Cool winds and calm waves can be relaxing. But toss in some harsh sun and you've got the recipe for a serious sunburn. Scorching heat can easily sap the fun and enjoyment out of any boat trip. And because most pontoon boats come out of the dealership without any sort of sunshade, you might want to check the market for the best pontoon bimini tops.
Offering shade and cover + without weighing down your boat too much, a bimini is pretty much an essential for any pontoon boat owner looking to make the ride a little more comfortable. But because these after-sales additions have become pretty popular, there are tons of options available that might make your search a little less than straightforward.
What is a Bimini Top and How Does It Work?
The moniker is a reference to an island in the Bahamas of the same name. Some sources allege that the clever open-front boat canopy was first developed on the island, thus its name. It's essentially a sunshade designed for boats. There are lots of different designs available on the market, but most designs use an aluminum frame and support poles to keep the structure in place over the cockpit.
For the most part, a bimini will require some installation and assembly out of the box. But because you can't operate your boat with a cover expanded over the cockpit, most of the available designs effortlessly collapse into a nifty little size for easy storage.
Benefits of Having a Pontoon Boat Cover
You might be thinking that you've already got way too many accessories for your boat, but the bimini cover isn't exactly what pontoon owners would call optional. This after-sales addition provides a load of benefits that can seriously improve your boating experience and even protect your boat from potential damage.
Have you ever tried sitting on a boat for extended hours under the glare of the harsh noontime sun? It's really no fun. Even if you try to slather on as much sunscreen as your body's surface area will allow, there's no guarantee that you'll be free from the burning effects of sun exposure. Not to mention the fact that hot sunshine can get really uncomfortable really fast.
It just makes the boat experience more comfortable for everyone on board. Providing shade against the sun, this clever little addition can even extend your hours on the lake. And of course, with cover on deck to lounge and chat, you won't have to worry too much about getting a sunburn, especially if there are kids and passengers with sensitive skin on board. That's especially true if you choose a 4 bow bimini.
It protects so much more than just your skin. Offering cover from UV rays and scorching heat, pontoon bimini canopies also go the extra mile to protect your boat. All of those shiny vinyl surfaces aren't going to last forever. And constant exposure to the elements can speed up the process of degradation.
Although your pontoon boat bimini cover won't always be set up when you're underway at significant speeds, and might spend some time in a storage boot, the hours that it is installed over the cockpit can prove sufficient to delay and prevent damage. Keeping the 4 bow bimini canopy up when your boat is docked can also provide extended protection while your pontoon boat is tethered.
Sure, there are other ways to achieve the same benefits as those stated above. But have you tried looking into the sheer cost of the alternatives? A pontoon boat cabin for instance is a fixed renovation that you can add to your deck so you can have a full-on bedroom type situation to keep you protected from the sun.
But adding something that tremendous can seriously weigh down on your wallet. Heck, a cabin might cost you just the same as a brand new low end pontoon boat all together. On the upside, a boat bimini top offers the same benefits of comfort, protection, and privacy without having to cost you a fortune to acquire.
The 5 Best Bimini Tops for Pontoon Boats
If you're new to the scene, then yes, it can be pretty overwhelming. With literally hundreds of choices at your disposal, it can be a struggle to pinpoint an option that's truly a fit for your shade needs. And that's why we've come up with a condensed list of the 5 best bimini boat tops for pontoons that money can buy.
1. Naviskin Bimini Top Cover - Best Quality
Much like many other pontoon boat top bimini canopies on the market, the Naviskin features heavy duty 8 l 600D polyester construction with a polyurethane covering, reinforced straps, and a matching storage boot. The ultra durable material is certified marine grade, offering lasting performance in harsh conditions typically found out on the water. It's available in both 3 bow and 4 bow bimini options.
Its lightweight double walled aluminum frame, rear support, and bow legs are anything but flimsy, despite being relatively featherlight. This allows the structure to hold up against strong winds without caving in to the pressure. The lightweight aluminum construction also means that the 3 bow or 4 bow bimini boat top won't weight down on your pontoon. And because it comes with an impressive 1-year warranty, you can buy the cover with complete confidence.
2. Leader Accessories Bimini Boat Top - Best Replacement Bimini Top with Frame and Canvas
Leader Accessories doesn't play around with their top covers. This 3 bow pick comes in 10 colors and 6 different sizes, offering options for virtually any kind of pontoon boat on the market. But aside from just compatibility, the Leader Accessories Bimini Cover doubles up on durability with a sturdy 1-inch diameter frame that provides excellent resistance to strong winds.
The aluminum frame structure and rear support, despite being lightweight, offers weatherproof performance without bearing down on your boat with unnecessary added weight. And of course, the Leader Accessories cover fabric itself is made of 8 l 600D polyester similar to Sunbrella that keeps the canopy sufficiently protected against heat damage as well. When the straps are removed and it's all folded down, the canopy and frame fits into a nifty little color coordinated storage boot for added convenience.
