Boat Cover vs. Tarp: What Works Better For You?

Every boat owner knows that owning a boat is an investment. The cost of boats ranges anywhere from $500.00 to well over $50,000. Whether you use your boat occasionally for big holidays or celebrations or whether you take it for a drive every weekend, you must take care of it to prolong its life for as long as possible. One of the best ways to extend your boat’s life is to protect it from the harsh elements, which means covering it when you are not using it.

Why is it Important to Cover Your Boat?

Covering your boat when you are not using it is the best way to protect your boat and prolong its life. If you store your boat in the water, then it is very susceptible to natural elements such as:

  • Sun
  • Rain
  • Snow
  • Sleet
  • Strong winds

It is almost guaranteed that there will be bird droppings the next time you see it or other damages done by wild animals.

There is also a misconception that if you store your boat out of the water, say in a storage unit or your garage, that you do not need to cover it. However, that is completely untrue.

Even if you are storing your boat in a dry place, a cover is still important because it will protect your boat against dust, mice, and other indoor damages. If you are using your garage often and you or other people are going in and out of it, then there is a chance of scratching the boat.

Covering your boat guarantees that your boat will not only stay looking as beautiful as when you had first bought it, but it will also guarantee that it will be in the best shape possible for when you take it out into the water.

The safety of your boat, yourself, and your passengers depend highly on how well you take of your boat when it is not in use. Any good boat owner will tell you how important it is to not skip out on covering your boat; it just isn’t worth the risk.

What is a Boat Cover?

A boat cover is exactly what it sounds like, a cover for your boat. The best boat covers are ones that are fitted to your boat, which means it should be snugged but not airtight.

Most boat owners would advise not skimming out on a cheap boat cover because it is a costly mistake. To them, it does not make sense to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a boat but end up buying a cheap, universal boat cover.

To ensure that the boat cover will fit your boat correctly, consider getting it custom made for the exact year, make, and model of your boat.

That way, you are not spending a lot of money on a boat cover that fits your boat decently but not perfectly. If the cover does not fit correctly, then water and debris will get inside of your boat and ruin it.

The cost of fixing these damages will be more costly than a custom boat cover, so this will save you money in the long run.

Aside from the fitting of the boat cover, it is also important to make sure the material is a high-quality fabric. A quality boat cover material should be:

  • Waterproof
  • UV resistant
  • Mold resistant
  • Mildew resistant

Pricing: $300 (semi-custom covers) to $1200+ (OEM covers at the dealerships).

What is a Tarp?

Tarp is short for tarpaulin which is a heavy-duty, waterproof cloth. You have probably seen tarp covers around. They are usually seen in a bright blue color or black.

Tarp covers are inexpensive, and they do get the job done. Tarp covers are popular among boaters because they are affordable, and because they are not tailored, they can be reused for many different things.

A giant piece of plastic tarp can be used to cover your boat or your car. However, because they are not custom made for your boat, a lot of plastic tarps are either too small or too big for your boat.

What happens if the Tarp is too loose?

If the tarp is too loose, then it will continue to flap around in the wind. The constant flapping of the tarp on your boat will damage the surface of your boat-the gloss as well as the paint color.

What happens if the tarp is too tight?

On the other hand, if the tarp is too tight it can also cause an array of problems. If the tarp is too tight, then it will not allow any air to circulate and it will trap in all of the moisture.

This is especially dangerous if you live in a humid place or a place where it rains and/or snows often. If there is no air circulation, then your boat is now a breeding ground for:

  • Bacteria
  • Mold
  • Mildew
  • Mushrooms

It will cost you much more to rid your boat of those problems then it would to get a tarp that fits your boat well.

Different Tarp Materials: Plastic Tarps vs Canvas Tarps

Plastic tarps are great because they are:

  • Easily accessible
  • Inexpensive
  • Will last you for the winter

However, they are not known to fit well and they almost always flap in the wind. If the plastic is of good quality, it will last you a few months, especially in the winter. By spring though, you might notice some worn spots and the grommets might also begin to pull out of the hem. If the plastic is good quality, it would be great for short term usage (around two winter seasons) but it will have to be replaced more often.

Canvas tarps are great because:

  • They are more durable-heavier, do not flap around in the wind as much.
  • Will last up to four seasons are more
  • Easily repaired/patched

Canvas tarps will not only last longer than plastic tarps because of their material, but they will also last longer because they can be repaired. The same cannot be said with a plastic tarp, once there is a hole in it, then it is time for a new one.

If you need a quick cover-up for a cheap boat you have rented, then a plastic tarp would work fine. Especially if you are only renting this boat for a few days and are planning on returning it after. These plastic tarps come larger than most boats, so they will cover most boat sizes.

What is the Difference Between Boat Covers and Tarps?

  • Material
  • Customizable
  • Pricing
  • Quality Of material
  • Protection quality 

Think of a boat cover like a tailored jacket, created just for you. It fits you just right because the tailor took down your exact measurement. It will not only look good on you, but it will feel comfortable because nothing is too long nor too light. A tailor-made jacket will cost more because of the time and the labor that goes into it.

A tarp is like a mass produce jacket that you find at any local store in your mall. There are a variety of sizes ranging from XS to XXXL but even someone that fits an XS, would not have the same measurements as someone else who can also fit an XS. Does that mean that the jacket will not fit both people? No, it will and it can also look good on both people.

However, many people do not need a custom jacket the same way many boat owners do not feel the need to drop hundreds of dollars on a cover. They are lucky enough that their boat is within the range of factor made plastic and canvas covers, and it fits their boat well enough.

However for some boat owners, “well enough” just will not do. They do not want to risk their boat covers being too loose or too tight. They want to ensure that it is tight enough to keep any outside elements out but loose enough, to where the air is able to circulate in.

Which Would Work Better For You?

There are many options to consider if you are in between a boat cover or a tarp.

The most important one is are you renting or is this your boat?

If you rent a boat and are not using it often, then a plastic tarp or canvas tarp would be sufficient. You do not need to spend money on a customizable and fitted boat cover for a boat that you do not own.

It will also not be feasible unless you plan on renting the exact same boat (model, make, and year) each time.

However, if you own this boat and plan on having it around for a long time, then a custom boat cover might be something you would want to look into. You can rest assured that the boat cover is made specifically for your boat, and it will protect it well.

Kern Campbell

Kern is a life long boater who finds great happiness sitting at the helm of a boat running on the open water. When he's not running the boat, he's likely anchored up along the beach with his wife, kids and good friends enjoying a great day at the coast.

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