What Is A Hard Dodger? (And How To Build One)

What Is A Hard Dodger? (And How To Build One) | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

August 30, 2022

‍ When sailing on your boat, you might come across undesirable wet conditions. Since you are on the water, you will likely be wet unless you have a hard dodger.

Staying dry while sailing is a tough task to accomplish, but it is possible. How would a hard dodger help and how do you build one?

Hard dodgers are enclosed structures protecting you and the cockpit from the elements. With this added protection, you are keeping yourself comfortable, electronics safe, and companionways dry. Building one is much cheaper than purchasing, but will also cost you time and patience.

Building a hard dodger should not be a task that is rushed, as you need to allow time for things to mold and take shape. If you are interested in building a hard dodger, you will see the importance and why it is essential for everyday sailing.

According to boaters university, sailing with a hard top dodger significantly improved the experience. No matter your sailing experience, having a hard top dodger makes the process efficient and more enjoyable.

Table of contents

‍ Basics of a Hard Dodger

There are two different types of dodgers, with one being soft and the other hard. Soft dodgers are typically made up of canvas or vinyl, but these are temporary or used on an as needed basis.

Hard dodgers are meant to be permanent and cost more money up front. The enclosed shell surrounding the cockpit, along with the laminated glass windows, protects your boat and offers a clear view for many years.

Benefits of a Hard Dodger

These dodgers offer the best combination of safety, comfort, and reliability. When sailing, you want to have the best of all three worlds and you want to protect your investment.

Protection Against All Conditions

Hard dodgers offer protection to the cockpit and companionways during inclement weather, high wind, or rough waves. Being protected by a hard dodger will be more comfortable during those situations, especially since you can hide under the hardcover.

Since you are underneath a hard dodger, you will be protected from the sun's rays as they will bounce off the top. As for soft dodgers, these will deteriorate over time with the harsh sun beating down on it, so you will be replacing these every so often if you do not remove them after each use.

Perfect View

Since the cockpit is enclosed and typically used laminated glass, you will have unobstructed views when sailing. In most soft dodgers, your view will be blocked by patches of canvas.

For hard dodgers that use laminated glass, these surfaces are easy to clean. If any mold or mildew attempts to form, it can easily be removed within a few seconds and you are back to clear views.


The structure of a hard dodger will offer many benefits for years to come. For example, the structure will serve its primary purpose to protect from weather or rough waves, but it also includes secure handholds to safely step down into the cockpit or when exiting.

In addition, it also provides temporary shelter when riding out tough waves or storms. Getting caught out in a situation when you do not have any dodger is bad enough, but a hard dodger can make rough situations more tolerable.

How Much Does a Hard Dodger Cost?

There are not a lot of hard dodger kits for sale online. Instead, you would need to contact a company that builds them specifically for your boat or do one yourself.

Some websites offer kits for soft dodgers that require a special sewing machine . However, you can see how much money you need to spend just for fancy fabric that you will likely need to replace over time.

When it comes to hard dodgers, doing it yourself will save you tons of money over the long haul. Depending on the size of your boat and the materials that you use, you will be spending anywhere between $2,000 and up.

The reason there is not a price cap is because you can essentially add anything to a hard dodger and use about any materials necessary to get the job done. For a rough estimate, expect to spend around $10,000 on average to have good quality for the long term.

To put this in perspective, you might not want a hard dodger if your boat is relatively cheaper. If you have a $100,000 sailboat, or simply want to improve the value of your current one, it might make sense to protect your investment with a hard dodger.

How to Build a Hard Dodger

To begin the process, it would be best to have a cardboard prototype with measurements of your hard dodger that you want to make. If you have an old dodger handy or something of relevance to the size you need, that is a great start.

Having measurements and something to go by is great, especially since you do not want to obstruct your view of the helm. You also want to allow room for movement in the cockpit and navigating in or out of it.

Making the Shell

Use cardboard or something you can easily bend and cut to help make your mold. You will also need tape and something easily bendable with the use of a heat gun like pvc water pipe for mounting points.

Once you have made the shell, simply apply it to your boat and view from all angles. This way you can see how the rough draft will apply in real time and to get a better picture of things to come.

Cut Plywood

Once you are happy with the shape of your mold, it is time to apply that to the shape of plywood. You can use heavy duty marine grade ⅜ inch plywood or regular construction grade.

If you use marine grade, it will stand up to water better if it ever gets wet. However, it is harder to bend and regular construction grade could work just as well.

Once you have made the cut to your plywood, you should test the fit to make sure it works. Simply make adjustments as needed.

Make Bending Frame

Now is the time to make a bending frame for the plywood core. You could use two 2x12 wooden planks with cross pieces that screw on. The planks should be spaced out roughly a third of the width of the dodger, or your fore-aft distance.

It is important to note that you need a leveler and measuring tape to properly check the cuts. Anything that is off just the slightest could result in a warped or bent dodger when the final product is bolted down.

