What Is A Hard Dodger? (And How To Build One)

What Is A Hard Dodger? (And How To Build One) | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

August 30, 2022

When sailing on your boat, you might come across undesirable wet conditions. Since you are on the water, you will likely be wet unless you have a hard dodger.

Staying dry while sailing is a tough task to accomplish, but it is possible. How would a hard dodger help and how do you build one?

Hard dodgers are enclosed structures protecting you and the cockpit from the elements. With this added protection, you are keeping yourself comfortable, electronics safe, and companionways dry. Building one is much cheaper than purchasing, but will also cost you time and patience.

Building a hard dodger should not be a task that is rushed, as you need to allow time for things to mold and take shape. If you are interested in building a hard dodger, you will see the importance and why it is essential for everyday sailing.

According to boaters university, sailing with a hard top dodger significantly improved the experience. No matter your sailing experience, having a hard top dodger makes the process efficient and more enjoyable.


Table of contents

Basics of a Hard Dodger

There are two different types of dodgers, with one being soft and the other hard. Soft dodgers are typically made up of canvas or vinyl, but these are temporary or used on an as needed basis.

Hard dodgers are meant to be permanent and cost more money up front. The enclosed shell surrounding the cockpit, along with the laminated glass windows, protects your boat and offers a clear view for many years.

Benefits of a Hard Dodger

These dodgers offer the best combination of safety, comfort, and reliability. When sailing, you want to have the best of all three worlds and you want to protect your investment.

Protection Against All Conditions

Hard dodgers offer protection to the cockpit and companionways during inclement weather, high wind, or rough waves. Being protected by a hard dodger will be more comfortable during those situations, especially since you can hide under the hardcover.

Since you are underneath a hard dodger, you will be protected from the sun's rays as they will bounce off the top. As for soft dodgers, these will deteriorate over time with the harsh sun beating down on it, so you will be replacing these every so often if you do not remove them after each use.

Perfect View

Since the cockpit is enclosed and typically used laminated glass, you will have unobstructed views when sailing. In most soft dodgers, your view will be blocked by patches of canvas.

For hard dodgers that use laminated glass, these surfaces are easy to clean. If any mold or mildew attempts to form, it can easily be removed within a few seconds and you are back to clear views.


The structure of a hard dodger will offer many benefits for years to come. For example, the structure will serve its primary purpose to protect from weather or rough waves, but it also includes secure handholds to safely step down into the cockpit or when exiting.

In addition, it also provides temporary shelter when riding out tough waves or storms. Getting caught out in a situation when you do not have any dodger is bad enough, but a hard dodger can make rough situations more tolerable.

How Much Does a Hard Dodger Cost?

There are not a lot of hard dodger kits for sale online. Instead, you would need to contact a company that builds them specifically for your boat or do one yourself.

Some websites offer kits for soft dodgers that require a special sewing machine. However, you can see how much money you need to spend just for fancy fabric that you will likely need to replace over time.

When it comes to hard dodgers, doing it yourself will save you tons of money over the long haul. Depending on the size of your boat and the materials that you use, you will be spending anywhere between $2,000 and up.

The reason there is not a price cap is because you can essentially add anything to a hard dodger and use about any materials necessary to get the job done. For a rough estimate, expect to spend around $10,000 on average to have good quality for the long term.

To put this in perspective, you might not want a hard dodger if your boat is relatively cheaper. If you have a $100,000 sailboat, or simply want to improve the value of your current one, it might make sense to protect your investment with a hard dodger.

How to Build a Hard Dodger

To begin the process, it would be best to have a cardboard prototype with measurements of your hard dodger that you want to make. If you have an old dodger handy or something of relevance to the size you need, that is a great start.

Having measurements and something to go by is great, especially since you do not want to obstruct your view of the helm. You also want to allow room for movement in the cockpit and navigating in or out of it.

Making the Shell

Use cardboard or something you can easily bend and cut to help make your mold. You will also need tape and something easily bendable with the use of a heat gun like pvc water pipe for mounting points.

Once you have made the shell, simply apply it to your boat and view from all angles. This way you can see how the rough draft will apply in real time and to get a better picture of things to come.

Cut Plywood

Once you are happy with the shape of your mold, it is time to apply that to the shape of plywood. You can use heavy duty marine grade ⅜ inch plywood or regular construction grade.

If you use marine grade, it will stand up to water better if it ever gets wet. However, it is harder to bend and regular construction grade could work just as well.

