Boat Cover vs Shrink Wrap vs Tarp – What’s the Difference?

Boat Cover vs Shrink Wrap vs Tarp - What's the Difference

Worried about your new boat when winter comes? Well, you have every reason to as the cold season can cause serious damage to your watercraft when not protected properly. What’s the best way to cover and safeguard your boat?

Many boat owners are having a hard time deciding whether to get a boat cover, shrink wrap, or tarp for their precious toys. But which is the best among the three? If you are torn or have no idea what to get for your boat, let’s differentiate them and find out which is the right one for you.

Reasons for Protecting your Boat

The main reason you need to cover your vessel is for protection. But is it really important to blanket and protect your boat? Well, yes since boats can be very expensive and you want to keep them in top shape. Whether you plan to sell it in the future or keep using it for a long time, you need to take good care of it. If you are still not convinced, here are the main reasons why:

  • When transporting your boat to and from the water, especially when you need to travel on the highway, you need to protect it from the strong winds.
  • When you’re not using your boat and need to temporarily store it. You wouldn’t want dust and dirt to accumulate on your boat and its deck while not in use.
  • During winter or off-season when long-term storage is expected, you need to protect them from ice buildup, rain, and possible pests such as rodents.
  • Boats that are protected and well-maintained can increase their resale value.
  • Covering your boat will prevent the paint from chipping and fading, thus fewer expenses on the paint job.

Cover Options

Cover Options

It’s not every day that you go boating, especially during offseason. On months that you don’t use your boat, it is only wise to keep it safe and protected. Having a boat is a huge investment and you would do everything to make it last for a long time. During winter storage season or if you don’t plan to use your boat for a couple of months, it is best to store and secure it. One way to do that is by covering your boat. But what are your coverage options?

If you are a new boat owner, you probably don’t have an idea of what your options are, or you may not even be aware that you need one. To help you out, below are the three cover options to protect your prized possession from different elements.

High-quality Boat Cover

The best thing about getting yourself a high-quality cover is that you can use it all season. Some boat owners prefer a good quality boat cover over a tarp and a shrink wrap, even if it means spending more. Among other covers, boat covers are the most expensive but can for more than a few years.

Depending on the quality and size of the cover, it can cost around $150 to 5,000. Paying a high price for a quality boat cover will be all worth it especially if you plan to keep your boat for a lifetime. In case you intend to sell it in the future, it can help increase the value of your boat.

A good boat cover is made of a breathable fabric that will not trap moisture inside. Since it’s breathable, it prevents the growth of mold and mildew. It can also protect the boat from ultraviolet rays and can repel water when it rains or snow.

Another advantage of boat covers is that they are easy to install, you won’t even need a professional to do it for you. Hiring an expert means additional cost and for sure you’d want to reduce your expenses.

Types of Boat Covers

Custom Cover

Custom covers are those that are tailor-made for your boat. They can be more expensive than universal or semi-custom ones. If your boat was customized for your or has unusual features, getting a custom canvas cover would be the right choice. This will guarantee that your boat will be fully covered, especially if your boat has an unusual style or add-ons. Semi-custom boat covers are somehow like a universal cover as it is designed to fit the general shape of boats.

Universal Cover

If your boat has standard features or is a typical model, a universal boat cover will do just fine. Though they are universal, they still come in different sizes, so be sure to measure your boat to ensure you have the right size.

Things to Consider When Buying a Boat Cover


Boat covers come in different kinds of fabrics and it is important that you choose the right one depending on where you plan to store your boat. If you plan to keep your vessel in indoor storage on boat stands, it’s best to get a cover made from breathable fabric like acrylic.

If you will store your boat outside, you would need a nice winter cover that will protect your boat from snow, rain, and all the elements. A water-resistant fabric such as coated polyester will be a good choice. A canvas cover is also a good option.


Darker colors are better as they can increase the UV resistance and will keep your boat and cover last longer. You need to also be careful when choosing bright-coloured covers, some can bleed colors when they become wet and may ruin and stain your boat’s deck, seat cushions, and floor. So be sure to get a high-quality cover.


Whether you are getting a universal or semi-custom boat cover, be sure that it fits snugly into your boat. This is particularly important if you need to tow your boat out on the road. You wouldn’t want your cover to be blown away by the strong wind. It should also fit properly to your boat cover’s frame.

Disadvantages of Boat Cover

If you choose to buy a mooring or snap cover and you intend to store your boat outside, this may cause some problems. Snap covers cannot fully cover all parts of your boat, thus if it is stored outside, the exposed areas of your boat may be damaged throughout winter or any other season.

If you choose a low-quality boat cover, there is a big chance that it may easily damage or be torn down as water or snow fill the top of your cover. When this happens, it can ruin the inside of your boat and you’ll need to buy a new cover.

There are also some covers that cannot seal the boat completely, like the bow pulpit for instance. This may cause dirt or worst rodents to get inside your boat.

Shrink Wrap

Shrink wrap can come in different types, lengths, and dimensions. Price varies depending on how big or small your boat is. It is a cheaper option compared to high-quality boat covers.

If a shrink wrap cover is installed properly it can be a good waterproof cover option. You can be sure that rainwater will not enter your boat. Since shrink wrap covers are not breathable, you would need to install vents to let moisture out. If not, it may cause mold and mildew growth inside your boat.

Most boat owners prefer hiring a professional to shrink wrap their boat, however, there’s also an option where you can install it on your own boat. There are some shrink wrapping kits available in the market, however, be sure to follow the instructions carefully.

