Make Your Own Dinghy Tube CoverIf you plan to go cruising, you'll find that your dinghy suddenly becomes your family car. It will generally be in the water and ready to go at the slightest hint of a cocktail party on the boat across the anchorage. You'll also haul fuel jugs, groceries, cases of beer & rum, laundry, dive gear, friends, and all manner of other things. You'll tie up to docks & piers that have been less than well maintained, fishing trawlers using old tires instead of fenders, and other folks vessels with "dinghy-stabbers" (vane steering units) hung off their stern. Without a cover that stays on during use, you'll find that the hot tubes scorch your derrière in the heat of the tropical sun and in the evening, those quick-dry shorts don't provide any insulation from the cold damp tubes. A few years from now, you could find the value of your inflatable to be greatly depreciated due to its prolonged exposure to the elements.
You can certainly buy a generic cover for storing the dinghy on deck or davits, but that's not where the dinghy will be most of the time. Canvas workers will be happy to design a cover for your inflatable and charge you plenty of money to make it... OR you could design and make one yourself! You can create a cover that fits your dinghy . It's not all that difficult or time consuming... ...not if you know where to start! That starting point is a paper pattern. Simple! One that you make for yourself. One that exactly fits your dinghy. Below are instructions for creating your paper pattern and then your canvas cover.
You can make the pattern & a cover that perfectly fits your dinghy and probably be able to complete the entire job (including the sewing) in a day or two. Myself, I like to make the pattern one day and sew the cover the next. If you don't have a sewing machine, you may be able to borrow one from another cruiser. The machine should be capable of sewing through several layers of canvas. Most of the sewing will be through 2 to 4 layers of canvas, but some seams and finish work stitching is through more layers.
Pull the dinghy out of the water and give yourself plenty of room to work around it on all sides. You'll be working both inside and outside of the inflatable so make sure to stabilize it. Shoot for an early morning start if you're working on the dock before the wind comes up and, please, keep those bits & pieces of paper out of the water.
To create your pattern you'll need:
- A newspaper or roll of brown wrapping paper. Newspaper is easier to work with, but wrapping paper is more durable.
- Masking tape (or even duct tape will work).
- Marking pen.
- A good pair of Scissors.
The idea is to construct a cover out of paper that Simulate a finished product and pretend the paper is the real thing. The real thing will be a Sunbrella® cover that is held on tightly by a drawstring. A cover that exactly fits the curves and shapes; the handles and buttons of your inflatable. Customized!
You'll be taping the paper directly onto the tubes. You may want to give the dinghy a good cleaning before you start, especially if you've used one of those silicon based protectants on it... the tape may not stick very well if you don't. Start at the bow with a full page of newspaper or a large piece of wrapping paper. Drape it across the tube and tape it where you want the finished edge of the cover to terminate on the outside of the dinghy. ( This will be about the point where the bow begins to slope back toward the bottom and will help hold the canvas cover in place once the drawstring is installed .) Smooth the paper, pull it tight, and tape the inner edge where you'd like the finished edge to be.
It's OK to overlap the edges of the paper as you tape, you're just making a pattern right now.
Tape as much as needed. Start shaping the paper to fit your dinghy and fold in darts (a sewing term describing a gather or fold of material that forms an elongated triangular shape when sewn). Do this wherever necessary to pattern the curves. This is the key to making an accurate pattern and what makes the paper conform to the curves of the tubes. It's a little like wrapping an irregularly shaped Christmas present. During this fitting stage of the pattern making, it does not matter at all how many darts you make or where you place them. All that you are concerned with now is making a good & tight fitting paper cover. Cut slits for any D-rings, handles, buttons, and places where seats attach so that the paper will lie directly on the tubes. Note: many people find that they no longer use the bench seats once they have a cover to sit on. Unsplice and remove any lines running along the top or side of the tubes. It's generally easy to put the line back together after the cover is installed.
Work your way around the inflatable (designing as you go) creating the shape and style of your cover. Tape the paper as much as necessary to hold things together and securely in place. Remember to make slits so that all D-rings, handles, and buttons poke through the pattern. Continue the paper pattern beyond the transom to a point an inch or 2 from the end of the pontoon (the pointy part). Where the paper crosses the transom, make a slit so that it continues to drape over the tube. Follow the lines of the inflatable and begin to taper the pattern to fit the end of the cone. Your goal here is to protect as much of the surface area as possible from the damaging UV rays without allowing the cover to drag in the water. The end of the cone will protrude from the cover just a bit. This is necessary because the canvas cover lays on the top of the cone while the drawstring that secures it passes underneath.
