Sailboat Bimini Tops Have Special Needs!

Highlights

  • Sailboat bimini tops and their frame configurations
  • Mounting strategies
  • Support strategies
  • Quick tips and facts
  • Custom vs off the shelf or store bought tops

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Sailboat bimini tops present unique considerations for each boat, sailor, and budget! 

We would like to assist you in ironing out these considerations before you approach your canvas fabricator. 

Our goal is to help you feel more comfortable in approaching them and conveying your needs to them. 

Bear in mind that each fabricator does things differently, so our rules of thumb for this discussion may vary somewhat from your local fabricator. Be ready to listen to their ideas too!

 

So let's get started! 

Envision us standing on your boat together, going over your needs for a new sail boat bimini top.  Let's identify the questions you need to consider as if we were face to face discussing these options.

Basic Sailboat Bimini Frame Configurations

Quick Fact: Fabricators can get pretty creative with the frames on their sailboat bimini tops, but for our purposes we will be looking at  two, three, or four bow frame configurations. The max distance between bows is 42" or less.

Keep this in mind as you go along!  You will want to keep the spread between bows from getting to prevent water from puddling between them.

Take a look at these frames below to get an idea of what this will look like.

Let's Start With Asking Yourself These Questions

  •  How much of the cockpit area are you trying to cover?
  •  Where is your traveler?
  •  Will the traveler interfere with the length in any way?
  •  Will you cover any of your companion way?

 

 Quick Fact: A four bow bimini with max spacing between bows would be about

10' 6" in length.

This gives you a general idea of the span four bow sailboat bimini tops can make. 

Let's move on!

  • Do you have enough headroom to allow for a bimini top under the boom?
  • How low is your boom?
  • Is it resting at the lowest position it will be while under sail? Raise your sail and find out just how low your boom is while under sail. Be sure to have this exact height for your fabricator.

This measurement sets in stone every other measurement the bimini frame is fabricated from as well as the patterning. Once a bimini is made, it has very little adjustment in height or length.

  • Will you have free standing head room? If not, will you be ok with bending your head while you are standing?

 Quick Tip: If your boom is low and your bimini is beneath it, make sure you ask to have chafe patches added to the bimini top. It takes very little friction for the soft material of your sail cover to chafe through the bimini top fabric.

Notice the chafe patch on the dodger below.  A chafe patch is intended to protect the material from abrasion no matter where it comes from. 

Next;

  • How will your bimini top stay open?
  • Will you use straps or support pole
  • Where will they mount?
  • Will the forward straps be in the way? Consider how you move around on the boat. Walk to the bow and board the boat to help you make this determination. D-ring bimini straps that attach to the handrails and stern rails are seen on many sailboats.
  • Where in the cockpit will your bimini mount?


Take a look at these two photos for clarification on support poles vs straps.

Photos courtesy Cover Girl Marine Canvas & Upholstery

    Quick Fact: The frame of a bimini top mounts to the boat at about the mid-point of the bimini.

So if a bimini is 8' in length, the mounting point will be at approximately 4' (halfway).

An exception to this would be a split mount frame. This is where the frame of the bimini is mounted in two separate places on the boat. A good reason to have a split bimini mount might be a winch that sits right where your frame mounts.

Splitting the mounting points might be a good option to give you the proper room for winching the sail. We are big fans of stainless steel, both for the frame and for the fittings, simple as that!

Nothing else, in our opinion, is tough enough for the job of a sailboat bimini. Now, looking at the photos of frame configurations, consider where on your boat the deck hinges will be mounted.


  • Where are your winches?
  •  Will your winch handle be fully functional?
  •  Will you be able to board your boat without turning yourself into a pretzel?

So by now you have determined whether you will have a bimini under the boom or not. If you have determined that it's just not practical to install a bimini top under the boom, you will want to consider an aft bimini top.

 

Aft Rail Sailboat Bimini Tops

Height won't be as much of a consideration here, nor will chafe patches be important.

However, this type of bimini top has its own set of special considerations.

  • Where is your aft stay?
  • Will it be going through your bimini?
  • How long and high will the bimini be?
  • Do you have a traveler back here to contend with?
  • Do you plan to add a fabric connector between your bimini and your dodger for additional shade? If so, this is where you should watch your height on the aft bimini, you should make sure that the downward slope of the connector to the dodger clears the end of the boom.
  • Will you have a viewing window to see the set of your sails?
  • Where should you locate a viewing window in the bimini?
  • Will the viewing window be covered to protect you from the sun? Almost all are covered, due to the need for shade and to protect the clear plastic.

Consider your ability to reach the window cover, roll back and secure the cover.

We have people ask to put the cover on the inside due to difficulty reaching it. That is of course possible, but it leaves the clear vinyl exposed to the sun and by doing it this way, you should be aware that you will be replacing the clear vinyl when the sun destroys it.

An aft cockpit bimini can often be mounted on the rails instead of the gunnels using a special style jaw slide that is hinged, allowing it to open and slip around the rails. The same decisions about how to support an aft bimini top will need to be made.

  • Straps or support poles?
  • Where will it store or will you keep it open all the time?


 Quick Fact: If your aft stay goes through the bimini, your bimini will collapse and store to the aft stay where you would then cover it with a storage boot.

This photo below shows both an aft rail mount bimini and self supporting sailboat bimini tops

 

Self-Supporting Sailboat Bimini Tops

A self-supporting bimini top uses the usual support poles in the back, it's the front support poles that are different.

They are running horizontally between the front bow and the aft bow of the bimini top and are literally pushing the bimini top open. This eliminates the need for front straps or poles.

This is called a self-supporting bimini top. It’s a wonderful thing for movement and mobility on a sailboat!

 

Quick Tip: As awesome as self-supporting sailboat bimini tops are, beware that you may need more support for open ocean sailing. Without front support poles or straps, you are removing two structural supports for your bimini which can create an abnormal amount of strain on the deck mounting hinges.

You don't want your bimini top to become a sail and lift right off the boat. Look for stanchions near the front bow that could host extra side support.

 

Off the shelf store bought sailboat bimini tops

So now that we have covered a variety of custom style sailboat bimini tops, lets finally talk about what you get when you order something online or buy it from a store.  

  • Budget would be number one factor.  A custom sailboat bimini top would be at least double if not triple the cost of a store bought version.  
  • If you have aft stays that need to go through your top, plan on a custom bimini top.  Otherwise you will need expensive modifications that wouldn't be worth the effort.  An exception would be a viewing window.  You can take the fabric off your store bought frame and bring it to your local fabricator for the installation of the window.  
  • A store bought version comes in both aluminum and stainless. We have already talked about stainless vs aluminum, but you will also find that a store bought version will not be as well made as most custom fabricators produce.  Sturdy reinforcing, zippered pockets, stay cutouts, lifetime thread, support poles and viewing windows are not available in store bought versions. Some retrofitting can be done, but is that something you want to do on this cheaper version.  
  • Store bought versions have frames that need to be assembled. They come in pieces in a box.  You will either need to screw or rivet the frame pieces together.  Your frame will not be as sturdy as a custom fabricated bimini. 


Having said these things, a store bought version can do a satisfactory job for you on your boat.  It really boils down to your needs, budget and what your expectations are.  

Here are a couple of links to two big online sellers for manufactured sailboat bimini tops. 

www.iboats.com and www.overtons.com



We have now covered some of the basic sailboat bimini styles and structures, and your local fabricator will be able to help you sort out the rest!  My hope is that this information has given you a better understanding of sailboat bimini tops and has prepared you to think ahead about your options!  

 

Happy Sailing!!!

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