Cut along the profile of the dodger’s bend into two sections of plywood. You will need to screw in the contour pieces to the planks.

You will also need to cut roughly a dozen or so blocks, but do not need all of them, to help stabilize the dodger core. These could be something like 3x3x1, which you will use to evenly distribute along the contour.

Make a mark that will be easy to see when identifying your center line. This will be useful when bolting everything down when applying the core to the frame.

Now you can apply the core to your frame to see if everything fits. When aligning the center of the core to the contour, make sure you can apply enough pressure to allow it to conform.

Once everything is in line, you can screw the core to the frame. Using your center line from earlier, you can easily see the midline of the core and the midline of the frame.

Apply Dodger to Boat

Once you have built the dodger frame, you can now test it out on your boat. Carefully move the completed frame over to your boat and align accordingly.

Bolt down the dodger to the boat with the aligned holes. After bolting down the dodger, make sure you have everything in line before you attempt to do anything else.

You have two options to consider at this point for the next step. You can either remove the dodger from the boat to finish the process in another location or leave it and do all the work from the boat. Keep in mind that leaving it on the boat will require you to work entirely from the boat for the next several days or longer.

Once you have completed installing your dodger and any additional panels that you see fit, you can move onto the clean up process that will add longevity to the dodger. If there are any small gaps, this is not a big deal assuming it does not interfere with the integrity of your structure.

If you have small holes or gaps, this can be filled later with epoxy or wood filler. Keep in mind that you want something that is going to be easy to sand. You are going to want a smooth surface later to apply a coat of sealant and paint.

In addition, look for areas along edges to apply fiberglass tape, epoxy, and edge reinforcements. This will make the finishing process easier and give it a cleaner look while also stabilizing the frame.

Additional Features

Before you begin adding glass and sealant to your hard dodger, this is a great time to add any additional features such as speakers, opening hatches, solar panels, or anything you desire. Now that you have the frame in place to your liking, it is easier to add these features than after it is completed.

You do not have to have everything a perfectly snug fit. This will all be covered later in the clean up process, so do not stress over small gaps.

If you see an opportunity to make holes bigger for electronics or other features, now is the time to do so. You will have plenty of opportunity to fill everything with paint and epoxy later.

Adding Fiberglass

With the dodger perfectly in place, now is the time to add fiberglass. You should install temporary support systems to avoid any shape distortions wherever you are going to place the fiberglass. This is as simple as using tape, cloth, and your favorite epoxy.

Once you have installed the fiberglass, you need to make sure every corner or gap is filled. Simply continue to use epoxy in places where it is needed and remember that you can sand any excess later.

Sanding, Painting, and Applying Dodger

One of the most rewarding steps is to clean up the dodger. All of the love labor you have poured into this project now gets the flavor to suit your taste.

Finish sanding down the dodger and clean up any areas to provide a smooth surface. You also need to make sure there are not any unlevel spots, so using a fair compound to fill in these areas will need time to cure and sand later.

After you have sanded to perfection, you can paint the dodger to any color of your liking. For simplicity, most people stick to white.

The paint will need to be either an oil-based rust-proof paint or a single-component polyurethane. Whichever one you choose, you need to continue using that specific application or it will not stick properly over time. If you do not like that particular application, you would need to sand it all off and start again.

The easiest to use is an oil-based paint that is marine grade, or at least stands tough in water. This paint also works well when you want to apply a thing coat to give your dodger a fresh look over time.

If you have intentions of standing on top of your dodger, it would be wise to add some form of non-skid. This could be crushed walnut shells or sand over several coats of paint. Without non-skid, your dodger top will be like ice if you plan to step on it.

Once everything is painted, you can add the dodger to your boat if you had chosen to work at another location. Whether you are bolting it down now or previously in the process, make sure your bolts are heavy duty and rated for rough conditions.

Related Articles

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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  • Doable DIY: Crafting a Simple, Durable Dodger

Have you ever noticed an old and badly neglected sailboat at the marina or boat yard or that grabs you and pulls you in? One that calls to you beyond just the fiberglass and weathered teak, making you feel some salty combination of pity and lust, and begging you to give her a new life?

Well, I am that weak guy who just can’t walk away. After more than a dozen sailboats, the desire to restore these works of art has become even stronger. Just as I’ve finished up the restoration of one, I’ll stumble onto another one that looks to me for help. You’re reading 48° North, so maybe I’m preaching to the choir. My friends and family have told me I’m crazy, but I know friends that restore old cars and nobody considers them crazy. Maybe I am crazy and it has nothing to do with sailboats.

