Choosing A Cruising Boat—Shade and Ventilation

Reading Time: 12 minutes
The Outbound 46, with plenty of properly-executed dorade vents, opening ports and hatches, is clearly a boat intended for ocean cruising rather than sitting plugged in at the marina with air conditioning running. Photo kindness of Outbound Yachts

In the last chapter in this Online Book I wrote about the importance of shelter and the tradeoffs of the various options. Now let's take a look at the other side of the coin, shade and ventilation:

  1. The Right Way to Buy a Boat…And The Wrong Way
  2. Is It a Need or a Want?
  3. Buying a Boat—A Different Way To Think About Price
  4. Buying a Cruising Boat—Five Tips for The Half-Assed Option
  5. Are Refits Worth It?
  6. Buying a Boat—Never Say Never
  7. Five Ways That Bad Boats Happen
  8. The Two Biggest Lies Yacht Brokers Tell
  9. Learn From The Designers
  10. You May Need a Bigger Boat Than You Think
  11. Sail Area: Overlap, Multihulls, And Racing Rules
  12. 8 Tips For a Great Cruising Boat Interior Arrangement
  13. How Weight Affects Boat Performance and Motion Comfort
  14. Of Cockpits, Wheelhouses And Engine Rooms
  15. Offshore Sailboat Keel Types
  16. Cockpits—Part 1, Safe and Seamanlike
  17. Cockpits—Part 2, Visibility and Ergonomics
  18. Offshore Sailboat Winches, Selection and Positioning
  19. Choosing a Cruising Boat—Shelter
  20. Choosing A Cruising Boat—Shade and Ventilation
  21. Pitfalls to Avoid When Buying a New Voyaging Boat
  22. Cyclical Loading: Why Offshore Sailing Is So Hard On A Boat
  23. Cycle Loading—8 Tips for Boat and Gear Purchases
  24. Characteristics of Boat Building Materials
  25. Impact Resistance—How Hull Materials Respond to Impacts
  26. Impact Resistance—Two Collision Scenarios
  27. Hull Materials, Which Is Best?
  28. The Five Things We Need to Check When Buying a Boat
  29. Six Warnings About Buying Fibreglass Boats
  30. Buying a Fibreglass Boat—Hiring a Surveyor and Managing the Survey
  31. What We Need to Know About Moisture Meters and Wet Fibreglass Laminate
  32. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—Part 1, How We Shopped For Our First Cruising Sailboat
  33. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—Part 2, The Boat We Bought
  34. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—How It’s Working Out
  35. Q&A, What’s the Maximum Sailboat Size For a Couple?
  36. At What Age should You Stop Sailing And Buy a Motorboat?
  37. A Motorsailer For Offshore Voyaging?
  38. Easily Driven Boats Are Better

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for 25 years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 20 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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Michael Lambert

Thanks John, do you have a link to what you call pram hoods? I’ve not seen what you’re talking about but it sounds intriguing, particularly since there is an option for a total of only 4 dorades in the Boreals, unless I’m mistaken.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Even with a bimini, sunlight often was shining strong right where the best seating existed, especially late and early in the day when the sun was low. We used a ~~ 6×10 foot piece of very light white cloth with 4 or 6 strong spring clips (they served other purposes also) strategically placed to give shade. This, of course, was at anchor, but a smaller version was used underway in light air conditions or motoring.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Ernest E Vogelsinger

John, as usual you hit the perfect time for a topic 😉 For my new-to-me Van de Stadt I am pondering a while now how I would retrofit a bimini that would provide enough shade, doesn’t obstruct winch operation and wouldn’t get destroyed by the main sheet in case of a chinese gybe. But maybe our great community has some ideas that might provide an elegant and not super-expensive solution…
I’ve attached an aerial image of my cockpit. As you can see the traveller for main sheet is behind the cockpit, and the winches are a bit far to the front of the pedestal, but there’s no other option thanks to the form of the coaming. Mounting an off-the-shelf bimini would likely obstruct operating at least the secondary winches, and the main sheet will travel across the cockpit in case of a chinese gybe, when the traveller is far on the other side.
Maybe someone has an idea?
(and please ignore that silly solar panel, it has already been removed)

Stein Varjord

Hi Ernest,
It’s impossible to do a good evaluation without being on the boat, of course. Cockpit functionality is very much a 3 dimensional topic. Still, it’s a fun challenge, so here goes some thoughts:

You might get significant benefits by looking at a partially hard bimini or a “targa” arc, but that’s a big project and beyond what I can evaluate, so I’ll assume you’re planning a soft bimini. I’ve found it useful to start the process by defining where the bimini will be when folded in, not in use.
– Forwards, on top of the dodger, which will probably obstruct the view and not look nice, since a bimini must be flatter than the rounded dodger you have.
– Aft, lying flat down on the deck just in front of the mainsail track. This limits the width of the bimini, as it can’t be wider than the coaming is there. Otherwise it will obstruct passage. If this limited width is sufficient, it seems like a good alternative, but I’d look carefully at the issue you mention about the sheet.
– Standing up leaning aft. This is achieved by having another set of supports. The benefit is that it’s quick and easy to fold in and out, just tighten the forward straps, and more importantly, you can make it much wider without obstruction. In your case, this might be the best option?

