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Boat Canvas Care

This time of year, many boaters are taking their boats out of the water and putting them away for the season.  If you are lucky enough to live in an area where the winters are not so brutal, it may not be the end of your boating season.  Instead, it may be that time of year where your canvas tops and isinglass (clear plastic) come out.  You know the clear plastic panels and the fabric covers that we all but ignore when the weather is warm and sunny.  If you have ever had to replace the canvas on your boat, then you know it can be expensive.  Here are some tips that will allow you to extend the life of your boat’s canvas so you can get many years of use out of it. 

Keep it Clean

Not only does this keep your boat looking good but it also helps your canvas and isinglass last longer.  Here’s how you do it.

Canvas – There are many cleaners on the market specifically for cleaning boat canvas and they work pretty well.  Some of them also have ingredients that will protect the canvas and help to waterproof it.  If you are going to use one of these, make sure you get the right product for the type of material your canvas is made of and follow the directions carefully. 

An alternative is to use a mild solution of water and laundry detergent.  Start by rinsing off the canvas with water.  After that, lightly scrub the canvas with the solution using a soft bristle brush.  Rinse the canvas again and you are done. 

Isinglass – Again, there are many cleaners on the market specifically made for this.  If you use one, make sure that you get one that will clean AND protect your clear plastic.  Follow the directions provided with the product.

An alternative is to use denatured alcohol to clean the clear plastic.  If your plastic is extremely dirty, this does a much better job than any of the cleaners on the market that I have tried.  Make sure you use a soft cotton cloth and prepare to have extras on hand because they will get dirty.  The alcohol will strip off the dirt but it will also strip off any protection that the plastic may have, so if you use this as a cleaner, you need to apply a protectant afterwards.  I use Lemon Pledge and it works wonderfully.  
Denatured alcohol does an excellent job of cleaning clear plastic.

Lemon Pledge is a good protector for clear plastic.

Keep it in Good Working Order

Zippers - Most boat canvas tops have zippers and over time, they can get difficult to use because they are prone to get stuck or become hard to move.  This is usually due to lack of lubrication.  Using a zipper lubricant helps keep the zipper moving freely along which can also help prevent tears and broken zippers. 

A good alternative to zipper lubricant is Chapstick or petroleum jelly.
You can use Chapstick to lubricate the zippers on your boat's canvas.

Snaps – If your boat has canvas snaps or turnbutton fasteners that screw into the fiberglass, make sure you periodically check the screws to ensure they are still tight.  Keep them clean.  You can lubricate turnbutton fasteners to keep them working well but you may want to refrain from lubricating canvas snaps as this may make it difficult for them to remain snapped. 

Extenders – We have all have had those situations where it seems that, with age, our canvas seems to shrink.  One day, you take your canvas out of storage and begin putting it up.  You get to that last zipper or snap on the last side and it just won’t reach.  Fortunately, you can purchase snap extenders and zipper extenders to give you that extra inch or two that your need for everything to zip and snap up like it should.

Zipper extenders and snap extenders are a way to counteract shrinkage.


When it comes time to store your canvas or isinglass, don’t forget these tips:

1.        Clean it before you store it.  Make sure it is dry before putting it away.

2.       Don’t fold the clear plastic panels, roll them instead.

3.       Roll the clear plastic panels with sheets of white fabric or white paper (no print) to prevent staining and sticking.  If you had your canvas top custom made, see if you can get the templates from the shop that did the work.  They typically work well for this.

4.       Make sure you store your canvas and isinglass in a clean, dry location.

If you follow these steps, you should be able to enjoy your canvas for many years to come.

Happy Boating

Captain Frank
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