On many of my restorations, I’ll finish off by making a cockpit dodger for the boat. In the past, I’ve installed a half-dozen canvas dodgers with prefabricated frame and skin kits. Those kits are a good product, but they’ve gotten so expensive over the last several years that I’ve had to rethink the whole process of making dodgers. With limited funds and even more limited intelligence, I realized that a different type of dodger could be used — something simple, strong, attractive, and inexpensive. And something that was bulletproof (figuratively, and potentially literally) could also be handy. That’s where the idea of Lexan or polycarbonate came to mind (Lexan is a brand of polycarbonate). By making my own frame and using Lexan sheets, my experimental dodger project was launched.

how to build a sailboat dodger

Aluminum tubing for the frame can be used instead of stainless steel due to the support from the shape of the dodger. One inch aluminum frames are more than adequate in strength and much less expensive than stainless. In fact, the overall strength of this type of dodger with aluminum is much greater than a traditional canvas dodger with a stainless frame.

The fittings for the frame came from a combination of online retailers, both marine-specific and not — from Fisheries Supply to Amazon. The remaining aluminum tube was cut using a small-tooth hacksaw and used for the frame bracing. Similarly, I cut down frame arcs and bracing to the proper lengths to create a dodger shape that would blend well with the contours of the boat. The most important rule here is to work slowly and cut small amounts at a time for the final fit. Through trial and error I’ve discovered that, once cut, aluminum pipes are difficult to glue back together again.

how to build a sailboat dodger

With the frame completed and secured, I needed to make a pattern for the Lexan sheeting that would go over it. I just used some Visqueen sheeting that I temporarily taped tightly over the frame and marked with a Sharpie pen. Remember to mark the pattern about an inch beyond the frame for the top portion sheet of the dodger for later attaching a cosmetic edging with a cut white cable cover (more on this later).

The Lexan can be easily cut with a fine-tooth jigsaw. Polycarbonate is great stuff and nearly impossible to break, and so much easier to use than acrylic or Plexiglass sheets, which can shatter.

how to build a sailboat dodger

Now that the patterns are cut for the top and the front of the dodger you can attach them to the frame using aluminum rivets. The metal of the rivets must match the aluminum metal it attaches to. Simply start from the center of the arcs and slowly drill and rivet every six inches or so while bending down the Lexan and working towards the ends on each side. Some folks like to have sides on their dodgers and this is easy to do. To make this work, take a larger scrap of the Lexan, hold it up the the side you want to cover and, with your Sharpie, draw the shape of the side piece; then cut it and rivet this onto the aluminum frame.

Now for the dodger color and windows. Lexan sheets normally have a plastic protective film covering on both sides to reduce scratching during shipment. Take advantage of this and don’t peel it off right away. Draw out on this film where you want the windows to go. Take a sharp knife or box cutter and, using a straight edge, carefully and superficially cut through just this film along your marked window edges both on the outside and inside surfaces. Carefully remove all the film surrounding the windows. Let me repeat: make sure that you leave the protective film on the areas that cover the windows.

how to build a sailboat dodger

Once the peripheral areas of film are removed, you can reinforce this window edge with painter’s masking tape before gently roughing up this exposed surface a little with a fine grain sandpaper before one final cleaning. Paint this peripheral area leaving the film on for the windows. For painting my dodgers, I use leftover matching two-part polyurethane called “Perfection” from Interlux that I had lying around after some trim work. If you want to have the dodger look old-school, you could actually permanently glue a sheet of Sunbrella over the Lexan sheet to make it look like a canvas dodger. I haven’t tried this yet, but might on my next boat.

how to build a sailboat dodger

I’ve now made dodgers in this style for a little Halman Nordic 20 and a Catalina 25. I can honestly say that these have been enjoyable learning experiences for me; and I’m confident that this is a cost-effective and handsome alternative to traditional cloth dodgers, and a project that can be completed by nearly all sailors.


Here’s a run down of what I paid for my most recent dodger:

  • 3- 8’ X 1” Aluminum tubes/pipes, $46 (Home Depot)
  • 6 – Jaw Flanges, $62
  • 6 – Bases, $37
  • 12 – Eye Ends, $32
  • 1/8 “ Lexan Polycarbonate Sheeting, $144 (Home Depot)
  • 2 – ⅜” Shroud Cable Cover, $5 (Fisheries Supply)
  • 2 – Stainless grab handles, $45
  • Aluminum Rivets, $4
  • Case of beer, $21
  • Total: $416

The project may at first seem overwhelming but believe me if I can do it, I know you can and probably better. The secret is to take it slow and make it fun. Remember my work-ethic rules:

  • Never be afraid to make mistakes.
  • Never admit to making mistakes.
  • Work alone so no one sees you make mistakes.
  • The best craftsmen are the best at hiding their mistakes.
  • When someone spots one of your mistakes, always say to them, “That’s how I wanted it to look.”

Mike Swesey is a long-time sailor and author who calls Newport, Oregon his home base. He is old and grumpy most of the time, and is unapologetically addicted to the roll of the sea.

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  • Cockpit Dodger For an Offshore Sailboat

how to build a sailboat dodger

What you see is our third crack at creating the “ideal” dodger and bimini top, at least for us. I can’t say that “design” is the word that I would use, more like “evolution”.