The next question is where to attach the tubes. I can only see two options here, but there might be more:
– On the outside of the coamings, behind the winches, with an optional aft support similarly placed at the aft end of the cockpit.
– On your apparently quite strong railing. If this option is used, you need to keep it standing up as an arch when not in use, as mentioned. This option gives very good wide shade, the support might be more stable due to a lower height from the support and a wider base. The higher hinge point will mean that you might have to lift the main boom some to fold the bimini in or out, as the arcs will swing higher for the same longitudinal reach. This option can have softer turn to the edge, less sharp bends in the tubes, which looks nicer and is less vulnerable to the sheet.

From my very limited knowledge, I think I’d strongly prefer the last option. That means it’ll almost always be up, both in use and when not. I’m not a big fan of extra stuff in the air, like arches, but then there is the issue often mentioned by John: It’s about getting the most functional compromise.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Hi Stein, thank you for the invaluable idea of mounting it at the railing – something I for what reason ever didn’t think about until now. I will think about how this might work out and when I eventually come to a result I’ll update here.

I knew this community is worth more than gold… 🙂

Reed Erskine

Noting your comments on sleep strategies for daytime off-watch crew: Don’t bother trying to darken the salon or berth for off-watch sleepers. Wearing the cheap, conventional sleep masks, which often come with airline passenger “comfort kits”, is the ideal solution for daytime sleeping. Complete darkness achieved effortlessly delivers a deep sleep state in minutes and lets the rest of the daytime crew operate freely.

Marc Dacey

This is how my son handles it in his sea berth in the saloon…with optional ear plugs.

John Tully

This is what we did for a Bimini . Similar to yours. Can’t add the picture . It’s basically a hard Bimini with a teak rail all the way around Over lapping the dodger . It’s made of cored fibreglass and carries 700 watts of solar panels . It’s walkable so you can actually flake the main from on top if you needed to .

Michael Albert

We have a aft Bimini over helm station and it does obstruct view of sail but the zip in panel that connects to dodger can be removed and then there’s great visibility in good weather from main part of cockpit. I have a decent sized soft window with a velcro bordered cover flap. So when motoring or very hot, close it up. For sailing, open it. If needed same could be done in after Bimini. My preference is for full (but removable) cover over entire cockpit and then have strategically placed windows. But we do a lot of coastal and inshore so we hand-steer much more than 1% of time as it would be offshore. Important to define ideal use case for certain.

Mike Thrower

Living and sailing in the UK, I’m usually trying to warm the boat up !…but….. the beautiful doghouse on my Boreal 44 gets very warm in direct sunlight ( I didn’t take the optional hatches) and overheats the 2 iPads that I run for navigation unless I use the flexible sun visors that I ‘acquired’ from my work flying aeroplanes. Once rubbed, they stick to the curved windscreen and stop direct light onto the iPads and they keep working….

Inside, I have cut celotex 60mm sheets to size ( use a fine blade to prevent the horrible dust and seal the edges with tape) and they push fit into the openings( cable ties to help pull them out). These prevent the condensation in the colder conditions and keep the boat cool in the hotter weather….. a cheap and easy solution to temperature control….plus act as curtains…..

William Murdoch

For shade at anchor in the Bahamas we have two white sun awnings that together cover the entire deck of the boat; one forward of the mast and one aft. We also have awning curtains that can be attached to the aft awning… one either port or starboard and another aft to keep the sun from peeking under the edges. The awnings lower the cabin temperature by 10+F and make the cockpit a pleasant place to enjoy a sundowner. In addition to stopping the sun, the aft awning can also collect rainwater dropping it into our water tanks from two hose fitting set in the awning. The awnings are strong enough for wind speeds to 20 kts and can be quickly furled into tube-like bundles along the boat centerline in higher winds.

Dick Stevenson

Hi William, John and all,
We spent considerable time in hot sunny areas.
The awnings covering the whole boats were, indeed, very tempting. Like John, we moved along pretty regularly and the setting up and taking down and storage was more than we wished.
But the kicker was my wish to always be prepared for a midnight fire drill: an un-forecast unexpected squall or something. The thought of the windage that the awnings promised, especially if they got loose, was scary.
More powerfully: I had no wish to wrestle my way forward dodging the many lines, poles and canvas to get to the bow in heavy winds and/or rain. It sounded like a recipe for personal injury in addition to the likelihood of not handling the boat in a safe and seaman-like fashion.  
But the boat could get hot. Hence 2 additions:
First, I realized that there was an inch or more of dead air space between my headliner and the fiberglass ceiling. Dropping the headliner stem to stern (I was lucky as this was fairly easy on my Valiant), I then put in insulation (2-4 layers of Reflectix, a reflecting aluminum-backed bubble-wrap insulation that is very light weight and easy to work with scissors). This made a huge difference to the heat generated by the sun baking the deck and radiating into the interior.
Awnings do also cut down on heat and allow a hatch to be left open when off the boat. I had made a “tent” awning for the cabin area just forward of the mast (with a spigot for catching rain for domestic water-rarely used). It hung on a taught line from staysail to mast and tied down on the sides to the handrails. The midships hatch could then be left open even in the rain and when leaving the boat. The side-decks were left completely free for going forward and dealing with any sort of fire drill.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Terence Thatcher

John, I went to Pam Wall’s site and found nothing about the pram hood using her search function. Can you help? Thanks.

Alex Borodin

Hi Terence, the article is linked right in the sentence that describes it: