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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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