When we bought Morgan’s Cloud she came with a fabric dodger set on heavy duty (1-1/4”) stainless steel bows. When that came to the end of its life we decided to stay with the basic shape and design, since it had worked well, but make the dodger top hard. We also decided to add a bimini top to try to reduce the crop of growing things that dermatologists delight in burning off my (John) skin.

In designing the bimini our first concern was that we not compromise access to winches or other sail handling equipment and to preserve good visibility.

how to build a sailboat dodger

We also decided to end the bimini forward of the wheel since we rarely steer and when we do we like to be able to look up at the mainsail.

how to build a sailboat dodger

Since the existing dodger bows were so substantial, we used them for the basic structure, although with a modification: The curve of the old fabric dodger had required us to keep our heads bent slightly forward when sitting under it. It is truly amazing how uncomfortable this can be on a long watch. To solve this problem we had a short piece of tube welded into the middle of each bow to move the curve outboard by 2 inches. This has had a miraculous effect on our comfort.

how to build a sailboat dodger

Before making this change we made sure that we would still be able to see the oncoming waves and the headsails, while sitting in a comfortable steering position and looking along the side of the dodger.

Ideally, we would have liked to make the whole dodger rigid including the windows. However this would have necessitated going to glass or plastic windows without curves, which would have compromised the boat’s looks to a level we could not tolerate. We did enquire about a custom curved laminated glass windshield; however, when the $10,000 figure was mentioned by the manufacturer, that was the end of that discussion.

how to build a sailboat dodger

For our first hard dodger and bimini top we went to a mass producer of fiberglass tops for both. This was not a success. The fiberglass laminate was too thin, resulting in alarming flexing underfoot. Since being able to stand on the dodger to furl the mainsail or tie in reef points was a lot of the reason for going with a hard top in the first place, this was not acceptable, although it did last four years before developing cracks.

The other problem was that the extrusions provided to attach the fabric sides and front were really chintzy and poorly designed so it was impossible to keep the joint between the hard top and fabric sides waterproof. Aside from the discomfort of having constant drips, we navigate on deck under the dodger so leaks resulted in soggy charts and publications—very irritating.

For our third iteration we stayed with the same design but had a custom fibreglass shop build the hard dodger top using a balsa core sandwiched with fiberglass. This resulted in a very stiff and relatively light structure, albeit expensive. After the custom shop finished their part, we covered it with Treadmaster, painted it with Allgrip and added good quality plastic extrusions, glued with Plexus adhesive, tucked well under the edge to prevent leaks.

At the same time we laminated a piece of ¼” plywood to the underside of the bimini, to stiffen and strengthen it, as well as adding Treadmaster to the top.

Finally, we had the new dodger front and sides fabricated in one piece with no zippers. We think that zippered windows in dodgers are a mistake since they result in blind spots and they will inevitably leak. Of course, those in hot climates may disagree, but we have never found the heat under the dodger excessive, even in the Caribbean. For fabric we went with Stamoid rather than the Sunbrella that we had used on previous versions.

These have proved to be good changes and combined with the well recessed tracks have made the dodger completely waterproof, even when punching to windward with the spray flying.

We have considered solar panels but are loath to add them since the clutter would make the bimini much less functional to stand on when sail handling.

how to build a sailboat dodger

The devil is in the details. Note how the hard top overlaps the fabric top edge, which slides into a plastic extrusion on the front. To attach the sides, there is a light fiberglass batten in a pocket that is through bolted to a rabbited-out lip, to clear the bows, on the underside of the hard top.

Further Reading

  • Lane and Kay Finley from New Zealand have built their own hard dodger for their sailboat Mai Tai and shared the process with us here .
  • We have two full chapters on our new cockpit enclosure—yes, we changed our minds— starting here .

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More Articles From Cockpit Enclosures and Dodgers:

  • How To Home Build a Hard Dodger For an Offshore Sailboat
  • A Sailor’s Cockpit Enclosure—Part 1
  • A Sailor’s Cockpit Enclosure—Part 2

Lex Birney

Beautiful dodger. Who built it. I have an Apogee 50 and am thinking about a new dodger. Thanks! Lex

John Harries

I moved your comment so you will now find the complete story of our dodger in the post above. Hope it helps.

Geoff Skinner

Sorry if this is noted somewhere and I just haven’t managed to find it but what material have you used for the windows. There seems to be debate as there i with many things that float, about what is the best way to go. We are about to change our window material on Onegin. thanks Geoff

We have a two chapter series starting here that covers our current thinking:

how to build a sailboat dodger

Building a Dodger for our Sailboat

Posted:   july 2, 2022, in:   avocet how-to's | projects | uncategorized, another diy project, brought to you by the avocet crew.

