in the way lent against the side of the boat, if lent against the car it could scratch it and block the doors, so you might have to find somewhere else to put it which would be a nuisance. Unless I had the roof bars no the car! In which case I could lift the cover onto the roof while getting the boat ready. And keep it there actually too.

The cover blowing off on the motorway is a bit worrying yes, but you just need to make sure it's strapped down well (and have a small skirt around the gunwale to deter the air getting in). Same principal as strapping down a soft cover, but maybe consider something a bit stronger such as ratchets or those strong buckle straps.

So i'm still not yet put off the idea altogether. Maybe I should pioneer it and see how it goes.

There's pros and cons for everything — EVERYTHING — yet we bumble on with all sorts of things which aren't ideal. If someone invented 'mains electricity' today it'd never get off the ground due to the dangers of it. The same for petrol engines — "you want people to pump highly volatile liquids into vehicles themselves!?" :D

I say go for it. Maybe prototype in thin ply (with support) so you can get a feel for it. Maybe you'll end up glassing over it if it works!?

I wonder if leaving a 'port' in the stern-end would create a sufficiently low internal pressure to lessen the worry of it blowing off? (it'd need tying down of course!)

Good luck. Do share your findings — whatever they are!