Tips on How to Shrink Wrapping a Boat In Winter

Shrink Wrapping a Boat In Winter

 We've been told for many years now that shrink wrap is a great way to protect a boat through the winter months, but even so, only a fraction of the boats out there get such treatment. Besides, there have to be downsides to shrink wrapping a boat. So, how do you know if you should have it done, or maybe even do it yourself? How exactly does shrink wrapping work? And what are the important things to look for in a shrink wrapping professional? To find out the scoop we spoke with a shrink-wrap expert, Dustin Hoover, VP of Atlantic Shrink Wrapping, Inc. Join in as he talks us through the important parts of shrink wrapping a boat, and watch how it's done first-hand.


“The main reason to shrink wrap your boat, obviously, is to protect it,” Hoover said. “It’ll keep out rain, snow, ice, and UV light.”

Hold on a sec, Dustin, doesn’t that regular old blue tarp accomplish the same exact thing?

“And unlike a tarp,” he continued, “properly installed shrink wrap will not leak. Period. It won’t ice up and collapse, you don’t need to brush off snow, and you won’t have to bail out puddled water, or anything like that. When the job is done right, you can basically forget about it until spring.”

shrink wrap boat

Shrink wrap is a polyethylene which has UV inhibitors, and is formulated to shrink when heated to create a seal which is much tighter than the one you or I can make with a tarp and ropes. That seal not only keeps the weather out of your boat, it also prevents the stretching and tearing tarps commonly display after a few months in the elements.




How To Shrink Wrap  A Boat

“The shrink-wrap material is non-permeable, so it’s important that the boat is as dry as possible before it’s wrapped, and that vents are installed in the wrap so it can breathe during storage,” says Polcyn.

You can help in this regard by cleaning out your boat before having it shrink wrapped. It’s a good idea to get any old food wrappers, bait cups and other items that might attract rodents out of the boat anyway. Polcyn said damp PFDs are a common source of moisture. You want to pull all the gear out of stowage compartments, let them dry out, and then leave the hatches open while the boat is stored. Pull the drain plug so all water can run out of the bilge. Bags of desiccant can also be left in the boat to fight moisture issues.

Constructing the support structure properly is another key to wrapping success, says Polcyn. You need to build a ridge in the center of the boat with two-by-four lumber, and it should be supported with the same cord that’s used to secure the bottom edge of the wrap around the boat—exactly the way Atlantic Shrink Wrap does it in the video. The top of the support should be padded to keep the wrap from chafing through, and you'll sometimes see carpet scraps used for padding.

“The more pitch in all directions the better when building the support,” says Polcyn. “You want rain and snow to slide off the wrap, and not collect anywhere over the boat.” The support needs to be at least 10 inches higher than the boat windshield. Even the lightest-gauge wrap material can hold more than 250 pounds, says Polcyn, but you don’t want that much weight to be resting on the windshield frame.

boat shrink wrap

Shrink wrap should never be used on boats with Imron-type paint on the hull, as the heat required to seal the wrap will damage the paint. It’s also important to keep the flaming heat gun away from bottom paint.

You might have a choice of wrap colors, commonly including white and dark blue. Polcyn says the white wrap reflects more heat and results in less condensation, and is the right choice in warmer climates. The blue wrap absorbs heat, which helps snow melt and then slide off the wrap. In the process of wrapping a boat, it’s not uncommon for a few holes to appear in the wrap, usually because it was over-heated. Polcyn says these holes should be repaired with shrink wrap tape.

We asked Polcyn about wrapping over an outboard motor, and he says there’s no clear policy to follow. It’s never a good idea to cover an outboard with a tight plastic wrap or a tarp because condensation will form under the cowl and can cause electrical and corrosion issues.  If the motor is wrapped, make sure air can circulate up under it, and that there's sufficient venting in the back near the cowl.

Finally, come spring you don’t want that huge sheet of polyethylene to end up in a land fill. Remember Hoover's instructions on recycling; cut out the cord and throw it away, then find a local marina or boatyard that collects the shrink wrap for recycling. Dr. Shrink has a dedicated program called the Rebag Recycling System, which consists of a bag big enough to hold 600 square feet of wrap (enough for a 26-foot boat) that has a pre-paid UPS label. You stuff the wrap in the bag and drop it off either at UPS or at a participating dealer, and it will land at a facility in Minnesota and be turned into synthetic deck lumber.