Make This Boom Tent: the Poor Man’s Bimini

It’s a cloudless mid-summer afternoon. You’ve had a great day of sailing but you’re ready to drop anchor, start dinner, and relax for another stunning sunset. You’ve been in the sun all day so some shade would be great but you don’t have a bimini on your sailboat. You don’t really want to go down into the cramped cabin yet. The first mate will be making dinner and you’d just be in the way.

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While you’re sailing, you’re in the shade of the sails at least some of the time. But when you stop and drop the sails, you’re a sitting duck–roasted duck, that is.

Isn’t there a way you can improvise with an inexpensive tarp to make a sun shade? You could use it during rain showers too, to keep the cockpit dry and more comfortable.

You can set up a boom tent in just a few minutes with a small tarp, two pieces of PVC pipe, and a handful of bungee cords. I used this technique aboard Summer Dance before I added a bimini and besides being a lot cheaper, it has other benefits too, like more headroom.

Here’s what you need:

  • 6′ x 8′ plastic tarp with grommets in the corners and sides. Depending on the length of your boom, you may be able to use a larger tarp or you might want a smaller tarp.
  • (2) 1/2″ x 6′ Schedule 40 PVC pipes or conduit. Depending on the size of the tarp you choose you might need longer or shorter lengths. They should be several inches longer than the short edges of the tarp.
  • (4) 2′ bungee cords
  • (2) 1′ bungee cords (optional)
  • (4) 4″ long double-sided hook and loop strips (optional)

If you color coordinate the parts, it won’t look too ghetto. For example, a blue tarp and bungees with white PVC pipe.

Here’s how to set it up:

1. Flake and tie the mainsail compactly to the boom. Use your mainsail cover normally, if you want.

2. Standing in the cockpit, drape the tarp lengthwise over the mainsail and boom.

3. Hook one end of a 2′ bungee cord to each corner of the tarp and hook the other end to the nearest convenient attachment point on the pushpit, lifelines, stanchions, etc. like in the first picture.

4. Standing on the cabin top, pull the hook of one of the forward corners further through its grommet until you can hook it into one end of a piece of PVC pipe. The tarp grommet should now be captured between the knotted end of the bungee cord and the end of the PVC pipe like shown below.

Hook each corner of the tarp to the ends of the pipe

5. Repeat step 4 for the other forward corner of the tarp. Bend the pipe downward slightly until you can hook the cord in its end. The bungee cords should stretch enough so that they hold the tent stable and the tarp arches a little for rain to run off and not catch much breeze.

6. (Optional) Use the double-sided hook-and-loop strips to lash the remaining grommets in the forward edge of the tarp to the PVC pipe. When you do the same to the other end of the tarp, they will stretch the tarp flat between the two pipes and hold the tent together.

Lash the tarp to the pipes with hook-and-loop strips

7. Standing on the transom, repeat steps 4-6 for the other end of the tarp.

8. Use the 2′ bungee cords to pull the boom tent toward the mast or aft toward the transom to provide the best cockpit coverage and to keep the tent from sliding off the boom if gusts of wind come up.

Since there are no supporting poles, access over the coamings for fishing, swimming, or stepping onto a dock is better than with a bimini. You might decide that you like your boom tent so much that you don’t want a bimini anymore. If you don’t need the shade while sailing, a boom tent is more convenient. But if you would prefer a bimini, read Upgrade to a Bimini Top on a Budget.

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13 Comments Add yours

  1. James B. Lampke says:

    I enjoy your weekly emails.Do you have anything g re making a mast crutch, to catch and hold the mast when I raise or lower it with my mast raising system? Thanks Jim LampkeHull, MA

    Sent via the Samsung GALAXY S® 5, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

    1. Hi, James

      I made my own mast crutch similar to the manufactured ones for a fraction of the cost. It not only helps with stepping the mast but it supports it while trailering too. You can see it in the videos in How to Step a Mast Single-Handed With or Without Using the Boom as a Gin Pole. And if you’re a subscriber, you can download the fabrication drawing to make one for yourself from my Downloads page.

  2. Tom Luque says:

    I have two shade deployments.
    1. Golfing umbrella with small wire ring installed in tip (drilled hole) so I can hang umbrella to boom using S-hook or string.
    2. Tarp arrangement simular to your setup except I used a light weight fabric shower curtain with rod pockets sewn at both ends and center. I use folding fiberglass tent poles from discarded tents (or from Walmart) in the pockets.
    Well, thats the seed of my designs for shade.

