Choosing the right marine canvas fabric for your boat, yacht, or other water craft is critical in getting the best performance and value from your investment. In this article I'll be taking a look at the pros and cons of the four most common fabrics used in marine canvas applications and how they should be used in the marine environment.
Disclaimer: Most of the information in this article can be found on the manufacturer's websites. My personal observations after working with these products for the last 25 years in Florida are also included.
Pros: Sunbrella is a rugged, woven acrylic fabric specially designed for the extremes of the outdoors, whether in the awning industry or the harsh marine environment. Sunbrella's durability in long-term exposure to the elements is well deserved. The acrylic fibers that make up Sunbrella are pigmented before extrusion, reducing fade and increasing color-fastness. Sunbrella marine fabric also comes in dozens of classy, up-to-date colors that will satisfy any kind of design need.
Although Sunbrella is water-resistant, it also has the advantage of breathability, which allows moisture to escape through the fabric. This gives Sunbrella covers and bimini tops a unique advantage: They can shed water droplets from rain and boatwashing very efficiently but still let water moisture in your boat's bridge or cockpit area escape through the top or cover, keeping your boat drier and reducing mold and mildew problems.
Another advantage in using Sunbrella is it's finished look. Sunbrella tops and covers just look better than vinyl coated fabrics because of the "soft hand" the woven acrylic gives it. Sunbrella marine canvas fabric adapts to the shape and tensions placed on it to give your tops and covers a better fit. Some fabrication irregularities that would be pronounced in a vinyl-coated fabric disappear with Sunbrella products.
Sunbrella also maintains it's flexibility for the life of the canvas (up to ten years) and can be handled, repaired, re-stitched, folded, and re-installed on your boat with no damage to the fabric.
Sunbrella is the universal marine fabric and can be used for any type of cover or top.
Cons: As noted above, the standard Sunbrella marine canvas fabrics are not waterproof, just water-resistant. After the first two years, it is recommended that Sunbrella awnings, tops, and covers exposed to the weather 24/7 be treated with Fabric Guard to restore their water-resistant properties. Water should bead up on the Sunbrella surface, so if it doesn't, apply some Fabric Guard liberally. (Note: Sunbrella Supreme and Seamark are water-proof but have limited color selection, have a significantly higher price, and require more maintenance than standard Sunbrella.)
Sunbrella also has less chafe resistance that many other fabrics, so tops and covers need to have wear patches and chafe protection added where there is contact between the Sunbrella fabric and objects such as cleats, winches, stays, shrouds, sail covers and the like.
Another interesting characteristic of Sunbrella is its tendency to stretch after the first few weeks of exposure to the weather. Sunbrella can stretch as much as 2%, which on small covers is inconsequential, but on a eight foot long T-top adds an additional two inches. This is because of the "soft hand" described earlier. On a flat surface such as a T-top on a center console boat, this can result in pooling of water in the top, which also stretches the Sunbrella even further.
Finally, some of the Sunbrella colors have an issue with fading in harsh, sun-drenched areas, such as Southern climes. The colors that fade the most are the reds, oranges, yellows, toast, and some browns. The colors that last the longest are the blacks, blues, greens, along with light nuetral colors such as natural, oyster, and linen. If you live in the southern United States or spend a lot of time in the Carribean, choose your Sunbrella colors carefully.
Pros: Stamoid marine fabrics are made from a strong polyester marine fabric coated with a good looking vinyl that is colorfast, mildew resistant and waterproof. Stamoid Top fabric is coated on both sides and Stamoid Light fabric is coated on the exterior only, leaving the polyester fabric exposed on the interior.
Stamoid marine fabrics are very reliable, have very little fade over the long haul, and offer the advantage of being waterpoof.Â Also, the exterior coating resists staining quite well and the fabric is dimensionally stable, with no significant stretching or shrinking even afer many years.
A huge advantage in Stamoid marine fabric is it's flexibility and foldability even as it ages. This allows you to service Stamoid tops and covers later without cracking the vinyl coating and perforating the surface. Stamoid Light marine fabric also folds down into small bundles making it easier to stow and taking up less space on your boat.
Cons: The waterproof property of Stamoid marine fabrics also limits the scope of it's use. For instance, it's inevitable that sail covers will have some water penetration, and it's important for the water to find it's way out. Stamoid covers trap water inside and could result in mold or mildew damage to whatever they are covering.
The dimensional stability of Stamoid marine fabrics can also be a drawback on applications like dodgers, sail covers, and full boat covers. Stamoid does not have a "soft hand" like Sunbrella and whatever wrinkles, bulges, and irregularities are in the finished product are there to stay.
The last thing to consider is Stamoid's higher price tag and limited color selection. Stamoid is coming out with new colors on a regular basis so consult this website for the latest available colors.
Stamoid should never be used on hatch covers.
Weblon Regatta Yacht Fabric
Pros: Weblon Regatta marine fabric is an extremely tough and durable vinyl designed for marine use. The fabric is a 2-ply vinyl laminated polyester fabric with exceptional dimensional stability. Weblon Regatta is waterproof, has excellent fade-resistance, and resists abrasion and chafing better than most fabrics.
Weblon Regatta marine fabric is also reasonably priced and can reduce your up-front investment.
If you are looking for a small cover, bimini top, T-top, or awning that needs to stand up to a beating, this is the fabric for you.
Cons: Weblon Regatta's biggest drawback is it's stiffness after a few years in the outdoors. If you fold an older Weblon top or cover that has had significant UV exposure, it can crack or get perforations and basically render the cover useless. So if you have a cover that needs to be folded and stowed away, or taken off a bimini frame for repair or service, you could end up with a damaged piece of canvas when you're done.
Like Stamoid, Weblon Regatta should not be used for sail covers, dodgers, boat covers, or hatch covers.
Pros: Aqualon is a polyester fabric coated with a pigmented vinyl resin on the exterior. It is the least expensive of the outdoor marine canvas fabrics yet is durable, light, and easy to maintain. The available Aqualon colors are esthetically pleasing and look good on any boat.
Aqualon marine fabric is light-weight, does not harden or crack and remains flexible for the life of the fabric. The vinyl coating also makes it waterproof, and over all is a great bargain for those on a budget.
Aqualon does have a softer hand than Stamoid and can be used for boat covers and dinghy covers. Instrument covers, seat covers, and consolecovers also do well in Aqualon.
Cons: Aqualon marine fabric does not have the longevity of the Big Three fabrics mentioned above, and is reflected in it's shorter 5-year warranty. I think the shorter life-span is due to UV damage, so take that into consideration when planning your project.
Aqualon should not be used for sail covers, dodgers, bimini tops, T-tops, or hatch covers.
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