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Pontoon Boat Tops-Covers-Enclosures

Pontoon tops haven’t really changed that much since the early days.  The primary purpose of the      pontoon top is to provide shade.  Fixed frame tops covered with vinyl or fabric gave way to fiberglas (too heavy) and finally aluminum.  People perceived the aluminum as somehow better but it was just an improved covering    replacing the vinyl or fabric.  The problem with fixed frame tops is that the people seating beneath the top can not get sun.  Those sitting in the front enjoy the sun and those beneath the top do not.  The    convertible canopy (Bimini top) has largely replaced fixed frame tops.  Part of the transition was caused by larger horsepower engines and the demand for speed.  A fixed frame top covered in fabric or aluminum catches a lot of wind.  The convertible canopy can be folded back for speeds over 30 mph.  

A 1960’s fixed frame top

Colored fabric added style

Most modern boats have convertible canopies (Bimini’s) standard.  The new boat buyer generally doesn’t have anything to worry about because of extended warranties most tops are excellent.  The aftermarket buyer can easily get in trouble with cheap 1” frames, plastic fittings or vat dyes fabrics.

Aluminum replaced fabric

images courtesy of

Fold back for speed

Deluxe new boats have taken the Bimini to a new level.  They can be stored in a radar arch.  Power Bimini’s are ideal for bridges or storage on a hoist with a canopy.  Double Bimini are popular in the south to provide shade in both the front and stern.

Attached to a radar arch

The first Walk On Hardtop appeared about 1980.  It was on one of the first boats to have oversize  (25”) tubes.  Other manufacturers were reluctant to offer these tops, primarily for liability reasons but as tube sizes increased more companies sold them.  The image to the left is a 1987 Sylvan.  Modern boats have taken these tops to a new level, with slides and other accessories.  Potential buyers should still be       concerned about the liability issue.  They are great for sunbathing but you might not want  teenagers    partying ten feet in the air.   


Some boaters want to enclose part of their pontoon.  Sometimes to allow them to use it a little earlier or later in the season. Sometimes to turn it into a camper for overnights.  In years past some manufacturers offered “factory” enclosures.  Most enclosures are fabricated by local canvas shops, although some manufacturers might still offer them.  I have two recommendations regarding campers.  First think carefully about camping overnight on your pontoon boat.  Some enclosures are not water or bug proof.  In rain water may blow through seats or wick through carpet. Mosquitos may make a night on the pontoon miserable.  Fitting an    enclosure is not a job for the average handyman. Canvas shops charge dearly for enclosure but its not an easy job.  One of the worse nights of my life was on a Flote-Bote on Kentucky Lake in a driving rain.    

Pontoon Covers

There are two types of pontoon covers and you really must know the difference.  Mooring or storage covers protect the interior from the elements.  Be it sun or snow.  Travel covers perform the same job but you can tow the boat with the cover on.  The difference (besides price) it how they fit and how they are padded.  Most mooring/storage covers will flap around in the wind when towed.  The canvas (or acrylic) can chaff your upholstery.  Travel covers are usually custom fitted.  They have padding over the upholstery and not billow or slap upholstery or fence when being transported.  Some new boat builders offer travel covers and many marine canvas shops make them.

Storage or mooring cover

Image from

Lowe Boats travel cover

These are two pictures of a unique product.  It’s a hydraulic top that extends from 10’ to 20’.  Then it can lower to protect your boat like a mooring cover. All hydraulically.

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