After all of the projects we have done aboard Avocet , I am pretty positive that Chris’s biological makeup mostly consists of fiberglass- just think about all the reconstruction , sanding, and fairing we have done… It is hard to believe he would be anything but glass and resin at this point. Although I myself have fostered an affinity for laying new glass and its therapeutic process, I can’t say I enjoy the work once the sanders come out. Chris, on the other hand, embraces this aspect of the job and uses it as both an opportunity for an upper body work out and to refine his craft which has given him notoriety around our neck of the sea as a very knowledgeable and capable boatright – which is why when he hatched the idea to completely redesign our dodger I supported it without any doubts. 

Why Build a New One?

how to build a sailboat dodger

A good look at how bad the dodger was

The canvas dodger we had inherited aboard Avocet had seen better days; the frame was not stout, the dark blue canvas had been sun bleached and abused over the years, and perhaps the worst trait of all was that the strataglass was as transparent as milk making any sort of attempt to see through it impossible. Although it served us well as a windbreak and had gotten us this far in our journey we knew it was time to upgrade. Originally we had the idea to create a completely rigid hard dodger and forgo the hassle of sewing canvas, but then at the advice of notable sailors (such as Lin Pardey herself) we decided to create a hardtop that could support solar panels with canvas sides that can be removed for easy cleaning and air flow on the particularly stuffy days at anchor. 

Having researched plenty of DIY and professional hard top/hard dodger configurations, Chris had a concept in mind regarding how he wanted the dodger to look, scribbling design after design onto a yellow legal pad for me to review. With the final sketch approved by yours truly he got to work cutting materials and bringing his drawing to life. He was surprisingly quick to kick off this build, but considering this had been the third time we had purchased the necessary materials, he was seriously itching to use them – and that’s not just because of the fiberglass. You see, we had intentions of starting this project much sooner but each time we purchased materials we found other projects that took precedence. As they say, third times the charm. 

Hard Top Materials and Creation 

how to build a sailboat dodger

The Honeycomb Nidaplast cut and ready for glass with the old dodger underneath.

The overall shape of the top was really determined by two things: the length of our solar panels (that would be mounted on top) and the length of the core material that was exactly four feet wide. With those two things taken into account we established that the length fore and aft would equal the length of the solar panels, while the dodger width would remain four feet (just a hair larger than the previous dodger) to keep us from cutting away more material. Using a pretty basic FRP construction plan, we decided on using a factory scored Honeycomb Core called Nidaplast, at 1’’ thick which could bend to match the arch of the previous dodger. This material is a great option for marine construction given its lightweight, rot resistance and its flexibility. Given Chris’s experience with boat building and previous projects, he had become accustomed to using 1708 fiberglass cloth and chose to use it again for this project due to its strength in layers. “ 1708” is composed of 17 ounce biaxial glass and 8 ounce matte glass, from which it got its nickname. 1708 is a very good “one and done” fiberglass due to its interweaving fibers that when bonded with resin offers excellent torsion rigidity. After careful consideration he decided that two layers of 1708 glass on each side would give us the desired strength.

The first day Chris cut the core to shape, utilizing the old dodger as a template and support to work on top of, ensuring we would create the perfect arch and soft corners with our new design. He then cut the fiberglass cloth for the top skin, making sure to overlap where the edges of glass met to ensure there were no weak spots. Since the size of the cloth was so large it was tough to tackle laying the resin alone, so Chris enlisted the help of our friend Mitch ( from Esprit ) to assist with the layup in my absence. With the glass still wet, the boys applied a fairing compound so it would chemically bond making this about a four hour process. 

how to build a sailboat dodger

With epoxy you have two types of adhesion: A mechanical bond and a chemical bond. A mechanical bond happens when you score the surface you intend on glassing over with sand paper to give a “tooth” for the epoxy to bond with. This bond is very strong but relies completely on the prep stage. A chemical bond is one where two resins go through the exothermic reaction together, which is like having two liquids with a magnetic pull towards each other. Once the reaction is complete the two surfaces you were bonding become one whereas with a mechanical bond there is one separate layer atop another.

how to build a sailboat dodger

The obstacle course of support beams

With the weight of the glass and goopy fairing compound, the once very light core material became very heavy, causing some unforeseen “dips” throughout the dodger top. Working quickly to prevent the dips from setting in place, Chris utilized every camera tripod, paddle board paddle, and boat hook he could find to better support the structure while it cured. Once dry, we removed the obstacle of “support beams” and went to relocate the dodger top dockside, but Chris realized that the top was not as rigid as he had intended… which made sense considering there was no glass on the underside to structurally support the lateral and torsional forces. This was a perfect opportunity to implement a design technique that would benefit us in more ways than one. 