Shrinkwrap vs a boat cover may seem more affordable, however, you would need to replace your cover at least every month. Apart from that, you also need to consider the cost of installation if you prefer to hire a professional which is an additional expense.

Disadvantages of Shrink Wrapping

While most boat owners prefer a shrink-wrapped boat due to its price, you also need to consider the installation fee which can cost you a few more dollars. Add to the fact that you need to install it every off-season, so you’ll be spending more money buying a new one and for the installation fee.

Shrink wrap covers are not reusable, so once winter is over you need to tear open your cover and throw it away. You cannot use it next year or when you don’t have sailing plans for a couple of months.

Another disadvantage is that you cannot use the interior of your boat once it is wrapped. In case you left something important inside your boat, you need to remove the entire cover. When that happens, you need to cut open the cover before spring or summer comes.

If you consider the yearly cost of installation and buying a new cover, it seems like these covers are still more cost-effective than shrink wrapping. You may pay less in the beginning but if you add all the total expenses every year, you’ll probably be spending the same amount if not more.


A tarp is another option you can use to protect your boat. Among the three covers, it is the least durable but is the most affordable. However, this is a good choice when storing your boat in your own garage or in a covered outdoor area.

Tarps have grommets in the edges so you can securely cover your boat by running lines in the grommets and beneath the hull for better coverage and security. However, be careful when covering your boat with a tarp as they can break easily. It’s wise to avoid exposing them to bad weather and strong wind. A large tarp will be enough to cover a whole boat, but of course, it will still depend on its size and style.

Different Tarp Materials

Plastic Cover

Plastic tarps (polyvinyl chloride tarpaulins) are great because they are cheap, can last for the whole winter, and is very accessible. However, they don’t always fit well and can flap in the wind. Some boaters use duct tape to prevent flapping of the tarp.

A new tarp that is made of good quality polyvinyl chloride can last until the second or third winter but would need replacing afterward. Poly tarps are larger than most boats so when it comes to protecting and covering your boat, it can be a good choice.

Canvas Cover

If you want a heavy-duty tarp, you should opt for a canvas cover. They are heavier than plastic so they flap less even in the wind. Since canvas cover is more durable, they can last for four or more seasons. Unlike plastic, they can be patched or restored easily in case they get ripped.

Disadvantages of Tarp

One disadvantage of tarps is that they can tear easily, especially if you choose the plastic type. They can only last for a couple of uses and can tear easily. Although it can be a good choice if you want a full cover for your boat, they can easily flap in prevailing winds, thus exposing some parts of the boat as well.

The flapping of the tarp can also cause damage to the boat’s exterior and paint. Some may choose to tighten their tarp cover to minimize flapping, however, this can also cause some problems. This will prevent air from circulating making the boat a breeding ground for mould, bacteria, and mildew.

Frequently Asked Questions

Boat Cover vs Shrink Wrap vs Tarp Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to shrink wrap my boat if I have a cover?

It depends on the season and your cover. If you have a winter cover, no need to shrink wrap your boat. However, boats with canvas cover may consider shrink wrapping their boat if their storage is a place that is incompatible with the season.

Is shrink wrapping a boat a good idea?

A shrink wrap has its pros and cons and it would all depend on your preference. Initially, they can be cheaper and provide full coverage for your boat.

Can I cover my boat with a tarp?

Many boat owners use a high-grade tarp as cover. If you choose a tarp as cover, choose something that has durable metal grommets to make it easier to secure and tie to the ground or wrap around the boat.

How much does it cost to have a boat shrink wrapped?

A shrink wrap can cost between $500-5000. The installation fee varies depending on how big your boat is. You can expect to spend around $12-$25 per square foot. So, if you have a big boat expect to pay more. But you also have the option to shrink wrap your boat by yourself.

Are there partial or small covers for boats?

Yes, these are usually used while the boat is still in the water. They offer shade to cover exposed console, electrical conduit, electronics, and other delicate accessories or gear. Bimini, dodgers, and console covers are used for this. They normally have a buttoned or zipper door and they are easy to use.

Where are boat cover frames made of?

It can be made from different materials, but a PVC frame is the most common. It is important to have a strong and nice frame to support the covering.

What are mooring covers?

These covers are used during the summer months when boats are not used. Mooring covers shed water effectively due to their high pitch. They also have vents to allow air to circulate.

How do I prepare a boat for the snow season?

The first thing you need to do is to keep the boat clean from the inside out before you cover it. Remove any valuables and electronics and find a good boat cover that can shed snow so your boat will all be ready when spring comes.

Why are plastic tarps cheap?

They are more affordable because they are not as durable as canvas tarps. They can break easily and cannot be repaired in case they get torn or produce holes.

How long can you leave shrink wrap on a boat?

It will all depend on the environment and the effects it can cause on the boat. Some have left their boat wrapped up for more than a year. But that’s very rare. However, it is safe enough to keep it wrapped for about 6 months to 1 year. Just be sure that it has a good venting system so you can keep the air moving and prevent the growth of mold and bacteria.


So, which do you think is the best cover to protect your boats? What can you say about shrink wrap vs tarp? Well, both have their own advantages and it will all depend on the kind of boat that you have and if it is for long term storage or not. However, among the three, when it comes to cost-effectiveness, it seems that a high-quality boat cover is the best option. It may look more expensive at first, but if you consider the total cost of buying and installing a shrink wrap and a plastic or canvas tarp, every year you can still save a lot of money on a good boat cover. Nevertheless, it will all depend on your personal preference.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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