November 12, 2017

We built this cockpit awning for our sailboat...need shade from the Mexican sun

   Jessica and I recently sailed from our home port of San Diego down to La Paz, Mexico.

In our 30 foot boat, this voyage took us 3 weeks, but it was well worth the effort.

sailboat cockpit awning
2018 Update: our sun canopy in all its glory in the Sea of Cortez

Before departing, we had a lot of things on our 'to do' list. One of these things was to acquire some canopy shade across the cockpit of our Newport 30 boat. 

Mexico has a lot of sun and we only want some of that sun hitting us.

We built our own custom sun shade and it worked out great. I thought this would be of interest to others, so I'm describing the steps we took below.

sun awning
Jess enjoying a shady cockpit.

Our sailboat cockpit awning was not designed to withstand heavy conditions. We will only keep it up when travelling in light air or when the boat is at rest. Aside from that - the PVC poles and canopy will stow easily down below.

I like a wide open cockpit with unobstructed visibility, so I wanted a sun canopy that could be easily taken down at a moment's notice.

All in, we spent about $120.00 and the construction can be done in a couple of days.

sailboat bimini
our 2-panel sun canopy system 

Build your own sailboat cockpit awning

As you can see, we went with a basic 2-panel system. This way we have a back panel to shade the crew sitting in the cockpit. This back panel will be in place whether the main sail is up or down.

Then the front panel will only be up when the main sail is down (the front panel rests across the boom).

custom sun canopy
Front corners attach with a bungee for easy release.

Here, you can see the front panel rests across the boom. We use a bungee to fasten down the front corners. These can be popped off quickly.

When we cut the sun shade fabric to size and when we set the height of the PVC poles, we wanted to maximize visibility from the cockpit. This allows us to see incoming boats - and at the same time, it keeps the strong Mexican sun out of the cockpit.

We picked up our UV resistant canvas on Amazon. We bought 2 of those canvas packages, each one is 60 inches long and 36 inches wide.

DIY boat canopy
UV resistant canopy material with compatible plastic grommets

We also got a bag of the plastic grommets seen in the photo above. With a hammer, you punch them together with the fabric in the middle, this creates an eye-hole. You can then buy some parachute cord and tension all the corners.

Below is the version of marine canvas we used.

4 PVC poles (1 inch) cut to length 

PVC pipes support our sun shade canopy

We bought 4 sections of 10 feet long and 1 inch diameter PVC pipe at the hardware store. The 1 inch diameter give the right amount of flex - but is still rigid enough to stand straight under gentle tension.

We cut all 4 poles to proper length. The front 2 pipes mount on the inside of the cockpit. We attached them to the inside of the cockpit with pipe fasteners. The fasteners were raised from the surface with plastic spacers, this allows the PVC pipes to be pulled out easily when the sun canopy stows away. These PVC poles cut easily with a hacksaw.

DIY awning
front poles attach with a pair of pipe fasteners

The 2 pipes mounted on the stern rest in fishing pole holders. These fishing pole holders mount directly on my stern rail.

stern PVC poles fit perfectly in a stern rail mounted fishing pole holder

We bought some stainless eye hooks with threading on one end. Then we drilled these through the top of the PVC pipe. This allows us to tension the parachute cord that is connected to the canopy eye grommets.

an eye hook drilled through top of PVC pipe

A small design challenge: we wanted the canvas material to wrap around the boom lift line and the back stay. We cut open a slit on both panels to allow the canvas material to wrap around these lines. Then we popped grommet eye holes along the slit, so we could tension them back up around the backstay and boom lift.

canvas dodger
top view of 2 part sun canopy
So, that is it. We feel very good about this. 

Like I said, it is not meant for heavy weather, but this sailboat cockpit awning will certainly keep the sun at bay while cracking beers after a long day cruising.