Think before you shrink

When it comes to boat storage, there is a wide range of options that suit the needs of all recreational boaters. For many, convenience and cost dictate their decisions. As part of the Clean Ocean Access (COA) Shrink Wrap Recycling and Life Cycle Analysis project, we aim to empower boaters to Think Before You Shrink, by educating on the pros and cons of employing different methods to protect your boat against the harsh off-season elements.

Use our boat storage Life Cycle Guide, Hierarchy of Alternatives, and Cost Analysis to make the best decision for you.

KEY LIFE CYCLE FINDING:
Reusing and then recycling shrink wrap provides the longest material life cycle.

outdoor Boat cover Life Cycle Guide

When evaluating boat covers, life cycle should be a considered. This graphic outlines the different options and life cycles of various methods used to protect your boat outdoors during the off-season.

ALTERNATIVES TO SINGLE-USE BOAT SHRINK WRAP

While single-use shrink wrapping is the most common method of boat protection, its quick conversion of resources to waste results in a very short, wasteful life cycle. Alternatives include:

  • Reusable covers - store-bought and custom (canvas, polyester, polyethylene, and acrylic)

  • Reusing shrink wrap

  • Recycling shrink wrap

  • No cover

REUSABLE COVERS

Reusable covers come in a variety of materials, durability, fit, and price points. Whether store-bought or custom-made, their nature is to spread the use over years of winterizing and storage. While polyethylene tarps are considered reusable covers, their useful life is typically quite short resulting in frequent replacement. Regardless of the cover material, a point to consider is the importance of keeping a cover in use for as long as possible by cleaning and maintaining it. Once it can no longer function as a protective cover, its limited life cycle most often ends in disposal at a waste facility. Be sure to check with the marine fabric manufacturer for any recycling options.

REUSING SHRINK WRAP

Reusing shrink wrap spreads out use over multiple years and extends its life cycle, saving natural resources and reducing its environmental impact. In order to do so, it is important to incorporate excess material and/or a looser fit into the initial shrink wrap application to allow for future applications.

RECYCLING SHRINK WRAP

Recycling shrink wrap extends its useful life even further. Extra effort is required to keep it clean and bundle it properly for recycling. While there are currently limited programs and access to shrink wrap recycling programs, Clean Ocean Access is working to expand collection and recycling programs throughout the Northeast.

NO COVER

The most environmentally preferred method of protecting your boat outdoors is simply to not use any cover. This is generally limited to those who use their boats year-round, live in an area with mild climates, or for small durable vessels easily stored inverted.

HierarChy of Boat cover Alternatives


The environmental impacts of a material are significantly influenced by resource use, production, and disposal. After careful consideration of all boat storage methods, Clean Ocean Access developed a Hierarchy of Alternatives which ranks boat cover options from the most to least environmentally preferred based on their life cycle. The hierarchy places emphasis on reduction of natural resource use, ability for reuse, and if so for how long, as well as recyclability and method of disposal once its useful life is over.

The least preferred method is single-use shrink wrap, as its use of virgin resin and inability to be traditionally recycled generates a negative environmental impact. The second least preferred method is reusable covers, whether canvas or plastic-based. While the typical manufacturer's warranty is 10 years, some custom covers can be reused for up to 15 years. Unfortunately the production of reusable covers primarily uses virgin materials and they are typically not recyclable once unusable. After reusable covers, reusing shrink wrap is the next most preferred option. Avoiding production of new material is always preferred. COA is actively working to expand shrink wrap collection and recycling programs throughout the Northeast. Reusing and then recycling shrink wrap is an even more preferred method. The most environmentally preferred method of storing your boat outside is not to use any cover. This is generally limited to those who use their boats year-round, live in an area with mild climates, or for small durable vessels easily stored inverted.


KEY ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT FINDING:
Not using a cover is the most preferred method of outdoor storage,
while single-use shrink wrap is the least preferred.

Boat cover Cost Analysis
(Based on 30-foot boat over 12-year period)

Table Key

Single-Use Shrink Wrap (useful life = 1 year)

Custom Cover
(useful life = 10-15 years)

Reuse Shrink Wrap (useful life = 3 years)

Store-Bought Cover
(useful life = 6 years)

KEY COST ANALYSIS FINDING:
Store-bought covers and reusing shrink wrap are the most cost-effective outdoor protection methods.

Boat cover Cost Analysis

Cost is often one of the most important concerns when choosing an off-season boat cover option. Values on the cost analysis graph above are based on cover costs for a 30-foot motor boat over a 12-year period comparing four common storage methods: (1) single-use shrink wrap, (2) custom cover, (3) reusing shrink wrap, and (4) store-bought cover.

SINGLE-USE SHRINK WRAP

While shrink wrapping is the least expensive method for a single-use, one year application, its cumulative cost over the years is the highest.

CUSTOM COVERS

The initial cost of custom covers is generally the highest among all options. True custom covers are patterned to fit a boat by an experienced professional. They are installed tightly over a custom frame, accommodating rigging and consoles, to ensure that snow and ice will shed off the fabric minimizing stretching due to heavy loads. Most custom covers include vents to eliminate moisture buildup and a zippered entrance allowing easy access to the boat during the storage months. While the cost may be high, it is seen as an investment in safeguarding a boat over many years of winterizing and storage. Keep in mind that careful storage of the custom cover is needed when not in use to preserve the cover's useful life. In addition, maintenance and repairs will need to be performed periodically to ensure optimal performance and longevity; these costs have been evenly distributed over the life of the cover in the graph above. Including these factors, a custom cover's return-on-investment versus the cost of using single-use shrink wrap, occurs between 7-9 years.

reusing SHRINK WRAP

Reusing shrink wrap saves money by spreading the cost out over multiple years. If this is your goal, it is important to incorporate excess material and/or a looser fit into the initial shrink wrap application to allow for future applications.

STORE-BOUGHT COVERS

Covers created to match generalized boat specifications are available from many retailers and come in a variety of materials and price points. While they may not be patterned to fit a specific boat model or be as durable as custom covers, their cost can be close to a single application of shrink wrap. Their durability spreads the cost over multiple years; when carefully stored and maintained, their life cycle is 5-6 years making them a good financial option.

THINK BEFORE YOU SHRINK

Although single-use shrink wrapping is the most common method of protection against the harsh off-season elements, Clean Ocean Access encourages boaters to Think Before You Shrink. We're confident that evaluating both financial and environmental impacts of your options will help you to make the best, most-informed decision for you and your boat.