Using two divinycell 2”x 55” stringers laid parallel across the beam of the dodger top and secured in place atop a layer of 1708, we increased the structural integrity of the dodger top while also creating the perfect raised platform for our solar panels to mount to, which would allow proper airflow. We added a layer of 1708 glass on top of the stringers, and then faired them to match the rest of the dodger top. Chris was confident in this stringer layup not only because it was something he learned back when building fishing boats but we also put the concept to the test when we successfully stiffened up the decks on our Victory 21’, Geronimo . With this unexpected creation complete, we moved the top dockside on two sawhorses so we could finish glassing and fairing the underside which was a lot easier now that the topside held its rigid form. 

how to build a sailboat dodger

With the bottom of the dodger top easily accessible, Chris was able to locate where he wanted to implement two red lights that would help illuminate the cockpit at night. Part of his decision to use 1’’ thick core was so that he could inlay conduit for not only the lights but also our solar panels, keeping the wires neatly out of sight. So, before he got busy with glassing the bottom skin, he mapped the paths for the conduit and used a router to cut away the core for the garolite conduit material. Using a generous amount of thickened epoxy he glued the conduit tubes in place and then resumed with glassing. Unfortunately I had to work while this part of the project was happening, but thanks to our incredible friends Quincey (from Esprit) and Alan (from ValHowell) Chris had all the hands needed to get the job done. 

how to build a sailboat dodger

With the entire dodger top glassed and faired, we could then determine where the 4×32’’ aluminum mounting plates for the aluminum frame would be glassed to the underside. This process looked pretty funny as we hoisted the now-fairing-compound-pink hardtop above the cockpit using a dyneema bridle that we stabilized with a rope off the backstay and four lines on each corner anchoring the top to the boat. This allowed Chris to find the proper dodger height and utilized the four anchor lines to raise and lower the front and back until we were happy with the “tilt.” With the mounting points mapped out, we were able to de-rig our levitating hardtop and get back to work glassing, starting with the two ¼” G10 backing plates that the aluminum frame would be bolted to. By utilizing G10 (which is a high pressure fiberglass laminate) we could ensure a flat surface immediately, rather than fairing two parallel flat spots on the areas that had the most amount of curvature. 

how to build a sailboat dodger

After 3 days of glassing, fairing, and planning we were thrilled to move the dodger top to the Ventura Harbor Boat Yard where Chris could do some serious damage and sand his heart out before getting wet and wild with the primer and paint. Due to the amount of sanding needed, this project would have been inappropriate dockside, so we were very appreciative of our friends at the yard who supplied us with the perfect corner to tuck into and finish the necessary work. In true Chris fashion, he carefully elevated the top so he could ensure not a single spot went untouched by the two coats of Tuff-Stuff primer . He had just finished his last coat simultaneously with my arrival at the yard, when all hell broke loose. 

*SNAP* In less than a breath the levitating dodger top was settled on the rocky ground, pushing dust and other residue out of its way as it made its way down. Unlike Chris who had proclaimed every profanity in the dictionary, I was speechless and remained so as he dropped everything in his hands and took a walk around the yard, undoubtedly to cool off. I acquired some new paracord left over from a neighboring mast project and began carefully rigging the top again. With Chris’s help the top was suspended in air once more and we could assess the damage. Fortunately, there were only a few areas that would need new fairing and primer, while the majority of the unit remained remarkably unscathed. It can never be too easy when it comes to projects!

After a little repairation work from the damage of the day prior, Chris had finished priming the dodgertop for the awlgrip paint that we had our friends at the yard spray to save us time and materials. Had we opted to roll and tip it ourselves we would have had to paint three separate coats, sanding between each. Not to mention, Chris had a videoshoot which would have pushed off this project another week had he decided that we would DIY the painting process. In his absence the yard utilized the Oyster White Awlgrip leftover from our cabin top paint on Avocet and sprayed the dodger top beautifully. 

how to build a sailboat dodger

After we rigged the top the second time

Metal Frame Construction

While the painting process unfolded in the boatyard, we shifted a majority of our attention to building our dodger frame with the help of our friend, “Metal God” Ryan. After extensive research and consideration we decided to build our frame out of 1 ¼” aluminum tubing for a few reasons: It is durable, easy to work with, cheaper than other metals and light, complimenting the lightweight top which is important considering it would be high off the waterline. 

After a couple of visits from Ryan and his welding mastery our metal frame design was brought to life. Considering we wanted to eliminate horizontal torsion or any general movement at all, Chris implemented some key elements into the design to ensure the structure was incredibly stout, such as utilizing gusset tubes. Before the boys could build laterally they had to first build the bases to support the structure, which took a bit of time to plan out but eventually they decided on placement of the four circular aluminum bases that would be through bolted onto the boat and where the aluminum tubing would be welded to. Two 4×32” plates were welded atop of the tubing that corresponded to the reciprocating G10 plates that were glassed into the underside of the hardtop. Of course between each bolt we used a fair amount of Tef Gel and G10 washers to separate the stainless bolts and nuts from the aluminum to help the metals withstand the harsh sea environment and prevent corrosion. We chose to finish the frame with Nyalic which we had success with during our mast rebuild .

Before uniting the pieces of the dodger together aboard Avocet, Chris installed the bolt track for the canvas and ran the wiring through the conduit. Chris and I carefully carried the dodger top from the dock to the boat, doing our best not to drop it in the water before resting it upon its frame. I nearly guillotined myself as I got my head stuck between the top and frame, but luckily Chris helped me maneuver out of the sticky situation. After some gentle nudging and adjusting, we finished bolting the top to the frame and completed the wiring into the boat. 