Once you have made the cut to your plywood, you should test the fit to make sure it works. Simply make adjustments as needed.

Make Bending Frame

Now is the time to make a bending frame for the plywood core. You could use two 2x12 wooden planks with cross pieces that screw on. The planks should be spaced out roughly a third of the width of the dodger, or your fore-aft distance.

It is important to note that you need a leveler and measuring tape to properly check the cuts. Anything that is off just the slightest could result in a warped or bent dodger when the final product is bolted down.

Cut along the profile of the dodger’s bend into two sections of plywood. You will need to screw in the contour pieces to the planks.

You will also need to cut roughly a dozen or so blocks, but do not need all of them, to help stabilize the dodger core. These could be something like 3x3x1, which you will use to evenly distribute along the contour.

Make a mark that will be easy to see when identifying your center line. This will be useful when bolting everything down when applying the core to the frame.

Now you can apply the core to your frame to see if everything fits. When aligning the center of the core to the contour, make sure you can apply enough pressure to allow it to conform.

Once everything is in line, you can screw the core to the frame. Using your center line from earlier, you can easily see the midline of the core and the midline of the frame.

Apply Dodger to Boat

Once you have built the dodger frame, you can now test it out on your boat. Carefully move the completed frame over to your boat and align accordingly.

Bolt down the dodger to the boat with the aligned holes. After bolting down the dodger, make sure you have everything in line before you attempt to do anything else.

You have two options to consider at this point for the next step. You can either remove the dodger from the boat to finish the process in another location or leave it and do all the work from the boat. Keep in mind that leaving it on the boat will require you to work entirely from the boat for the next several days or longer.

Once you have completed installing your dodger and any additional panels that you see fit, you can move onto the clean up process that will add longevity to the dodger. If there are any small gaps, this is not a big deal assuming it does not interfere with the integrity of your structure.

If you have small holes or gaps, this can be filled later with epoxy or wood filler. Keep in mind that you want something that is going to be easy to sand. You are going to want a smooth surface later to apply a coat of sealant and paint.

In addition, look for areas along edges to apply fiberglass tape, epoxy, and edge reinforcements. This will make the finishing process easier and give it a cleaner look while also stabilizing the frame.

Additional Features

Before you begin adding glass and sealant to your hard dodger, this is a great time to add any additional features such as speakers, opening hatches, solar panels, or anything you desire. Now that you have the frame in place to your liking, it is easier to add these features than after it is completed.

You do not have to have everything a perfectly snug fit. This will all be covered later in the clean up process, so do not stress over small gaps.

If you see an opportunity to make holes bigger for electronics or other features, now is the time to do so. You will have plenty of opportunity to fill everything with paint and epoxy later.

Adding Fiberglass

With the dodger perfectly in place, now is the time to add fiberglass. You should install temporary support systems to avoid any shape distortions wherever you are going to place the fiberglass. This is as simple as using tape, cloth, and your favorite epoxy.

Once you have installed the fiberglass, you need to make sure every corner or gap is filled. Simply continue to use epoxy in places where it is needed and remember that you can sand any excess later.

Sanding, Painting, and Applying Dodger

One of the most rewarding steps is to clean up the dodger. All of the love labor you have poured into this project now gets the flavor to suit your taste.

Finish sanding down the dodger and clean up any areas to provide a smooth surface. You also need to make sure there are not any unlevel spots, so using a fair compound to fill in these areas will need time to cure and sand later.

After you have sanded to perfection, you can paint the dodger to any color of your liking. For simplicity, most people stick to white.

The paint will need to be either an oil-based rust-proof paint or a single-component polyurethane. Whichever one you choose, you need to continue using that specific application or it will not stick properly over time. If you do not like that particular application, you would need to sand it all off and start again.

The easiest to use is an oil-based paint that is marine grade, or at least stands tough in water. This paint also works well when you want to apply a thing coat to give your dodger a fresh look over time.

If you have intentions of standing on top of your dodger, it would be wise to add some form of non-skid. This could be crushed walnut shells or sand over several coats of paint. Without non-skid, your dodger top will be like ice if you plan to step on it.

Once everything is painted, you can add the dodger to your boat if you had chosen to work at another location. Whether you are bolting it down now or previously in the process, make sure your bolts are heavy duty and rated for rough conditions.

What Is A Hard Dodger? (And How To Build One)
Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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