If your boat lies unattended, even for a short time—be it in a marina, (in or out of the water), or on a mooring—it doesn't take long for it to become grubby, from bird droppings or wind blown dust. For all the many intricate and expensive devices available to deter birds and keep decks and cockpits clean, an awning is the simplest and most effective method. This is particularly true if you want to protect a large cockpit, a Bimini, or hatch.

I particularly wanted to cover the center cockpit and Bimini on Britannia, to shield if from the Florida sun as much as anything. The enclosure leaked a little, and I never met one which didn't, especially during some of the horrendous cloudbursts on summer afternoons in The Sunshine State.

A cheap tarp acts as a tent but impedes easy access. Of course, it's always possible to have an awning custom made, at any canvas or sail makers loft, for a price, and considerably more than the one I concocted.

The simplest and easiest way to create an awning is to buy a cheap plastic “tarp” from your local DIY store, drape it over a boom and attach it to the rails with bungee shock-cord, to basically form a simple tent, or lean-to. The main boom on Britannia passes straight over the cockpit, so making a tent was easy. Most tarp's have eyelets every 18” inches or so all round, so threading bungee shock-cord through and hooking the other end to the rail was simplicity itself.

However, as might be expected, such a simple solution has its inadequacies: First, you can only cover the area where there is a support boom. Second, if you anchor the sides down to a rail it can become a bit of a scramble to edge along the side decks. Third, the tarp’ will probably rub against the sides of the Bimini, which can cause chafe to both materials in high winds. The forth shortfall, a tarp’ tent looks cheap, mainly because it is!

Bungee is used to keep tension on the sidestarp’ awnings can also be stretched between two poles attached to masts or rigging. They flap about alarmingly in even a slight breeze, so sometimes they are attached with bungee shock-cord down to the rails. Water can also collect in a flat cover and become very heavy.

 I wondered how to overcome all these shortcoming and make an awning that was both more effective and looked a bit more professional.

The rods slide into tubes fastened to the stanchions  An idea sprung from seeing covered wagons in an old Wild West movie and I decided to try to make a curved cover like those wagons. Such an arrangement might also hold the tarp' clear of the Bimini and allow air to pass between. It should also offer more headroom along the side decks and overcome the access problem.

 I bought a 12’ x 16’ foot tarp' from my local hardware store, which nicely fitted my main boom length of 16’ feet and the boats 13’ foot beam at that point. As an added benefit the awning also extended over the aft hatch. tarp's are available in many different sizes and colors, so it should not be difficult to find, or tailor one to suit almost any boat. If an adjustment has to be made in the size it can be done by simply gluing a hem on the cut sides with contact adhesive and punching eyelets into the hem.

I then needed three curved bars to go over the boom, which were called hoops on the original covered wagons, so we’ll stay historic.. I found these at tentpole technologies inc, who sell demountable hoops for all kinds of modern tents. (www.tentpoletechnologies.com). These are in 21” inch sections which slot into each other to form a very strong, yet flexible hoop. They are also easy to demount and stow when the awning is not in use. I bought three aluminum sections of different lengths to go clear of the main boom, for only $135.00 total, including shipping. To hold them down on the stanchions I fastened three 12” inch long PVC pipes to the stanchions on each side of the boat with hose clips, after first taping the stanchions to prevent scratching by the clips. The hoops curve over the boom and drop into these sockets, forming three perfect arches.

After dragging the tarp' over the boom I used small cable ties to strap it securely to the hoops, through the eyelets in the front and back of the tarp'. I then used 1/4” inch line to secure the awning round the mast at the front and the end of the boom at the rear. I could only fasten the center support hoop at the edges of the tarp', but it has stayed in place so far in all kings of winds.

 I then bought 20’ feet of good quality bungee shock-cord, and some hooks to anchor the cord on the lifelines. All that was needed to attach the cord to the tarp' was to tie an overhand knot to anchor the cord in a hook, then thread the other end through an eyelet in the tarp' and tie another  knot to stop it slipping out..These hoops not only supported the tarp', but provide more room to get under the awning. This completed what is really a simple structure. Shorter awnings than Britannia’s might not even need a center support.

This was the inspiration for my own awningDuring the summer months in Florida I consider it more important to protect canvas from the heat the sun, than to have an awning which is instantly removed, when we want to go sailing - which was not very often when it’s 95 degrees F and 90 percent humidity. However, when we did take the boat out dismantling the awning proved to be quite simple, and my wife and I soon became proficient. First, the shock-cord was taken off the rails and the tarp’ unclipped from the hoops. The tarp' lays limp on the boom, where it is easy to fold up.  The hoops were then lifted out of their stanchion sockets and folded up and stowed in the box they shipped in.

This inexpensive awning effectively protects Britannia’s canvas Bimini from the fierce Florida sun, as well as any expensive custom made cover. Temperatures in the cockpit are also significantly lower, and I can comfortably get along the side decks.

I consider this to be more than enough reward for the financial outlay and small effort. I can even put up with the occasional remark that it “looks like a replica of a Conestoga wagon,” because envy is just another form of flattery...


This type of awning keep the rain and bird dropings out of the cockpit and also allows wind to blow through.