Local marinas these days store the boats in their care for the winter, literally hundreds of them, with bright white coverings of what is called “shrink wrap.” Shrink wrap, in fact, has some ideal characteristics for covering boats.
Number one, once a boat is shrink-wrapped, it is truly protected from the elements. Only the most extreme weather conditions, such as hurricane winds, could possibly rip the shrink wrap away from the boat that it is covering.
Second, shrink wrap can be custom fitted as a winter cover over virtually any kind of boat, large or small. Shrink wrap is even superior to weather-treated canvas covers, which can never be fitted as tight to the hull of a boat as shrink wrap.
Third, installing shrink-wrap on a boat is not rocket science, and it can be done by skilled yard workers at local marinas. However, these workers must know what they are doing, because putting shrink wrap on a boat involves the use of a fire-flaming tool during the installation process. If not applied carefully, shrink wrap can catch on fire.
Because of the risk of fire, it is advisable that fire extinguishers be near at hand, when a boat is being shrink wrapped.
The Process for Putting Shrink Wrap on a Boat
Although there are variations in shrink wrapping a boat, these are the main elements of the process. Even before a shrink wrap cover is put on a boat, a frame has to be constructed to fit over the boat’s topsides.
For a smaller boat constructing a frame can be quite simple. For example, the frame could consist of a piece of strong rope, tightly stretched over a vertical post at mid ships of the boat to be covered that is affixed to both bow and stern of the boat. Or, instead of rope, stiff and strong pieces of wood could be used to form the frame.
For larger boats a full blown wooden frame has to be built and fitted over the entire topsides of the boat. For boats large and small the ultimate purpose of the frame is to provide a raised superstructure that can support the shrink wrap, when it is draped over the top of the boat and down the sides.
Another element of the shrink-wrapping process is the installation of the perimeter band around the boat. This band consists of a very tough line that is fitted tightly around the entire circumference of the boat. The perimeter band plays a major role in shrink wrapping a boat.
Heating the Shrink Wrap with the Flaming Tool
The climax of the shrink wrapping process involves the use of a flaming, shrink-wrapping tool. The tool is used to heat the shrink wrap, so that it is pliable, when it is stretched and configured over the boat’s hull.
The fact that heated shrink wrap is very malleable allows a skilled operator using the flaming tool to smooth out folds or imperfections in the shrink wrap covering of the boat. Importantly, after the shrink wrap cools it retains its molded shape.
Another important component of the shirk-wrapping process is the installation of belly bands. The belly bands are fastened to the perimeter band of the boat, and stretching around the bottom of the boat as they do so. When properly in place belly bands pull the shrink wrap closer to the boat’s hull along the sides of the boat.
If the shrink process is done correctly, it will eliminate any folds or crevices in the shrink wrap that could hold water that could turn into ice. Ice could even split the shrink wrapped cover of the boat, exposing the uncovered hull to the elements.
Boat Work Goes on Even under the Shrink Wrap
Keith Hultmark, the Marina Manager of the Island Cove Marina in Old Saybrook, says that even though their boats are completely covered in shrink wrap, “Customers will do some winter projects on their boats,” such as repairing an exhaust pump or refinishing the boat’s bright work. When the sun is bright in the yard, Hultmark says that under the shrink wrap, “it is so warm that you can do anything.”
The Island Cove Marina has 140 shrink-wrapped boats on its premises during the winter months, and 100 boats at in-the- water slips in the summer. The boating year at the local marinas like Island Cove is essentially divided into two parts. One is from November to April when the boat is under shrink wrap, and the other is from May to October, when the boats are at their slips at the marinas or at other locations.
The Short Boating Season
Marina Manager Hultmark states a truism when he says, “We have a short season in the Northeast.” Also, he feels that putting a boat in the water as early as March “is for diehards.”
He also observes that, “The boats go into the water a little slower for the season in May, than when they come out of the water for the season in October.” The delay in getting in the water in May could be caused by having to address various engine problems. As for boating late in October, it may be based on the desire of a boater who wants just one last trip for the season.
Typical Annual Expense for a Boat at a Local Marina
Hultmark in a recent interview observed that, “Boating is an expensive hobby.” To illustrate this fact these are typical annual expenses for keeping a thirty foot boat at a local marina for a year.
The cost of having a slip for the summer, at $140 a foot, is $4,200; hauling the boat out of the water and storing it for the winter costs, at $30 a foot, is $900; and shrink wrapping a boat for the winter, at $15 a foot, is $450. This means that the minimum cost for keeping a thirty foot boat at a local marina is $5,500 a year.
In addition, should it be necessary to commission or decommission the motor (or motors) on a boat, the cost can range from $200 to $2,000, according to Hultmark.
There is a short season for the boats using the marinas along the Connecticut River. Also, admittedly, boating is an expensive hobby. Nevertheless local boaters consider it all worthwhile, when the boat is in the water and the season begins.
Jerome Wilson is a former New York State Senator
and Political Editor of WCBS-TV (Channel 2).
He is now a freelance journalist and lives in Essex.