Time for New Tops

Time for New Tops

The new tops completed

By Mike Gridley

If you are considering new canvas for your boat, this is a great opportunity for you to work with a canvas professional to design the solution that works best for you. New canvas can be a sizable investment depending on your boat, so it makes sense to get it right

For a recent project, I elected to work with Shane Genis and the team at JT’s Textiles in Midland, Ont. In business for several decades, this canvas shop mixes their years of experience and knowledge with the latest computer technology. I had them design and fabricate a new top system for my 1986 Regal.

the new tops should not only look great, they should also be highly functional

The first step in the process was to critique the canvas currently on the boat, making notes on the shortcomings and what worked well. After all, the new tops should not only look great, they should also be highly functional.

The old tops
The old tops

Topping the list of recommendations for the new canvas was the look. Shane commented that for the new tops to look good, “you want to follow the original lines and styling of the boat.” A valid point since the current top’s frames were wider and taller than the radar arch and blended poorly with the curve of the windshield, giving them a boxy look. Shane also recommended changes for the new windows that would give the tops a lighter, more open appearance while enhancing the view from the helm as well.

Next up was to select the material and colour for the top. There are many choices in canvas, as well as both uncoated and coated textiles, including brands like Stamoid by Serge Ferrari, Top Gun, Sure Last, Sea Mark and others. After a long deliberation, we went with Shane’s recommendation of Sunbrella in Heather Beige. A solution colour-died polyester thread woven into fabric, Sunbrella Marine Fabric is color fast, breathable (to resist mould and mildew) and durable, giving 10 or more years of service.

To commence the design and fabrication, the old canvas was removed and detailed measurements were taken for the new profile framework. When ordering new tops, you will be faced with more choices of material. First off will be the frame material itself. You can select aluminum and stainless tube and various diameters. For this application, one-inch stainless was recommended for the 12-foot span required. To provide the required strength, all hardware for the frames would be polished solid stainless steel.

Shane took me through the remaining materials that would go into the top, including screening, zippers, snaps and other fasteners, stressing that decisions must be made based on quality and the appropriate type for the application. A major choice would be the type and gauge of the material for the windows. Most windows are made from vinyl. When choosing vinyl, ensure it is UV protected and a minimum of 30-mm gauge. If you are looking for something more durable, you can select 40-gauge Strataglass, which is more resistant to scratches and has an additional UV coating. The downsides are the cost and it is much harder to roll up.

Window should open from the top for ventilation in the rain
Window should open from the top for ventilation in the rain

The last option to select is how the window panes will be constructed. The side and aft curtains should have multiple opening windows with screens for ventilation, rather than the solid panels found on many OEM tops. The recommended design had the window opening at the top. This choice would allow the window to be partially opened – ideal for ventilation in the rain.

One of the big headaches with canvas is what to do with the side curtains on a sunny day. Since most boaters leave the tops up for protection from the sun, you’ll want to make sure your side curtains roll up and are held in place with straps and snap fasteners (rather than needing to be removed).

Zip in screen for ventilation at anchor
Zip in screen for ventilation at anchor

For the panel above the windscreen, my new tops would have a vinyl panel instead of the old canvas panel. For ventilation, Shane provided two recommendations: a U opening with a flap to ensure the zippers would not leak or a removable panel in the centre section. I opted for the latter with a screen panel that zipped in to the opening, a great choice for walk-through windscreens.

The next time we hooked up with Shane, we were back at the boat to install the new stainless steel frames. With the frames up, Shane used a trained eye to outline the canvas with tape – old school, but effective. It was quite evident the new tops would have a nicer shape and line.

Digitizing the top pattern
Digitizing the top pattern

This is where high tech took over. Although the traditional method of patterning tops is with paper, JT’s has advanced to the digital age and can now employ a 3D digitizing system to pattern the canvas and curtains electronically.

The digitizing system consists of a camera on a tripod that is set up on the foredeck. Measurement points are taken with a probe from various locations on the frame and the data is transmitted to the camera then to a computer tablet.

CAD cutting table
CAD cutting table

In the shop, the data gathered is transferred to a CAD system and a 3D image of the design for the canvas is worked out in excellent detail, allowing modifications and final approval of the design. Next the design was converted to patterns on the computer that the showed the cuts, seams, zipper and tab locations for the canvas and vinyl components.

The next phase of the process was amazing. The computer system controlled two large CNC cutting tables where the robotics went into action cutting the canvas and marking it while the second handled the vinyl.

The result of all of this state-of-the-art equipment was faster and flexible design and patterning that delivered accurately cut and marked canvas and vinyl ready for sewing. Thanks to the accurately cut and pre-marking, the tops and windows came together at an amazing speed.

When completing the fabrication of a quality top, the skill and experience of the sewers really come into play. When making a decision about a canvas shop, find some boats with tops they have designed and made, and have a close look at the quality and accuracy of the work.

DOT fasteners
DOT fasteners

Finally, it was time to bring all of the elements on to the boat. All that remained was to select locations for the snaps and fasteners, then install them to the canvas. Note that where wind load is a factor while underway, it’s a smart idea to have DOT Turn Button fasteners to keep panels secure.

Windshield wrap and sunscreens
Windshield wrap and sunscreens

When planning your new tops, don’t forget some of the extras. Additions like a fabric windshield wrap and sunscreens for the inside of the window panels that Velcro in place not only provide some privacy but they dramatically cut down on UV rays and heat.

I still find it amazing that all of the canvas sections, windows and options like the windshield wrap came together so flawlessly. That is certainly attributed to skill, as well as JT’s Textiles’ investment in new computer technologies.


The new tops completed
The new tops completed

Top Care and Cleaning

New tops are an investment, so proper care is essential to their longevity. Here are few tips on keeping your canvas and vinyl looking great:


  • Hose the fabric off weekly with cool clear water. This will extend the time between deep cleaning.
  • Rinse the vinyl curtains and windows with cool clear water to remove dust and grit that will scratch and dry with a soft cloth or chamois. Never clean with a deck brush or mop.


When its time to thoroughly clean your tops keep in mind the following:


For the canvas…

  • Brush off loose dirt and hose the fabric down with cool clear water.
  • Prepare a cleaning solution of water and mild detergent (such as Woolite or Dawn) and apply, allowing it to soak in. Then clean the fabric with a soft bristle brush.
  • Rinse thoroughly to remove all detergent residue and allow the fabric to air dry.
  • If the fabric needs to be retreated, use 303 High Tech Fabric Guard and apply with the canvas off of the boat.


For the vinyl…

  • Clean with water only as noted above or with a mild soap solution.
  • Once dry, apply a UV-rated vinyl window cleaner/polish and protectant (such as Plexus) with a soft cloth.
  • Never use glass cleaners or paper towels.

This article is featured in the Fall 2013 issue of Boats&Places.

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Mike Gridley is a Producer and Host of PowerBoat Television and contributor to Boats&Places Magazine, BoatTest.ca and BoaterNews.ca. A lifelong boater, Mike started on the water with a 12-foot Peterborough cedar strip. Graduating to fibreglass, he has owned a series of boats from cuddy cabins to cruisers. He has come full circle back to wood with the purchase of a 1964 Greavette. After graduating from Ryerson University, Mike joined Molson Breweries where he spent 17 years in a variety of sales, marketing and promotions positions. He went on to hone his marketing communications, creative and advertising skills as a Senior Account Director with several national advertising agencies for clients including Bank of Montreal, Petro-Canada, Canadian Tire and Polaroid. In pursuit of his love of all things boating, Mike joined Lifestyle Integrated in 2004 and assumed the role of Producer in 2006.