  3. Annette says:

    Thanks so much for this solution. We just bought a 27′ Halman Horizon this spring and it came with an old Canadian Tire nylon tarp that covered the boom but split at the end, so you could cover the cockpit completely. It had ties, so you could close the gap and then fasten the remainder of the tarp to the stern lines and railing. Unfortunately, this past weekend, the old and frail material began to rip. It was quite a simple but ingenious design and I’ve been trying to figure out how to replace it. I would also like to know if anyone has managed to create a cockpit tarp top with mosquito netting. That would be awesome!

  4. Dave Henning says:

    So, I notice your boom tent is only 6.0′ wide on a boat with 7.7′ beam. My O’Day 20 has a 7.0′ beam, but I live in Phoenix where shade is critical. I even want to block the lower-angled sun.

    If I used a 9′ tarp, do you think it would be reasonable or would it just get messy? Might the PVC flex too much?

    Do you think using a skinnier tarp with a foot or two of something hanging from each side might be better?

    1. Hello, Dave

      A 9′ wide tarp would require a bit different design, I think. The PVC might need to be larger in diameter to hold it in one plane. It might also need non-elastic tie-downs to hold it level in a breeze. The PVC frame might provide enough tension in that case. Using the extra width as “walls” instead of a “roof” might also be a better compromise. It would act less like a wing and more like a dodger. I would try to make the walls easily openable for ventilation, view, and egress. Folding the walls and fastening the corners up underneath the centerline comes to mind first.

      Give it a shot. Tarps are cheap and reusable for lots of purposes. If you come up with a design that works well for you, let me know and I’ll share it here for everybody.

  5. Dave Henning says:

    Thanks for the ideas.

    The wheels are still spinning. i am thinking that I don’t need walls on both sides. The sun is always going to be on one side more than the other and leaving one side open is good for easy egress as you mentioned.

    So let’s imagine that we have an 8′ x 10′ tarp and the sun is more to starboard. I would lie the tarp width-wise and leave 2 feet hanging off of the starboard side past the end of the PVC. From there, I would pretty much set it up like you have it using the second grommet from the starboard corner of the tarp as the new corner (kind of like a new clew after reefing). Once I have the four corners secured like yours, I might run a line to give the wall more structure. It would go from the boat, through the original corner, then through the “reefing corner,” across to the other “reefing corner” and back down to the boat through the other tarp corner. At times when this wall is unnecessary, I can fold the extra material up backwards and strap it to the PVC with the existing hook-and-loop straps.

    I live in Phoenix. I have shaded multiple vegetables gardens and outdoor dining areas with various shade cloths with pretty good success. The sidewalls can be really helpful for sure as that afternoon sun is a killer. Those pop-up canopies are always frustrating because the shadow they project is almost non-existent in the afternoon depending on the time of the year. It’s 4pm and it’s 93 degrees as a write this on March 14th!

    For the record, the primary sailing lake (Lake Pleasant) has a regular daily rotating wind pattern due to the nearby mountains such that sailors are almost never in the shadow of their sails, so I already ordered one of those bargain biminis you recommended.

    1. Sounds like a good plan, Dave.

  6. Dave Henning says:

    Here’s what it ended up looking like.

    I went with thicker PVC (1″) to accomodate the extra width. I cut the PVC into thirds for easy storage and ran shock cord through them to make them like tent poles. (Although, initially I just used a 3/16″ nylon line and put a taught-line hitch at one end to take up the slack once the pieces were put together) I joined the PVC together with fittings that are slip fittings on one side and threaded on the other. (Now, that it is working, I’ll glue the slip fitting side.) I got the tarp for $10 online. It might be a little bit of overkill, but the thing worked really well and we don’t mess around with the sun around here.

    1. Well done, Dave. I like the white tarp. The first mate seems to approve and that’s the most important part!

  7. Chris Anderheggen says:

    I copied your boom tent design, but added a little twist. I cut the 2 poles in the center and put a unglued coupling in. I then ran a length of bungee cord inside the pipe and tied it to both end grommets. This does 2 things. It keeps the tarp tight the length of the pole and you can pull the poles apart it the middle to roll up as smaller bundle!! Thanks for your ideas.

    1. So they fold up like tent poles. Great idea!

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