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Boat Shrink Wrap vs. Tarps: Which Offers Better Value for Cost?

Boat Shrink Wrap vs. Tarps: Which Offers Better Value for Cost?

Boat owners face the annual decision of how to best protect their vessel during the off-season. Two common options are boat shrink wrap and tarps. While both offer protection from the elements, they differ in cost and value.

Understanding Boat Shrink Wrap


Boat shrink wrap is made of polyethylene plastic, which is a strong, durable, and lightweight material. It is designed to withstand harsh weather conditions, including rain, snow, and wind. The plastic is also treated with UV inhibitors, which helps to prevent it from fading or cracking over time.

Application Process

The application process for boat shrink wrap involves wrapping the boat in a layer of plastic and then heating it with a propane-fired heat gun. This causes the plastic to shrink and conform to the shape of the boat, creating a tight, protective seal. The process typically takes a few hours to complete and requires some skill and experience to ensure that the wrap is applied correctly.


Boat shrink wrap is highly durable and can last for several months or even a year if properly applied and maintained. It is resistant to tears, punctures, and abrasions, and can withstand exposure to harsh weather conditions. However, it is important to note that shrink wrap is not completely waterproof and may allow some moisture to penetrate over time.


The cost of boat shrink wrap can vary depending on the size of the boat and the complexity of the application process. On average, boat shrink wrap can cost anywhere from $10 to $20 per foot, which can add up quickly for larger boats. However, the cost may be worth it for those who want a highly durable and protective cover for their boat.

In comparison to tarps, boat shrink wrap offers a more secure and protective option for boat storage during the off-season. While it may be more expensive, the durability and protection offered by shrink wrap may make it a better value for those who want to protect their investment.

Understanding Tarps


Tarps are made from a variety of materials, including polyethylene, canvas, and vinyl. Polyethylene tarps are the most common and least expensive option, but they are also the least durable. Canvas tarps are more durable but are not as waterproof as vinyl tarps, which are the most expensive but also the most durable and waterproof.

Application Process

Tarps are relatively easy to apply and require no special equipment. They are simply draped over the boat and secured with ropes or bungee cords. However, it is important to ensure that the tarp is tightly secured to prevent any wind from getting underneath and causing damage.


The durability of tarps varies depending on the material and quality. Polyethylene tarps are the least durable and typically last only one season, while canvas tarps can last up to three seasons. Vinyl tarps are the most durable and can last up to five seasons with proper care and maintenance.


Tarps are the most affordable option for winter boat protection, with prices ranging from $20 to $500 depending on the size and material. However, it is important to consider the cost of replacing a tarp each season versus investing in a more durable cover that can last for several seasons.

Comparative Analysis

Material Comparison

When comparing boat shrink wrap and tarps, it is important to consider the materials used in each option. Shrink wrap is typically made from polyethylene, which is a durable and weather-resistant plastic material. On the other hand, tarps are usually made from a variety of materials, including canvas, vinyl, and polyethylene.

While both materials are designed to protect boats from the elements, shrink wrap is generally more effective at preventing moisture and debris from accumulating on the boat’s surface. This is because shrink wrap conforms to the shape of the boat, creating a tight seal that prevents water and other elements from seeping in.

Durability Comparison

When it comes to durability, shrink wrap is generally more long-lasting than tarps. Shrink wrap is designed to withstand harsh weather conditions and can last for several months without deteriorating. In contrast, tarps are more prone to wear and tear, especially if they are exposed to harsh weather conditions like wind and rain.

Additionally, shrink wrap is less likely to rip or tear than tarps, which can be easily damaged by sharp objects or heavy winds. This makes shrink wrap a more reliable option for long-term boat storage.

Cost Comparison

In terms of cost, shrink wrap is generally more expensive than tarps. The cost of shrink wrapping a 20-foot boat ranges from $200 to $300, while a high-quality tarp can cost as little as $50. However, it is important to note that shrink wrap is a more long-lasting option, which can ultimately save boat owners money in the long run.

Furthermore, shrink wrap is a more effective option for protecting boats from damage caused by moisture and debris. This can help prevent costly repairs and maintenance down the road.

Pros and Cons of Boat Shrink Wrap

When it comes to protecting a boat during the off-season, many boat owners turn to shrink wrap. Here are some pros and cons to consider when deciding if shrink wrap is the right choice for you.


  • Durability: Shrink wrap is made of a tough, weather-resistant material that can withstand harsh winter conditions.
  • Customizable: Shrink wrap can be customized to fit any size or shape of boat, ensuring a snug fit that provides maximum protection.
  • Protection: Shrink wrap provides superior protection against moisture, UV rays, and other environmental factors that can damage a boat over time.
  • Security: Shrink wrap can also help deter theft and vandalism by making it difficult for would-be thieves to access the boat.


  • Cost: Shrink wrap can be more expensive than other options, such as tarps or boat covers.
  • Waste: Shrink wrap is not biodegradable and can create a significant amount of waste if not disposed of properly.
  • Installation: Shrink wrap requires a professional installation to ensure proper fit and protection.
  • Limited access: Once the boat is shrink wrapped, it can be difficult to access and work on until the wrap is removed.

Pros and Cons of Tarps

Tarps are a popular option for boat owners who want to protect their vessels from the elements without breaking the bank. However, there are pros and cons to using tarps as a boat cover.


  • Affordable: Tarps are generally cheaper than shrink wrap or high-quality boat covers, making them an attractive option for budget-conscious boat owners.
  • Easy to Install: Tarps are relatively easy to install and can be secured with ropes or bungee cords.
  • Customizable: Tarps come in a variety of sizes and colors, so boat owners can choose one that fits their vessel and personal style.
  • Reusable: Tarps can be reused for multiple seasons, making them a more sustainable option than single-use shrink wrap.


  • Not as Durable: Tarps are not as durable as shrink wrap or high-quality boat covers and may need to be replaced more frequently.
  • May Cause Damage: If not installed properly, tarps can rub against a boat’s surface and cause scratches or other damage.
  • Less Secure: Tarps are less secure than shrink wrap or high-quality boat covers and may not hold up as well in strong winds or heavy rain.
  • May Trap Moisture: Tarps can trap moisture against a boat’s surface, leading to mold, mildew, or other damage.


In conclusion, the decision to use boat shrink wrap or tarp to protect a boat during the off-season depends on various factors, including the cost, duration of storage, and personal preferences. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, and the most suitable choice will depend on individual circumstances.