A bimini top or boat canopy can make your boating experience far more pleasant. On a hot summer’s day, fishing in the full sun isn’t much fun, particularly if the catch bucket is looking dismal. A bimini or canopy can also provide protection from the wind and rain.
If your boat already has a bimini or canopy that’s seen better days, it’s relatively easy to measure it up and buy a new one to replace it. But, if your boat has never had one then how do you know what type or size to buy?
What is the Difference Between a Bimini Top and a Boat Canopy?
A lot of people in Australia search the web for ‘boat canopy’ when they are actually looking for a bimini top. A bimini top is an open-front canvas top for the boat, usually supported by a metal frame. It can usually be collapsed if not needed.
There is also another type of boat canopy which uses metal frames and canvas to create a protective area over the boat’s entrance and part of the cockpit area. They often have vinyl windows, and are most commonly found on yachts. In the USA these are typically known as ‘boat dodgers’ or ‘spray hoods’. Here in Australia you may also hear them referred to as a boat canopy, spray dodger or yacht dodger.
What Size Bimini Top Do I Need?
Most bimini tops have three or four bows which are the steel frames that run through the fabric. Three bows are used on runabouts while four are needed on pontoons and larger fishing boats. The most common size is three bows. Within each of the bow sizes are multiple canopy heights, widths and lengths to choose from depending on the size of your boat and how much coverage you want. If you're going to stand under your bimini, pick one that will give you enough headroom height. The width depends on the points where the two deck hinges attach.
Parts of a Bimini Top
The struts on most bimini tops are made from aluminium tubing. Aluminium is an ideal material because it’s strong but lightweight and corrosion resistant.
The fabric cover is usually a 600D polyester fabric with a polyurethane coating to make it water resistant. Polyester fabric is used more often than canvas because it has better tear resistance. UV and mildew treatment by the manufacturer gives them a longer life. Fabrics come in a few colours to coordinate with most boat colourings.
Adjustable bimini top straps ensure the cover stays in place when you are at anchor and motoring at full speed.
Biminis should be easy to put up and take down, so you are more likely to want to store it after each use and not just the first one. A sock should be included for storage.
Installing a Bimini
Below are the instructions for installing a bimini which is anchored at the gunwales and held in place by web straps forward and back to keep the cover in place.
Due to the size of a bimini, it may be easier to complete this job with someone else helping you.
1. With the bimini fully extended/open, decide where the deck hinges need to be installed. This is the midpoint of the top. Before screwing in, mark to make sure they are opposite and parallel to each other.
2. Once you are happy with the placement, stick a piece of masking tape to the gunwale and mark the mounting holes of the hinges. Check the underside is clear then drill the holes. Use a countersink to counter the holes to protect the gelcoat from cracking. Remove the masking tape and use a marine sealant to bed the surface before screwing each deck hinge in place using nuts and bolts if possible. Clean up any excess sealant with a rag and solvent if needed.
3. Bolt the base of the main bow to the hinges on the deck and open the bimini right up. When fully extended the legs of the bow make a M-shape. To mount the eye straps, mark and drill the pair opposite each other. Attach the snap hooks to the eye straps and adjust.
Maintaining your Bimini
Without maintenance of your bimini top, it’s going to look shabby and not last as long as it should. Boat owners often forget to maintain their bimini top. They concentrate on rinsing their boat engine and hull but don’t clean anything above their head. Just because your canopy or bimini is well above water level, doesn’t mean it isn’t covered in salt on the top and underside.
A hose down after each trip to the ocean will remove most of the salt. If there is a buildup of salt or dirt, mix up a bucket of warm water with dishwashing liquid. Hose the bimini top then use a large sponge to wash the fabric. Rinse immediately with clean water and leave to air dry thoroughly.
Regular washing of the fabric removes the waterproof coating so make sure you waterproof as soon as you notice the water is seeping through the material rather than beading and running off.
Adjustable bimini top straps ensure your cover stays in place when you are at anchor and motoring at full speed. The hardware on your bimini or canopy is just as vulnerable as the canvas and needs regular maintenance. Zips and fasteners need a spray of Marine Silicone Lubricant to form a protective barrier against rust and corrosion.
The polyurethane coating on your bimini top won’t last forever. To ensure your top stays water resistant and help withstand damaging UV rays, you will need to apply to waterproof at the start of its life and every season or two after that, depending on how often you use your boat.
Follow these guidelines to apply:
1. Ensure your cover is clean (you don’t want to waterproof over any stains or dirt) and dry.
2. In a ventilated area, use a sponge, sprayer or brush to apply enough waterproofing to the fabric, so it’s thoroughly wet.
3. Allow to dry for six hours without folding.
Cleaning your Bimini Top or Boat Canopy
Like most things, prevention is better than cure. If you park your boat under a tree that drops leaves or dirty water collects in your canopy or bimini you are going to be cleaning it regularly. If you can store it away when not in use, you are not going to need to clean it nearly as much.
If it’s time to give your canopy or bimini some love and freshen it up, see the bimini cleaning guide below:
1. Brush the canopy or bimini with a soft brush or broom to remove as much dirt and debris as possible.
2. Use a hose or bucket of water to wet the canvas and remove any more loose dirt.
3. Fill a bucket with warm water and diluted canopy cleaner. Grab a soft bristled brush or sponge and scrub to remove stains and remaining dirt.
4. Rinse the canvas with clean water to wash off the soap residue.
5. Check the canvas and if any stains remain, scrub again with soapy water and rinse with clean water.
6. Dry in the sun. Check that the canvas is completely dry before storing.
A small amount of moisture or water trapped inside your folded bimini or canvas top can wreak havoc. Within a couple of weeks, you can have a flourishing colony of mould or mildew on your fabric. Mould and mildew can cause permanent staining and damage the material. To treat, use a mildew remover to kill any mould spores then use the canopy cleaner, as above.
Fallen leaves sitting in water can stain fabric as much as a case of mould so make sure it isn’t possible for leaves and dirt to become trapped inside the folded material.
If your cover is hit by a flock of birds or cluster of spiders leaving their droppings, use a Bird and Spider Stain Remover to dissolve the droppings.
Protecting your Bimini Top or Boat Canopy from Birds
Movement triggers fear in birds so anything that spins, waves or bounces in the wind can deter the birds from landing on your boat.
The StopGull Air has flags at either end of a bar that rotates in the wind to prevent birds from landing on recreational and commercial boats. There is a range of different support attachments available for securing the device to any surface on your boat, including an open bimini support and a folded bimini support. When not in use, you can easily fold it up or take it out of the base for storage.
If your canopy or bimini frame is looking dirty or covered in sea spray, it’s time to give it a clean.
1. Mix Septone Aluminium Cleaner in a bucket using one part cleaner to seven parts cold water.
2. Hose the poles so they are thoroughly wet.
3. Apply a thorough coating of the diluted cleaning solution and without delay, hose it off with high-pressure water.
4. For a good-looking finish, use a mild alkaline solution (1 part laundry powder to 100 parts water) and pour over the frame.
5. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry.
If you have any queries about a new bimini top or maintaining your old one, don’t hesitate to contact the experts at Boat Accessories Australia on 1300 308 161 or contact us online.