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9 Different Types of Boat Covers

Line of boats being covered and stocked in the boat outdoor storage.

I do okay financially, but I do not consider myself a rich man. However, over the years I have accumulated a number of wealthy friends. One of them invited me out their boat the other day. I have rarely been on such a vehicle, and I was struck by how well-kept it was.

My friend showed me the boat cover he uses. It looked quite ordinary and I began to wonder how it managed to keep this large vessel so pristine. I am a writer by profession, and so I tend to take a deep interest in anything that strikes my fancy. The following is a summary of all that I went on to learn about types of boat covers.

What is a Boat Cover?

The function of a boat cover is to protect boats from the build-up of moisture and debris. The latter can ruin the upholstery of a vessel and its overall condition. This can lead to material and mechanical problems and reduce the resale value of the boat.

These covers also protect boats from the kinds of unwanted debris that can spoil an outing. Wet leaves and grime are not the kinds of things you want to deal with when you want to take your boat out for the day.

Types of Boat Covers

Here are some of the most common, and most popular, boat covers on the market.

1. Bow-to-stern covers

Zoom in photo of a motor boat being stacked in a trailer with boat cover.

These covers do what their name implies: cover the boat from bow to stern (or from front to back in landlubber speak). They are also known as mooring covers.

They tend to be quite sizeable and should be used whether you store your boat inside or outside. If you use this type of cover to store a boat inside, it will keep mice and dust out. If it is used in an outdoor setting, it will protect your boat from UV rays, weather, and debris.

There are a few factors to consider when shopping for a bow-to-stern cover. The most important of these is fit. The snugger the fit the better. If you are really determined to protect your vessel, then you should have a custom fit cover made—it will give you the tightest fit possible.

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2. Custom fit boat covers

Side view angle of a pontoon boat covered with a customm fit boat cover isolated in a white background.

These are typically made with a draw rope in the hem or snaps to secure the cover tightly to the perimeter of the hull. Some custom covers contain support poles to lift the cover. They are also tailored to accommodate any accessories you may have on your boat.

If you use a custom cover for your boat, you will find it easy to transport with a trailer, as the covers have little to no give to catch the wind.

3. Semi-custom fit boat covers

A pontoon boat covered semi-custom fit boat cover to protect it from rain and heat from the sun.

These are ready-made covers with designs and constructions that are based on the hull style and general dimensions of your boat. They can be made for virtually any hull style, including fishing boats, runabouts, deck boat, pontoon boats, and others. 

This type of cover will typically come with a 1-foot centreline increment for the bow to stern length with multiple beamwidth options for the widest point across the hull of the cover. The advantage of semi-custom boat covers is that they are less expensive and faster to procure than custom fit boat covers. However, they will not be tailored for your accessories.

4. Universal fit boat covers

The universal fit boat cover covering a pontoon boat with another boat cover beside it isolated in a white background.

These covers come in multiple sizes and hull styles, but the size range is wider than a semi-custom option. Perhaps the best thing about these covers is that they are affordable and still durable. They are a great alternative to semi-custom covers.

Universal boat covers are best suited for boats that will be stored indoors. You should also be aware of their loose fit. They will catch the wind more easily than custom fit covers, which makes it unsafe to drive with them.

5. Bow covers

Luxury motor boats parked in the docks wiith custom made uniform blue boat covers for protecting the boat.

These are also called tonneau covers. They are designed to snap onto the bow of the boat. Bow covers are especially well-suited on any type of boat with recessed seating or lounge areas in the bow of the boat. The cover can be snapped tightly around this open area to protect it against water and debris.

Bow covers are form-fitted to the exact year, make, and model of the boat. If you need to replace the cover, you will need to have it custom-made, which means you will need to plan ahead of time.

6. Cockpit covers

A man arranging his boat cockpit cover to protect the cockpit's control gauge and seats.

This type of cover shields the area from the windshield to the stern of the boat, or you can have it customized to fully cover the windshield. The main aim of a cockpit cover is, as the name implies, to protect the command-and-control center of your boat—the driver’s seat, onboard electronics, and the seating adjacent to this area—from the elements.

