How To Shrink Wrap a Sailboat

How To Shrink Wrap a Sailboat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Many boat owners opt for shrink wrapping as a winterizing solution. Here's why you should consider shrink wrapping a sailboat and how it’s done.

Shrink wrapping a sailboat has many pros, including advanced water protection, stability in harsh environments, and customization to each unique sailboat.

The process of shrink wrapping a sailboat begins with creating a frame with straps, then using tape and strategic cuts to secure the plastic wrap to the frame, and finally, the process ends with using a heat gun to weld the plastic’s seams and shrink the cover.


Table of contents

Why Shrink Wrap a Sailboat?

Shrink wrapping is most common in northern parts of the world where freezing is a certainty. Unless you can store your boat inside, you have to cover it for those long months without fine sailing weather.

There are other methods of covering your boat. You could use a large tarp, or pay for a coveted spot at a storage facility. But, for people who want a one-and-done solution, shrink wrapping is the most effective option.

Pros of Shrink Wrapping:

  • It’s made of plastic, so it wicks water off the cover’s surface. If installed correctly, then the chance of water getting into the covered area is very slim.
  • It’s stable. The shrink wrap covering gets strapped down in multiple areas. The tight fit makes it so it won’t get blown off your boat by strong winds. Also, water won’t pool on the surface of the cover and cause it to collapse.
  • It’s cheaper than a permanent boat cover. If you’ve just bought a boat and haven’t invested in a permanent cover, or if you had a cover and now it needs replacing, shrink wrapping is a cheap way to cover your boat for the winter season without much commitment.
  • You can customize the cover each winter. Since each shrink wrap is good for one winter, you can configure it differently each year if you need it. For example, if you’re going to take advantage of the winter season to do some needed updates on your boat, you can configure the cover so that you can get under it and still work.

It would be remiss to not mention the cons of shrink-wrapping a sailboat. Though, you can avoid many of the cons by planning for them in advance.

Cons of Shrink Wrapping a Sailboat:

  • It makes a lot of plastic waste. As a sailor, you’re probably conscious of the effects your waste has on the ocean. To counteract the plastic waste, make sure to have a plan in place for recycling the cover once the winter season is over.
  • Costs are reoccurring. If you choose to use a shrink wrap cover for your sailboat every year, the costs can add up. But, it’s the most effective way of keeping your boat dry during winter. It’s also a good option for boat-owners who are still searching for their permanent solution.
  • Installation is tricky. If you’re not experienced with the tools needed (such as a blow torch) for installing a shrink wrap, you probably want to hire professionals. This ensures it’s installed correctly, but it is an additional cost.
  • Ventilation is an issue. If water gets trapped within the shrink wrap, it could cause mildew or mold. So, you need to install vents in areas where water won’t get in but that encourages airflow.

Ultimately, when it comes to deciding whether or not to shrink wrap a sailboat, each boat owner’s unique circumstances matter more than anything. Your specific location, storage options, and budget will help you to decide what your best option is.

How to Shrink Wrap a Sailboat

Shrink wrapping a sailboat has many steps that have a specific order and must be done right to ensure a watertight seal. Before beginning the process, decide if you want to cover the sailboat with the mast up or down.

The location you’re storing the boat will matter. Also, if you plan on working on the boat during the winter season, you’ll want to make sure you have enough headroom to get on the deck.

By wrapping the boat with the mast up, you can decide how much deck room you’ll have. On the other hand, if you keep the mast down, you won’t be able to access the sailboat deck.

Steps to Shrink Wrap a Sailboat

  1. Prepare the sailboat’s interior and exterior. If your boat is currently in the water, it must be dry-docked. Clean the inside of your boat and make sure there’s no excess moisture anywhere. Open the hatches and drain plug so any water still in the boat can drain or air out before you wrap it.
  2. Start on the supports. The supports are straps that run from the mast, or center, of the boat and to the bow and the stern, and then down the center and around the boat. The more supports you place on the deck, the more sturdy your shrink wrap cover will be. Make sure to tighten the straps well enough, but not too tight because they might bend the boat railing.
  3. If you’re shrink wrapping the boat with the mast down, you’ll need to use wooden supports, or basic 2 by 4 planks, to make sure the wrap holds a structure In the center so water and snow can easily slide off and not build up.
  4. Secure the hull strap horizontally around the length of the boat. It’s a good idea to use the waterline as a guide. Tighten this strap so it doesn’t slide down.
  5. Measure the plastic wrap for your boat. It will be in two parts, one for the bow half of the boat and one for the stern half. Make sure to give yourself 1-2 ft of excess plastic on each side to form a weld and to wrap around the hull strap that is already secured horizontally across the waterline.  
  6. Once you have the plastic measured and cut, roll it up and bring it on the deck. Cut two slits in the plastic where it will wrap around the mast or the wooden frame. Then, use tape to secure and watertight seal the plastic to the mast. Do this with both halves of the plastic cover. Make cuts in the plastic for the stays and secure the plastic with more tape. Remember, a watertight seal is necessary to keep water out during the winter months.
  7. After you secure the plastic on the deck, move to the hull strap. You should have at least 1 foot of extra plastic to wrap around the strap. Again, secure the plastic with tape.
  8. When you have the two plastic sheets secured, you can begin welding the plastic. (This is the part where many people prefer a professional.) You’ll need a special heat gun and arm attachment for this. Lightly heat the seams where the two plastic sheets meet and weld the plastic together.
  9. After welding the seams together, tape over them again to ensure maximum durability.
  10. Complete the process by lightly blowing heat over the entire plastic cover, thus shrinking it and creating an airtight seal. Be careful not to heat the plastic too much. You just want to heat it enough so it forms a tight wrapping around your boat.

DIY Shrink Wrapping vs. Hiring a Professional

Most sailors are comfortable with a DIY project here and there—it’s part of boat ownership. But shrink wrapping a boat requires special tools and specialized skills so you don’t damage the boat.

If you’re confident with the process, doing it yourself is a cost-efficient option. But, hiring a professional is easy. Most marinas and boatyards have people experienced with shrink wrapping boats.

Hiring a professional has many benefits such as insurance (they are working with a blow torch near your boat after all), experience, and help. Also, they’ll discard the plastic after the winter season. Many boatyards have a recycling source specifically for shrink wrapping.

Boatyards and marinas typically charge by the foot for shrink wrapping services. Sailboats may end up costing more because of the amount of hardware that needs securing and wrapping.

There are also shrink-wrap services that will come to your boat, which is a good option for people who don’t store their boat in a yard or marina.

Expect to pay $25 to $60 per foot to shrink wrap a sailboat. Of course, this price can range dramatically based on your location and the competition.

Should You Shrink Wrap Your Sailboat?

The answer depends entirely on your situation. If you store your boat outside in a climate that often has snow, rain, and freezing temperatures, shrink wrapping is a sure way to keep moisture from entering the hull and causing damage.

If you’ve recently purchased a sailboat and haven’t decided on a reusable boat cover (which can be a large upfront cost), shrink wrapping is a good temporary solution for when it comes time to winterize.

On the other hand, if you live in a climate that doesn’t freeze, or if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, shrink wrapping a sailboat might not be the right solution for you.

How To Shrink Wrap a Sailboat
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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