I recommend that you construct a complete (both sides) paper cover rather than attempting to mirror image from one side to the other. The sides may not be exactly symmetrical and a full cover will give you a much better idea of how the finished product will look.
Check the slits made for the D-rings, handles & buttons. Make them as accurate as you can now. If the holes are too big or not properly placed, tape a piece of paper over the cutout and try again. These holes will need to have their edged finished later, of course, but for now you can make them only as large as they have to be to allow the item to protrude without tearing the paper. You can always enlarge the holes and slits later when you're ready to do the finish work on the Sunbrella®.
When you are happy with the design, it's time to mark the pattern into a number of sections (probably 5 to 8). Logically divide the pattern into manageable pieces using a brightly colored marking pen. Draw small arrows occasionally along the seam lines of each piece to insure everything matches up later.
This is especially important on the curves where darts may be needed. Next, label each section as to it's placement and whether port or starboard. Label anything else that will make things easier for you later ("outside edge", "inside edge", "add seam width here", "add hem width here").
Cut the paper pattern into the sections you have marked. Put a little tape on the reverse sides if you need it to hold things together better. Remove only the tape that holds the paper to the inflatable. Carefully pull the pattern from the D-rings, handles, and buttons being careful not to tear it. Lay it out on a flat surface. Any paper sections that don't lay flat are going to need real darts properly placed and sized. To dart the paper pattern correctly, you'll need to estimate the location and size that will achieve the desired result in the actual material. Don't worry if you make a mistake on the paper, you can always tape it back together and try again. Most pattern pieces can be flattened by cutting the slit that opens into a wedge as the paper flattens, but there may be some complex/compound curves that require a slit to be made somewhere in the middle of the pattern instead. This kind of dart will be necessary if the middle area of the paper pattern needs to be spread out so that the edges lay flat. Again, don't worry if you cut the paper in the wrong place, just tape it back together and try again. It may help you to look at a piece of your clothing that contains darts. Use it as an example.
The object of positioning the dart (or darts) is to make one or more cuts (single, straight cuts) that allow the paper to open and lay flat. You'll find that the cut becomes a pie-shaped wedge that is missing when the paper flattens.
Once cut, the shape of the pattern piece changes and the size increases somewhat. When you actually cut the material, it will be a solid piece with no cut out wedges. Please, remember this.
Arrange your pattern pieces on a flat surface and measure to determine how much material is needed for your cover. Remember that your pattern is the finished size and does not include the extra inches needed for seams, hems, or the drawstring pockets. As you lay the paper pieces out on flat surface, you'll need to consider the extra inches needed for seams & hems. Add about 2 inches to the bottom outside edge and the inside edge of the cone sections (behind the transom) for the drawstring pockets. Add about 1 & 1/2 inch to the inside edge for the hem. Add 1 & 1/2 inch to the end of the cone section for the hem there also. Add about 1 inch to the front and back edges of each pattern piece for the seams where you'll join the sections together. The Sunbrella® comes in a variety of widths - generally 36",45", of 59". You'll need to know the width available to determine the yardage needed. This exercise will help you determine how much material to buy and which width gives you the best value and least waste. Just draw in the extra inches on the material. You don't actually need to make the paper pattern pieces any larger.
A color other than a stark white will show less dirt... a light beige, eggshell, or gray. Dark colors can be too hot to sit on. To sew your cover, use UV resistant thread and choose something for edging around the cutouts. Herculon or Stamoid work well, but you can also use the same material as the cover itself. (Instead of edging material, some folks just use a tight zig/zag stitch around all the cutouts, much like a buttonhole). For the drawstring, I recommend 3/16s Dacron line or equivalent. You'll need between 25 & 30 feet for an average 10 foot inflatable, but take your own measurements. The drawstring basically follows the outline of the inflatable and needs to have enough excess to allow for installation and tying to the transom.
Measure twice... cut once is always a good rule of thumb.
Materials needed to construct the cover:
- Sunbrella® or other appropriate material.
- UV resistant thread (probably UVR-69, but your canvas supplier will sell you the right size).
- Sewing Chalk or pencil for marking the material.
- Sewing pins for placing the pattern on the material.
- 2 of the smallest size stainless or brass eye straps.
