Sailboat Bimini Tops Have Special Requirements!

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Highlights for Sailboat Bimini Tops:

  • Frame Configurations
  • Mounting Strategies
  • Support Strategies
  • Quick Tips and Facts
  • Custom vs Retail Bimini Tops

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 sailboat 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 wide to prevent water from puddling between them.

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

Frames

Ask 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 that 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 it's "under sail" lowest position? 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. 

Dodger with chafe patch

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

Boat with Support Poles
Boat with Straps

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!

In our opinion, nothing else 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.


Split Mount Bimini Frame

  • 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 provide shade and to protect the clear plastic.

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

We have people request to have the cover on the inside due to difficulty reaching it. Of course that is possible, but it leaves the clear vinyl exposed to the sun. By doing it this way, be aware that you will be replacing the clear vinyl once the sun destroys it.

An aft cockpit bimini can often be mounted on the rails instead of the gunnels by using a special hinged jaw slide, 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 you store it 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 and you can cover it with a storage boot.

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

Aft Rail Mount Bimini

Self-Supporting Sailboat Bimini Tops


A self-supporting bimini top uses the usual support poles in the back, but the front support poles are different.

They run horizontally between the front bow and the aft bow of the bimini top and literally push 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.


Retail 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 your main consideration.  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 retail version will not be as well made as most custom fabricators produce.  Sturdy reinforcement, zippered pockets, stay cutouts, lifetime thread, support poles, and viewing windows are not available in retail versions. Some retrofitting can be done, but is that something you want to do on this cheaper version?  
  • Retail 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 retail 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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