“That looks niiiiice” Chris said as he flicked the “Cockpit Lights” switch from our Nav Station. The two red led lights illuminated the space beneath the dodger and glowed into the cockpit, complimenting our red/white spreader lights overhead. With the construction complete we couldn’t wait to put our hard work to the test, and took Avocet out for a sail a few days later despite not having any canvas to protect us from the wind or spray. We didn’t care, the dodger was strong and flattered Avocet’s lines well. Back in the marina with a renewed sense of determination we pulled out our trusty Thompson SailRite machine and bolts of sunbrella fabric to begin perhaps the most challenging part of all.

how to build a sailboat dodger

Sewing the Sides

It’s always nice to have friends that are experienced with things that we aren’t. For instance, Mitch’s mother is a talented seamstress and taught him a lot about sewing but his own experience working for a canvas company solidified his skills that he could then teach to us. With his guidance we felt confident in taking on this critical part of our dodger creation and jumped right in to get the job done. The first thing the boys did was measure the distance from the starboard corner all the way around to the port corner, which provided them the necessary measurements to order the correct amount of Navy Blue Sunbrella, tuffak for the windows, and eight YKK #10 finished zippers. 

With materials in hand Mitch offered a technique that was new to us, where you don’t use a canvex template and instead stretch the canvas out over where the finished product will be, using pins to form the shape and hold it all in place for sewing. Although this worked well for the front panel, the complex curves of the two side panels proved to be too difficult for the boys to manage with the sunbrella, so resorted to using some canvex that was graciously gifted to us by the ValHowell crew. Canvex is great for this type of canvas work because it is easy to bend and can be cut as many times as you want in order to make the perfect template before taking the cuts to your expensive canvas. After a day of trial and error, Chris had the templates needed to make the cuts in the Sunbrella that would become our dodger. 

how to build a sailboat dodger

Trying Mitch’s technique

The following day Chris found himself in the ValHowell “sail loft” which is our friends’ storage unit that has essentially been transformed into a sail maker’s paradise. With plenty of room to lay out materials, sew, and take measurements this part of the project went by like a breeze. Living aboard a sailboat is great, but sometimes you just need a little more space! Using Lifetime Thread by SailRite he had sewed the binding, chafe protection and some zippers, leaving the three panels ready to be test fit. 

how to build a sailboat dodger

Making the Canvex templates

Everything fit as it should with the exception of a few minor adjustments such as tightening the front panel and recutting where the side panels meet the front to affix the lateral zippers. Back in the sail loft Chris busted out these updates, installing the remaining two zippers then sewed the tuffak windows into place before cutting out the canvas. The tuffak material comes with a plastic protective sheet exactly for this purpose so you don’t accidentally scratch the final surface while sewing. This is when the project really came together, seeing the navy blue canvas attached to the dodger was like the icing on a cake – but we were still missing the cherry. 

how to build a sailboat dodger

Let There Be Solar!

The dodger was nearly done with all of the structural, aesthetic and protective bits in place, but we still needed to install our solar panels on top so we could start farming the sunshine. We had been holding onto two Renogy compact 100 watt panels for a year or so, just waiting for the right moment to purposely install them aboard Avocet. Realizing we had room for an additional panel, we relocated one of the panels that was affixed to the side of the cockpit to sit beside the other two on top of the dodger. Now equipped with 300 watts of power potential on just the dodger, our lithium batteries were well fed and ready for cruising. 

Mounting the panels to the stringers was simple after drilling four small holes to accommodate ¼” G10 tubing and 3/32 pins. By securing the panels with pins, we could remove them easily for cleaning or replacing. 

how to build a sailboat dodger

Before we installed the panels

Dodge, Dip, Dive, Dodger – Closing Thoughts

This project combined a lot of DIY elements like FRP, metal work and sewing making it a well rounded project. Although we had a lot of the necessary skills under our belt to execute this project on our own, it would have taken longer or perhaps included more trials and errors without the foresight and guidance of our friends. We would like to formally thank Mitch, Quincey, Alan and Elizabeth for their extra set of hands and sewing advice; Ryan the “Metal God” for once again working his magic; and last but certainly not least our friend Dale at the Ventura Harbor Boat Yard for the last minute accommodations and paint services. Chris and I are so grateful to have had so many hands involved in the history of Avocet’s project list and can’t wait to make all the hard work, sweat, blood, and tears pay off soon. Speaking of “pay” here is the rough project cost breakdown:

Fiberglass, Core, Resin and Notions: $1,000

Metal Work: $2,000 (for materials and Ryan’s time)

Paint and Labor: $300

Canva, Thread, Zippers, and Tuffak: $500

………………………………………Total: $3,800

After asking around we learned that had we commissioned this to be built at a yard it would have cost anywhere from $10,000 – $15,000!

how to build a sailboat dodger

Funny enough, we were doing multiple projects at the same time we were building this dodger. During the natural project lulls (like while waiting for epoxy to cure) we busted out refinishing our decks with soft sand and refinishing our cabin sole. There is never a dull moment here and I am sure we will be sharing those project details sooner than later but until then…

Fair Winds, 

Marissa, Chris and Cleo the cat

how to build a sailboat dodger

Don’t forget about the YouTube video!