- 2 Stainless Steel screws approximately 1/2" in length (depending on the thickness of your transom).
- 2 Stainless Steel finish washers.
- Dacron line.
- Material for edging cutouts.
- Consider using a Hot Knife instead of scissors.
- Optional items (see below).
As you lay out and mark the material for cutting, place marks at the 3 points of the dart wedges on the material. Connecting these 3 dots with a dotted line shows you where to sew later. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE... DO NOT CUT OUT THESE WEDGES WHEN YOU CUT THE MATERIAL!
Cut out the material sections. Mark the darts, slits, and joining arrows. Don't cut out the darts, but do cut the slits for the transom, D-rings, handles, and buttons. At this point you may want to position each fabric piece on the dinghy and inspect your work before continuing.
Sew in all of the darts first, then join all sections together matching up the arrows. Lay the cover on the inflatable for a preliminary fitting. Pull all of the D-rings, etc. through the cutouts making any necessary adjustments for a snug fit.
Finish the hems and drawstring pockets. You may find it easier to sew the drawstring into the pocket as you go rather than trying to thread it through later. Do another fitting. Make any final adjustments and finish the edges of the cutouts for handles, etc. If you've chosen the Herculon or Stamoid for edging, you'll find that these materials need no finishing themselves. That may make your edging task a bit easier.
Add a canvas tab (about 2 inches long by 1 inch wide) on both sides of the cover near the bottom of the inside edge (at the transom). You'll screw these directly to the transom later to keep the inner edge from flapping in the breeze and snug things up. Do you plan to add dinghy wheels later? (Consider their placement.) If there is a place to secure the inside edge of the bow to a button or eyestrap, use it as well.
Before fully installing the cover, consider the following options:
- Add one or more pockets for things like your dinghy anchor, drink holders, etc. Pockets should either have a vinyl netting bottom or a grommet or two for drainage. Note: This is an excellent time to also attach 2 more eye straps on the inside of the transom to be used for a lifting harness. It may be possible to install these 4 eye straps (2 sets) back to back using a through-bolt method that connects the inner & outer straps. Examine your dinghy and see if this seems appropriate.
- Use a length of fire hose as a chafe guard on the outer edge of the cover. Obtain a section from one of the companies that deals in such things... or you may be able to trade a few dozen chocolate chip cookies to a local fire house!
Measure around the bottom edge of the cover from cone tip to cone tip to determine the fire hose footage needed. You'll find the hose has an inner layer that is rubberized and an outer layer that isn't. You can actually pull the inner layer out and use it for something else later. Slit the outer layer lengthwise and finish the edges to keep them from raveling. Now, attach the fire hose to the cover at a point just above the drawstring pocket and let it hang slightly below the edge of the cover like a skirt. In addition to being built-in chafe guard, it also acts to help hold the cover down and really adds a nice finishing touch. You may also want to add a patch of fire hose where you generally step on board and to any other areas that you suspect may experience chafe. Use your imagination! Save a few small pieces of fire hose in case you want to add them later. I've found that the small fire hose (like the ones inside the boxes along the dock) have no inner rubberized liner and can be used in tact. Most machines sew easily through both thicknesses of the hose and canvas using a size 18 needle.
Okay, you're ready to put the cover on... and leave it on! This cover can be left on when you deflate or roll up your dinghy for long term storage or passage-making.
Place the cover on the bow first and work your way aft fitting D-rings, handles, & buttons through the holes. Loosen the drawstring and fit the cover over the cone with the string under the cone.
Install 2 small eye straps on the outside of the transom near the tubes and in line with the drawstrings.
Tighten up the drawstring one side at a time being careful not to pull out the other side. (Secure one end to the eye strap and pull the other then switch sides). Do this a couple of times until the cover is tightened uniformly. Tie off the drawstring so that it is secure but can be untied if needed. Cut off any excess and whip or burn both ends of the line to prevent raveling.
Secure the 2 tabs to the inside of the transom with small stainless screws and stainless finish washers.
Re-attach / re-splice the lines and you're done! You can be proud of this Custom Cruising Cover you've made. Your dinghy will thank you and your friends will envy your talent.
Remember not to use soap to wash your cover as you will remove some of it's inherent waterproof qualities. And, if you should need to remove your cover later for any reason, it will be easier to re-install if you get it wet first.
Sunbrella® is a registered trademark of Glen Raven, Inc.
This "edit protected" article kindly submitted by Suzy O'Keefe - Copyright 2009
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