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Designing the Proper Enclosure

Exterior, Shop Techniques | May 1, 2018 | By:

At Lake Shore Boat Top Co. Inc., in St. Clair Shores, Mich., we fabricate custom marine canvas year-round. Our customers come to us for high-quality marine fabrication and we depend on our staff to help provide new ideas to make every boat truly a work of art.

  • When designing a new enclosure, here are some key factors to keep in mind:
  • What is the customer’s objective when planning this project?
  • How are you going to design the job?
  • What materials will work properly for this project?
  • Is your customer educated?
  • Make that lasting impression!

The purpose of the project discussed in this article was to extend the living space and boating season for our client, so he could use this Tiara Yacht in early spring and late fall when the weather is chilly in Michigan. The client was very straightforward with the design he was looking for and wanted an enclosure that was not going to be boxy. We wanted to make sure we delivered a design that matched all of the lines of this yacht.

Photos 1 & 2: Our design department suggested building a camper top and enclosure panels with multiple screen options. We wanted to build a frame that would provide a large top for shade, but also minimize the amount of room it would take up on the port and starboard deck.

Photo 3: We suggested building a “Hoop Frame” with multiple rigid supports. When designing this frame, we wanted to provide the customer’s boat with some character. We did a double crown on the main frame so it would match the contour of his hard top as well as the curve of the stern of the boat. We also fabricated four rigid supports with a slight crown in them so it would provide just the right touch to the boat’s unique frame design.

Photo 4: We fabricated this frame with 1 ¼-inch stainless steel tubing and secured it with heavy-duty eye ends, jaw slides and deck mounts. All side mounts were drilled into the arch and through-bolted with deck-mounted backing plates.


Photos 5 & 6: After the frame was installed, we contacted the customer to discuss how he wanted us to build the enclosure panels around the aft portion of the boat. We wanted to get a good feeling of how he envisioned the enclosure. Educating our customers and getting them involved in the design is something we encourage at our shop. An easy way for customers to visualize a design is to hang strapping tape to the frame and have it attach to the deck of the boat. This gives the customers a great view of their enclosure panels and zipper breaks. If they need to move something just a little, it is as simple as moving the tape to the right or left.

Photo 7: Once the framework was installed, we patterned the camper top to the newly installed frame with Canvex®. We used a simple double-sided sticky tape along with clamps to hold our pattern in place. We also always custom pattern our rain flaps to provide the best design for our enclosures.

Photo 8: After the sewing process and the layout of the enclosure zipper attachments, it was time to install the new camper top. Once the top was installed, we patterned the enclosure windows. Some shops will pull the pattern on the entire boat in one step. There really is no right or wrong way to do this process; our process is to pattern to the new top.

We took Canvex-patterning material and patterned our panels. We always mark all customer information on the panels:

  • Panel details: screen with zipper opening as a combo or duplicate screen panel, which panels will have roll-up straps on them, which panels will pin up to the hard top or canvas top, etc.
  • Customer name and fabric color
  • Numbered enclosure panels starting on the starboard side with the #1 and ending on the port side
  • Horizontal zippers also labeled starboard to port side

Photo 9: After an enclosure is complete, we clean up the panels and install zipper pulls on all vertical zippers of the panels. We polish and clean all the windows with the proper cleaner for each type of clear vinyl installed on the panels. This job called for a duplicate screen panel on the starboard door panel of this enclosure. We ensure our view lines match up with our screen and clear glass panels. Our attention is in the details. Once the job is complete, presentation means everything. We make sure all details are completed and looked over completely before contacting the customer for the final walk-through.

Rob Kotowski is the second-generation owner of Lake Shore Boat Top Co. Inc., located in St. Clair Shores, Mich. He followed in the footsteps of his father (Bob Kotowski), who helped mentor him. Rob is currently managing and coaching a staff of nine and balancing family life with a growing business.

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