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Tags:   aluminum | boat project | canvas work | cockpit | diy dodger | dodger | dodger build | esprit | fiberglass | hard dodger | metal work | nidaplast | nyalic | painting | projects | ryan the metal god | sailing | sailrite | sewing | solar panels.


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Jeremy Waters

Howdy – great article! I’m about to launch 8th this same project on my 28ft BCC Calypso. So far I’m planning on 1/2” Coosa core and 2 layers or 17 oz biax on either side. A couple questions: how did you finish the edges of your hardtop? Did you just put a few layers of tape there or use so prefab g10 edge material? Also tell me about the handles you installed. Where those off the shelf or custom fab? Thanks! Jeremy

SV Avocet

Hey Jeremy, Coosa is great, 4 layers of 17 biaxle should be enough, we used 1708 so it has a little more thickness and stiffness due to the Matt on the backside. For the edges I laid a lot of thickened epoxy to round over the hard 90 degree angles then used 3 layers of 20 oz cloth overtop. This stiffened up the top dramatically. The Handrails I bought off fisheries supply: However the studs weren’t long enough to go through the 1 1/4″, 1/4″ g10, and 1/4″ aluminum so we tis welded longer studs on. You should be fine with your 1/2″ core. Let me know if there’s anything else I can help with. Great GOB article by the way!

Coosa is a pretty “hard” core. So far, I’ve just bullnosed it (the core) and will probably just glass right over that. We’ll see.

Thanks re GOB. It fills my heart to see her on the cover! And I take no credit for the writing – that’s all Nica.

Another question: how did you choose to affix the canvas to the underside of the hardtop? Did you use an aluminum extrusion like this ( )?

Cheers, Jeremy

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how to build a sailboat dodger


Aside from the fact that I'm completely impressed with your skills and creativity, the main thing I love is that it decks out your boat with a killer pair of shades. There's one shot where I can't really see the dodger; I can only see an anthropomorphized boat wearing sunglasses. Well done!

LOL. The image "how to do it for $50" is my friend's boat. There are thousands and thousands of sea miles on that plywood dodger without issue. I don't think it actually cost him $50 all in either!

Jason 35 Group Link

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Dodgers' Mookie Betts Can Make MLB All-Star Game History This Year

Maren angus-coombs | jun 12, 2024.

how to build a sailboat dodger

  • Los Angeles Dodgers

Mookie Betts has started five All-Star Games in his career. All of those starts came in the outfield.

As the starting shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Betts has an opportunity to make history. No player has started All-Star Games both in the outfield and at shortstop in a career.

Harvey Kuenn, Tom Tresh, and Ian Desmond were all selected to an All-Star team in separate seasons at least once as a shortstop that year entering the game, and at least once as primarily an outfielder. But, none of them started the Midsummer Classic.

Betts isn't the only player who can make this type of history.

San Diego Padres outfield Fernando Tatis Jr. is in the same boat but has the chance to start in the outfield after starting at shortstop in 2021.

Betts is also joining Philadelphia's Bryce Harper for another historic feat. Betts and Harper have each started five All-Star Games in the outfield and are on this year’s ballot as infielders, with Harper now a first baseman.

There have only been three players to achieve this accomplishment and they are all in the Hall of Fame — Henry Aaron (16 outfield starts, one first base), Stan Musial (10 outfield, four first base) and Carl Yastrzemski (six outfield, one first base).

The third category Betts can fall into is at least one outfield and one infield start. Thirteen players are entering 2024 who have started at least one All-Star Game in both the outfield and infield — Aaron, Musial, Yastrzemski, Orlando Cepeda (5 1B, 2 OF), Pete Rose (3 OF, 2 1B, 2 3B, 1 2B), Albert Pujols (5 1B, 1 OF, also 2 DH), Harmon Killebrew (3 1B, 2 3B, 1 OF), Jackie Robinson (4 2B, 1 OF), Alfonso Soriano (3 2B, 1 OF), Lance Berkman (2 OF, 1 1B), Vic Wertz (1 1B, 1 OF), Gary Sheffield (1 3B, 1 OF), and Buddy Lewis (1 3B, 1 OF).

Maren Angus-Coombs


Maren Angus-Coombs was born in Los Angeles and raised in Nashville, Tenn. She is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State and has been a sports writer since 2008. Despite growing up in the South, her sports obsession has always been in Los Angeles. She is currently a staff writer at the LA Sports Report Network.


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