Tips for Choosing a Bimini Top for Your Boat
A Bimini top is a cockpit cover for a boat that provides shade and protection from the sun and the elements for the captain, passengers and equipment on board.
A Bimini cover can be mounted on several areas of a boat, and can reduce the risk of sunburns and heat exhaustion by providing a comfortable, shaded area in open waters during hot days. It also helps protect your boat’s equipment from water and salt damage.
Picture this: You’ve been on an offshore adventure for hours on a scorching hot sunny day, and everyone onboard is exhausted from the heat. Think about what a major difference a Bimini top makes not only for your comfort, but also for prolonging your hours of boating enjoyment.
Without it, you would surely cut your quality boating time short due to the blazing hot sun or chilly rain. Bimini tops are more of an essential boat accessory than a luxury for most boat owners. If you’re considering buying a Bimini top, here are some tips for choosing the right one for your boat.
Selecting a Bimini Top
A Bimini top is an optional, yet integral investment for boaters who want to enhance their boats and make their offshore experiences more enjoyable.
Before selecting a Bimini top for your boat, you’ll need to determine which area you want it to cover and measure the length, height and width dimensions for that area. Knowing the height and length alone should give you a good idea about how much shade your Bimini top will provide.
You should also factor in how many people on average you want to provide shade for when measuring its dimensions. For example, if you use your boat frequently for family trips with children onboard, consider a longer Bimini top with a medium height. If you have a smaller boat you use mostly for yourself, a shorter in length but taller in height Bimini top may be the best alternative.
Measuring Bimini Top Width
Measure across your boat from one side to the other at the mounting points for the area you want the top to cover, which will be the center point of your Bimini top (your main mounting point). Bimini top frames are usually designed with a degree of flexibility for varying widths, so choose the width that most closely matches your main mounting point measurement.
Measuring Bimini Top Length
Measure for length by determining what portion of the boat you would like it to cover. Length measurements should be taken from the main mounting point, which will be the center of the Bimini top. When taking length measurements, picture half-and-half coverage from either side of the central or main mounting point. For example, a 6ft long top will have coverage of 3ft to the front and 3ft behind the main mounting point.
Measuring Bimini Top Height
Calculate height by standing in your boat and measuring from the mounting points up to the desired overhead position of the Bimini top. The height is the maximum standing height under the frame from the mounting location, not from the floor of your boat. If you like to drive on your feet, consider a top with a taller height. However, more height from the mounting point provides less shade, so keep that in mind when measuring your coverage area.
Once you have the dimensions, you’re ready to shop for your new Bimini top!
Types of Bimini Tops
- OEM: Most original equipment manufacturers have Bimini tops specially designed to fit their boats.
- Off-the-Shelf: Also known as aftermarket Bimini tops, these typically come as generic rectangles in ready-to-go dimensions and color choices.
- Custom: Bimini tops that provide boat owners customizable options for dimensions, colors, fabrics and designs, as well as warranty options.
What to Look for in a Bimini Top
Factors you may want to consider when shopping for a Bimini top include quality of fabric; mold and mildew resistance; climate resistance; durability; ease of maintenance; and aesthetic factors such as whether it has a generic or OEM look to it. Here’s a breakdown of some of the main things to consider when shopping for a Bimini top.
Most Bimini top frames are made from aluminum, plastic or steel. The latter has a strong resistance to dents, bending and other damage at high speeds, and is ideal for speedboats and other fast vessels.
However, steel has a tendency to rust, which is why aluminum or plastic might better suit your boat if you don’t cruise often at high speeds or into rough seas. Aluminum and plastic are ideal for smaller engine boats, since they don’t create as much resistance as steel frame tops. If you’re buying a custom Bimini top, you can mix-and-match by asking the maker for an aluminum frame with stainless steel fittings.
Bimini top fabric makes a world of difference. For example, solution dyed acrylic and polyester fabrics are known for high UV-and-fade resistance and water repellence.
Consider a fabric that has anti-fungal or anti-microbial finishes to prevent mold and deterioration over time. If you own a speedboat, consider the speed resistance of your chosen Bimini top. For example, a strong fabric such as nylon will have a higher speed resistance than a cheaper, lightweight fabric that could tear at faster speeds. Find out the speed resistance ratings before choosing a new Bimini top.
A Bimini top’s color is more than just an aesthetic choice. For example, a brightly colored top can make your boat more visible to rescuers if you’re stranded in open waters, especially during a storm. It also helps other boaters, jet-skiers and pilots of larger vessels spot your boat more easily, which reduces the risk of collisions.
Of course you want the color of your Bimini top to suit your style, but make sure it's not an eyesore of a mismatch to the rest of your boat’s colors. Pick a color that matches, compliments or doesn’t clash with the rest of the colors on your boat. Keep in mind too that the color, fabric and frame will also have an influence on the resale value of your boat.
The old expression “you get what you paid for” will apply if you choose a cheap-o Bimini top that will cost you more in the end if the frame and fabric can’t hold up to the boating conditions you subject it to.
Nothing against Chinese manufacturing, but if you live in the USA, you’re better off paying more for a US-made Bimini top with a warranty from a reputable manufacturer than a cheap Chinese knock-off. Keep in mind too that different materials come with different warranties, so make sure you read the fine print and choose your Bimini top wisely!