If there is any place that has experience with sunshine, it is definitely The Bahamas. The island chain is a world-renowned vacation spot boasting year-round sun. The District of Bimini includes the western-most islands and, at its closest point, is only about 50 miles from Miami.
Bimini is also the namesake for the cover that provides protection from the very thing that makes boating enjoyable: sunshine. Whether you have a bowrider, a pontoon boat or a yacht, here are some basic principles you can apply when selecting and installing a Bimini top.
Under the Big Top
Start by measuring the length and width of your seating area to determine what size cover you need for your boat. The front of the top is commonly positioned at a height directly above the windshield, while the back may fully or partially cover the aft seating section. Partial coverage leaves room to fish or sunbathe. On center consoles, a Bimini T-top may be installed over the console to provide coverage for seating in front of and behind the console.
Next, calculate the desired headroom for your Bimini. While standing in your boat, measure the vertical distance from the deck to the gunwales. Subtract the measurement from your desired Bimini height, and you will have the minimum overhead Bimini height needed so you can stand underneath it.
My boat has a closed bow with no windshield (picture 1). When I purchased the boat, it came with an overhead frame and fabric to fully cover the seating but did not have any mounting hardware. The frame had 7/8-inch tube mounts. I wanted at least 6 feet of overhead clearance, so I calculated that I needed 4-foot tubes to support the overhead frame (picture 2).
Shades of Ray
When selecting a Bimini top, you can either purchase individual components or buy an off-the-shelf kit. You can also choose to have it custom built. In either case, you need to consider the best fabric, tubing and mounting hardware for your boat and boating environment.
The fabric is probably the most important consideration, because it is literally what stands between you and the sun. Acrylic, polyester and vinyl are the most popular fabrics, but do some in-store and online research to determine which material is the sturdiest and most water repellent, and provides the best ultraviolet radiation protection. You will also need to select a fabric color, preferably one coordinated with your boat’s color scheme.
Bimini frames are usually made from aluminum or stainless steel tubes. Of the two, stainless steel is stronger and has better corrosion resistance, but it is more expensive. Aluminum is better suited for freshwater applications.
Last, you need mounting hardware that will secure the frame’s tubing and fit onto the deck or gunwales of your boat. There are a variety of hardware shapes, sizes and angles available to secure it.
On my Bimini top, the fabric is old and worn, and I plan to have it replaced before my project boat sets off on her maiden voyage. I used 7/8-inch stainless steel tubes ($49.99 each) and 90-degree rectangle mounts ($22.99 each) from West Marine for my installation. I also purchased a ¼-inch sheet of polyethylene marine lumber to make a backing plate for each mount (picture 3).
Top it Off
You will need some assistance installing the top on your boat. Secure the mounting hardware to the top while it is on the ground, if it is not already in place, then place the structure on your boat. The port and starboard hardware needs to be aligned parallel, and ensure the hardware is in alignment forward and aft, as well. If your Bimini is collapsible, make sure it closes and opens properly.
Draw an outline of the hardware and its screw holes with a pencil (picture 4), and check underneath and behind each installation area for any hardware, plumbing or wiring. Cover the pencil outline with painter’s tape to protect the gelcoat, and then drill the screw holes. Remove the painter’s tape and wash the area. Apply marine sealant around the screw holes and to the underside of the mounts. Place the top back on your boat, and use nylon locking nuts to secure the screws.
You can further your enjoyment of the Bimini top by purchasing a boot to store it (if yours is collapsible) when you want to let the sun in. You can also add clear vinyl windows to further protect against Mother Nature.
I have read that “Bimini” means “two islands” in the Lucayan language and “mother of many islands” in the Taino Native American language. One thing is for sure, when you install a Bimini top, it definitely means protection from the sun. Not only will your passengers thank you, so will your skin.