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These covers use snaps or clip systems to attach the cover to the boat. They also come with an adjustable pole to provide tension and prevent water from pooling on the cover.

7. Bimini tops

Back view of a small pontoon boat with bimini tops and people.

These are not strictly speaking storage covers. They are accessories for boaters who want a little shade when out on the open water. They consist of open-front canopies that are supported by a metal frame. They can be collapsed when not in use and raised up when you need protection.

The Bimini top you buy should be made of fabric that is marine-grade, UV resistant, and 100% solution-dyed. The latter distributes color all the way through the material, which makes it resistant to color fading over time. Most Bimini tops can be assembled and installed quite easily and with very few tools.

8. Camper tops

Zoom in photo of a small luxury motor boat with a camper tops parked at the docks.

These are enclosures that are attached to the back of a convertible boat top. They help to fully enclose the cockpit and seating area of a boat with canvas and windows. This protects the boat against bugs and weather. Camper tops have their own frame, and they are designed to protect the stern of the boat.

9. Boat curtains

A yacht hallway with glass windows and curtains inside to avoid sunlight in the interiors of the yacht.

Boat curtains come in designs for the side and aft of your boat. They care used to enclose the vessel. They are typically made from heavy-duty plastic for windows and marine-grade canvas. They can be connected to a Bimini or camper tops. The overall purpose of boat curtains is to protect the boat and its passengers from the elements.

Essential Features for Boat Covers

If you are in the market for boat covers, there are a few features you should pay close attention to.

1. Mildew resistant

Boat covers are meant to keep water and other elements out. That is why the cover you purchase should be mildew-resistant. It will prevent the gathering of unpleasant odors in your cover.

2. UV resistant

You must also purchase a cover that will protect your boat from harmful UV rays. You should look for fabrics that specifically meet this criterion.

3. Water-resistant

Two pontoon boats covered with water resistant boat cover to protect it from the rain and sunlight.

If you plan to leave your boat outside, it will rain. You should use a cover that will keep the vessel dry. Always look for covers that are composed of highly-rated water resistant materials.

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4. Warranty

You should not leave the store without a solid warranty. The cover you purchase should be without damage or defect. If you do detect these shortcomings, then you should be able to return it without difficulty. A product that comes with a good warranty is a sign of its durability.

5. Trailerable

A boat in a trailer with a boat cover ready to be transferred in the storage room.

This is a rather odd neologism. It refers to the ability to transport a boat via trailer on the open road. This is hard to do with a loose-fitting cover that catches a lot of wind. If you need the opposite, then you should look for specific references to a boat cover’s being trailerable. 

The type of boat cover you purchase will depend largely on where you intend to store your boat. You can probably get away with paying for a less costly cover if you intend to store the vessel in a well-protect indoor shelter.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are boat covers important?

Powerful sun rays can damage the bodywork and material structure of your boat over time. They can cause the breakdown of fiberglass and the discoloration of your paint job. Any vinyl or stickers that you put on the boat will peel off if it is left unprotected in the sun.

Rain can also eat away at your boat. Even if you protect vital electronic and navigation equipment, the build-up of rainwater in your boat for any length of time can cause permanent damage to your vessel.

A high-quality cover will protect your boat from the elements. It will protect it when you transport it from one place to another. This is an especially important function. On the road, your boat can be damaged by brushes, trees, and loose bits of rock. Using a boat cover will keep scratches off your bodywork.

Will a boat cover keep the boat clean?

The short answer is yes. Although you will still have to paint and polish your boat regularly, having a cover will help reduce the frequency of these chores. A boat cover will also protect your vessel from the dirt, dust, and grime that accumulates in indoor storage facilities.

Indeed, such particles react with the humidity in the air and a sticky paste will settle over a boat that is not covered. These sticky brown deposits can be challenging to remove, and will make your boat look tacky and unsightly. Using a cover is the only way to keep such a thing from happening.