3. MSC 3 Bow Bimini Top - Easy Set Up and Assembly
Touting marine grade construction using 8 l 600 D solution dyed polyester fabric that's reinforced with a thick PU coating, the MSC 3 Bow Bimini Top uses a sturdy 1" aluminum frame that's treated for added corrosion resistance. Bundled together with two rear support poles, straps, mounting hardware, and a storage boot, this complete 3 bow package gives you everything you need in a single, affordable bundle.
The top part of the cover structure arrives partially assembled for your convenience. It also includes a color coordinated storage boot that lets you tuck away the whole top when not in use. Easy to install and pull down, the MSC 3 Bow Bimini Cover makes the perfect choice for pontoon boat owners who want to streamline the process of setting up and taking down their brand new pontoon boat bimini canopy.
4. SereneLife 3 Bow Bimini Top Canvas - Best Durable Boat Bimini Top
Just like most other picks on this list, the SereneLife 3 Bow Bimini Top uses heavy duty 8 l 600 D polyster for added durability and strength. But to make the design even more reliable, it features double stitched seams that provide rugged performance in harsh weather conditions. Waterproof and completely UV resistant, the whole canvas provides lasting performance for both you and your boat.
Using a double walled aluminum 3 bow frame and rear support, this pick uses two rear support poles for added resilience when used in strong winds or high speeds. Plus, because the 3 bow cover comes as a complete set with straps, mounting hardware, a storage boot, and more, this choice eliminates the need to have to buy extra accessories just to get your bimini top up and ready.
5. PWR-ARM II Electric Top - Best Electric
This pontoon boat cover comes in a 3 bow and features an electronically powered square tubing that means you can remotely control the frame from your console. As expected, it boasts a standard solution dyed 600 D polyester material that doesn't only protect the pontoon boat and its passengers, but also keeps the canopy structurally sound for years to come.
Sold in 4 colors, this fashionable, streamlined, and effortless 3 bow choice is perfect for pontoon boat owners with a little extra budget. And although installation might take a little extra time and effort, the use and service life of this high quality pick might just outlast any other on our list. Of course, it doesn't come with a storage boot like the rest of the choices.
What You Need to Know to Replace a Bimini Top
So maybe you're on the market for a bimini top to replace the one you already have. Again, these things don't last forever, and you will have to switch up your older bimini shade top after a few years of use. If you liked your previous bimini top's performance and you want to get the same thing, you can order a replacement from your dealership instead of scouring the market to find a different model.
If you decide to go with a dealership replacement bimini top cover, here are are a few tips to make the process easier:
Check Your BIN
This is the 'bimini identification number' which can usually be found printed at the back of the canvas material or even on the storage boot. It's a 15 digit identification code that includes both letters and numbers. If you want your delearship to have an easier time finding the exact model of the bimini top on your pontoon boat, you can give them this code so they can locate a stock for your replacement request.
If you can't seem to find the BIN or if you want to ask your dealership for other bimini top replacements they have, you can send them a measurement of your pontoon boat width. This should help them narrow down the options to give you a list of choices that can fit your pontoon boat.
Length of the Bimini Canvas
For a more accurate list of options, it helps to also provide the dealership with the length of the bimini top canvas you presently have installed on your pontoon boat. Providing these measurements should help them offer you a set of options that are guaranteed to fit your pontoon boat the best way possible.
Keep in mind that if you decide to buy a replacement bimini top from outside of your dealership, then the measurements should still come in handy. In place of a length measurement, they might simply ask you whether you're using a 3 bow or a 4 bow bimini top for your boat.
Although it's not unheard of for a pontoon boat to tout a 3 bow bimini cover, most pontoon boats use the 4 bow because it provides more extensive coverage that comes in handy when you've got a large deck to cover.
How to Remove and Replace a Pontoon Boat Bimini Top Cover
If you're mounting one for the first time, then the process of installation might not be as straightforward. Fortunately, it's standard for these tops to come with extensive instructions for assembly and set-up.
For the most part, you can expect to follow these steps or a similar process:
- Screw together the frame's arms so that all of the moving joints are connected where they should go. All of these joints should have designated screws, nuts, and bolts to secure them together. Familiarize yourself with all the pieces before you get started.
- With the whole bimini top properly assembled, it's time to mark out where it should sit on your boat to offer the most shade. With the help of a friend, stretch out the bimini top cover so it's fully expanded and place it on the pontoon boat as you would intend to have it installed. Mark out the place on the boat's rails where you want the mounting hardware to go.
- Take a drill and secure the stainless steel mounting hardware to the rails. See to it that you carefully measure out the spaces between the mounting hardware so that the bimini top is squarely over the cockpit or the area of your deck where you want it to go.
- Install the bimini top aluminum frame to the mounts on the rails. Stretch it out so that all of the bows are fully expanded to reveal the framework when then bimini top is deployed. This should also make it easier to secure the canvas fabric. You can also secure the rear support at this time.
- Take the polyester fabric material out of its storage boot and orient it so that its sides are all facing the right directions. Then snap or slip the material in place, securing it tightly with its accompanying straps. Some of them may also include snap fixtures that keep the material more secure during use and against strong winds.
To remove the bimini top, simply follow the same steps backwards. Remove the straps, then the cover, and dismount the rear support and frame.
