Cover Frames for the DIY Boater

If you follow my blogs, you’ll have read that I’m a big believer in covering your boat during the off-season (see “5 Winter Lay-up Tips for Your Boat“. In this week’s blog, I’ll give you some tips on building a sturdy frame that should last for seasons to come. Whether you choose to cover the frame with shrinkwrap or an inexpensive plastic tarp is up to you.

I’ve built frames from wood, galvanized conduit used for wiring, and PVC pipe. In a pinch, I’ve even built a simple strongback for a sailboat out of sawhorses and the boat’s mast laid fore-n-aft. The key to building any frame is to create a strongback or central ridge that will not only support the cover but also withstand wind and snow loads.

Wood frames are the easiest; some two-by-fours,  strapping, a little plywood, wood screws, clothesline, a few scraps of rug, some duct tape, and a screw gun and voila, you can build a frame in an afternoon. If you mark it carefully and take some care when removing it, you should get 3 or more seasons out of it.

Frames don't have to be pretty. This one being installed on my current project boat is an adaptation from a much bigger boat's frame and a fancy Fairclough Sailmakers cover. Notice the generous space over the cockpit.

The nicest frame I ever built was made from 3/4” galvanized electrical conduit known as EMT. I bought the standard length pipe, a pipe cutter, hand bender, and some flexible connectors known as Kover Klamps that are easily found on the web. That frame  not only lasted many years, but also was a customized enhancement and it increased the value of the boat when I sold it.  The unique part of that frame was how I connected it to the boat by removing the lifelines and using the boat’s stanchions as supports. Rather than the more common method of lashing the legs of the frame to the stanchions with line, l was able to slide the EMT right over the tapered stanchions. I used a little rigging tape to keep from scratching the stanchions and to take up some space on the tapered end so the frame sat tight—easy to install and remove.

You can also build a sturdy long-lasting frame from PVC. If you simply dry-fit the pieces together without glue, you’ll be able to disassemble this frame easily for storage when not in use. However, this type of frame doesn’t stay together as securely as screwed wood or clamped metal frames do. On boats with very high cabins or hardtops, it is sometimes possible to simply build the strongback and not build side ribs since the sides are already so steep that snow and ice can’t collect there if the cover is tight enough. On lowprofile boats, like sailboats, it will be necessary to build ribs from the strongback to the rail every couple of feet on either side—strapping or line can be used to fill any big gaps. I also recommend you build the strongback high enough that it will not only shed snow easily, but will also allow you to stand up in the boat’s cockpit for better winter work access.

Carefully mark the frame with colored rigging tape or permanent marker once it’s built, so you know how to quickly and easily reassemble the frame for next season.  Use carpet squares to keep the cover from tearing or rubbing excessively on the frame.  I like to secure the frame to the boat’s rails but not secure the cover to the frame. Instead secure the cover to or around the hull. Good luck building your new cover frame and feel free to contact me with any questions about your project.


f you’re getting your boat ready to sell, a moderate amount of time and effort will add genuine value and help justify your asking price.
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