Boats of all sizes have canvas and clear vinyl panels to keep the weather out. During the boating season, these panels have a place and use, but storing these relatively fragile panels in the off-season can become a problem. Although it’s summer now, winter is coming.
Sun exposure deteriorates both canvas and vinyl. Cold, windy weather makes vinyl brittle, and the wind can cause it to crack and break. Unless you wrap your boat, exposing these panels to the elements in winter drastically decreases their useful life.
Canvas/vinyl panels are fastened to the boat’s superstructure with snaps, zippers and slide channels. During the boating season, especially in salt water, you must rinse and maintain these mechanical fasteners to keep them from corroding and becoming unusable.
Snaps should be lubricated with lip ice when installed and several times during the summer. Lip ice is cheaper than grease sticks labeled for boating, doesn’t dry out like many oils, and usually won’t flow onto and stain canvas. Proprietary products for keeping zippers zipping are better than using light oil. They can also un-jam the zipper pull if it sticks.
The slides that fit into the slide channels should also be lubricated with lip ice. When unsnapping snaps, always use a tool designed for this purpose. It looks like a narrow spatula with a heavy blade and snap-shaped groove in the end. Insert the blade with the groove under the snap, and unfasten the snap using leverage without pulling on the fabric or vinyl.
Before removing the panels from the superstructure, wash them with fresh water and allow them to dry. Remove water spots from the clear vinyl portions with a proprietary spot remover. Some spots can become permanent if not removed before storage. Lubricate and treat all fasteners and zippers. If your boat is stored at a facility near saltwater, fasteners and zippers that are a part of the superstructure can and will develop corrosion during storage that could render them useless come spring unless you prepare them beforehand.
Although canvas panels can be folded and stored out of the way on a shelf over the winter, folding vinyl causes permanent creases that can crack over time. Most panels are a combination of vinyl and canvas and should not be folded. Unless the panels from your boat are very large, say, in excess of 8 feet in any dimension, you can make a compact and safe storage for them. Combination vinyl and canvas panels can be hung over large diameter plastic pipe against an unused wall in a garage or dry basement.
I mounted a 4-inch diameter plastic pipe against a wall in my garage to hang my panels on. At 10 years old, my panels are still as clear and bright as new. To keep from scratching the vinyl with the zippers and snaps, I layer the panels with discarded terry cloth bath towels.
If you don’t have a wall available, simply roll the panel/terry cloth sandwich around the plastic pipe, making sure the outside layer is a towel. Secure the roll with twine or, better yet, hook-and-loop straps. Stand the roll in the corner of your garage or dry basement like a rolled-up carpet. The rigid plastic pipe prevents it from sagging. If your garage doesn’t have a ceiling, place the roll on the rafters to keep the panels safe, dry and ready for easy installation come spring.
David H. Osmolski of Charlotte Power Squadron/27 has been repairing boats since high school when his first boat, a canvas-covered canoe with cedar ribs, leaked in gallons per minute and required constant repair.