If you're replacing just the canvas material, then you can keep the frame on and just change the old fabric with a new one, ensuring that it's the same size. If you're replacing everything including the frame, you can keep the mounting hardware in place and just fit the new frame on the existing mounting hardware.
What to Look for When Buying a Boat Cover for Shade
What exactly makes a good bimini shade top and how can you be sure you're buying a design that's right on the money? Well, there are a number of factors to look into when checking out the latest, greatest bimini tops on the market. Here's what you should consider before you click through to checkout.
Boat bimini tops are essentially shields, and you wouldn't want a cover that isn't durable enough for the job. Strong, reinforced, marine grade fabric treated with a waterproof coating is the standard for boat top covers on the market. Most of them use 600 D polyester fabric for both cover and storage boot, but the differences arise in treatment.
Some are treated to be waterproof and UV resistant like Sunbrella, while others are simply waterproof. If you want something that will last longer, make sure you check the available treatments to find a canvas material that's built to last. Heavy duty covers are often longer lasting.
The same goes for the frame of most 3 bow and 4 bow bimini picks. Although most biminis use lightweight double wall aluminum, they typically tout impressive structural integrity by way of rear support poles. Some can even stay expanded at certain speeds.
Some might also use stainless steel mounting hardware and rear support, but keep in mind that this material may be more susceptible to corrosion over time. The 4 bow bimini tends to be heavier than the 3 bow option, but 4 bow covers have been known to be significantly more durable.
Ease of Set-Up and Use
Unless you're willing to spend extra to have someone install your boat top cover for you, it's important that you choose a design that you won't have too much trouble setting up on your own. Fortunately, most of these 3 bow and 4 bow bimini shade designs need nothing more than a few basic tools to properly and safely install the frame, rear support, and canvas, so you shouldn't have to worry too much about getting them set up.
Another thing is ease of use. Biminis can't always be up and expanded. In strong winds and when you're underway, keeping the top expanded can place tension on the joints and cause unnecessary wear and tear. So you're going to want a top that you can fold down or even remove and place in a storage boot without too much of a fuss.
You'll often come across the terms 3 bow and 4 bow when buying a bimini cover, and that basically just pertains to how many bows are underneath the canopy. The more bows it has, the bigger the canopy, and thus the bigger the top's coverage. If you're on a pontoon boat, you're almost always going to want a 4 bow bimini because it provides expanded shade for the pontoon boat's larger surface area versus other boats.
But that doesn't meant that a 3 bow top is irrelevant in the pontoon boat market. There are some boats out there that should do just fine without a 4 bow bimini since it's really all a matter of size. What's important is that you measure your boat to get the best fit and to prevent problems during the installation process.
And of course, you're going to want to check the warranty on your top cover. Biminis aren't exactly that cheap, and while buying one won't send you into spiraling debt, it's definitely not a small purchase. So you're going to want something that comes with some sort of guarantee of quality.
Interestingly, not every 3 bow or 4 bow bimini cover you find will come with warranty, and that should tell you a lot about the design's make and durability. If a brand is willing to slap even just a one year warranty on your boat top cover of choice, then that says a lot about their confidence in their own product. See to it that you look into coverage to make sure you're not falling into a potential trap.
Alternative Boat Cover Options for Pontoon Boats
So, maybe you're looking to change things up and you want to try a different kind of boat cover. There are lots of impressive coverage options available for your pontoon boat that use a completely different design and structure including:
These come in all shapes and sizes, but typically attach to a boat cover's framework. It's essentially a sheet of clear, reinforced, marinegrade plastic that provides cover against rain showers while you're on your boat. They're easy to set up and take down, and come with their own storage boot.
Although not too popular, the gazebo top offers an interesting new way to get extra coverage from the sun while you're on your boat. Made from the same material as a boat top cover, it's slightly less durable but provides excellent shade in low wind and calm conditions and fits easily in a compact storage boot.
A playpen provides excellent top shade and cover since it covers more than a 4 bow bimini, but it does take a toll on visibility. Nonetheless, it's ideal for when your boat is docked or for when you plan to keep your boat in storage while protecting it from the elements and from pests.
Think cabin, but made from polyester or other marine fabric. These enclosures give you a full on cabin-style room on deck, complete with windows. Of course, they're ideal for calm conditions since you can't just take them down and stuff them in a storage boot.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who makes the best boat top covers?
It really depends on your preferences. But Leader Accessories and Naviskin didn't make it to the top of our list for nothing.
Are pontoon boat bimini tops universal?
Yes, most of them are universal. But some brands manufacture designs that are compatible strictly with stainless steel hardware and replacement parts from their own brand.
How to get bimini top dimensions?
To assess the width, simply measure the distance between the two mounting points on the left and right rail. To determine the ideal length, measure the entire area that you want to shade and cover with your top.
The best pontoon bimini tops provide coverage not only for you and your passengers, but also for your pontoon boat itself. There are tons of options on the market though, so be careful when making that choice. Consider these tips when browsing for your boat bimini top and get the best boat cover to match your needs.