Custom Boat Covers vs. Universal Fit: Pros and Cons

Custom Boat Covers vs. Universal Fit: Pros and Cons

A high-quality boat cover is essential to protect your investment from harsh UV rays, corrosive salt water, moisture, and physical abuse. It also helps to keep rodents away from your boat. To sum up, a boat cover is essential if you need to extend the longevity of your boat.

But where do you even begin with so many boat cover styles, designs, and options to consider?

In this guide, I’ll share the tips and tricks of how to choose a boat cover. In particular, we shall focus on differentiating between custom and universal fit boat covers.

Read on!

Universal Boat Covers

Universal boat covers, popularly known as generic boat covers, are the most popular form of boat covers in the market.

The greatest attraction with the universal boat covers is they’re generally inexpensive and are designed to accommodate different types, sizes, or categories of boats.

They’re the kind of boat covers you will likely come across in big box stores such as Walmart, Amazon, or Costco. The universal boat covers are usually mass-produced and will fit any number of boats.

However, the term universal can sometimes be misleading, and the simple reason is they’re not absolutely universal, or at least if you want a universal boat cover to work well and withstand elements.

While the universal boat covers will provide general protection to your boat, they’re usually misaligned in several spots, but nothing wrong with that.

From experience, a universal boat cover is a great choice if you’re looking for a budget solution to protect your investment. The inexpensive generic boat covers usually provide a one-size-fits-all cover approach, which can be used on different boats.

While the universal boat covers don’t offer the same protection as the more properly fitted covers, they’re fantastic for general protection and better than leaving your boat bare. The key to maximizing the protection from a generic boat cover is finding one with remotely similar dimensions as your boat.

Of course, they can’t provide the same amount of coverage precision as the properly-fitted covers, but they can also be DIYed, such as fastening them on your boat using cords for enhanced protection.

I recommend the generic boat covers for boaters looking for an inexpensive, temporary, and one-size-fits-all boat cover.


  •         “Universal” fit
  •         Inexpensive
  •         Accommodates different boast
  •         Ideal for temporary use


  •         Doesn’t provide precise coverage

Custom Boat Covers

The custom-fit boat covers are, as their name suggests, custom. They’re designed for a specific boat model and have an exact fit. These boat covers have reinforcements where they should be and have no excess fabrics where it doesn’t need to be.

From personal experience, custom boat covers are the best you can buy. They’re customized to your boat’s dimensions for an ultimate snug fit.

Customized boat covers are particularly handy for boats with protruding accessories. A custom boat cover accommodates everything effortlessly and within its cover compartments.

Another huge benefit of the custom boat covers is they can effortlessly support the high-stress points. Most are fitted with vinyl reinforcements to support your specific type of boat configuration.

On the flip side, however, the custom fit is usually more expensive than the generic boat covers. They usually make much more sense if your boat has a unique configuration that can’t fit a generic cover.


  •         Designed for your specific boat
  •         Customized to your boat’s configurations for the ultimate fit
  •         Quality
  •         Great for awkwardly-shaped boats


  •         Expensive
  •         Only fits a specific boat model

Semi-Custom Boat Covers

The semi-custom boat covers, also known as the seal-fit boat covers are the sweet spot between a custom cover and a generic cover. The seal-fit covers fit the bill for boaters looking for a cover that offers a balance between fit, cost, and functionality.

These boat covers are usually designed for a range of different boats within the same class. For example, a specific seal-fit boat cover may cater to a specific hull shape for different boat types, from paddle boats to competition ski boats.

While the semi-custom covers aren’t designed for an exact year, model, or make of your boat, as the custom covers do, manufacturers usually account for the general vessel size, style, and unique features. This makes it easier for them to create a cover that can cover boats with similar hull sizes and configurations, not necessarily a specific model.

Therefore, if your boat has a listed hull shape and no protruding custom accessories, this cover option should fit well. Universally, most semi-custom boat covers feature a shock cord, sewn-in tie-down loops, and ply seams to keep the cover tightly secured onto your boat.

The semi-custom is generally easier to install and provides more protection than the generic boat covers. They also inspire more confidence that they’ll provide your boat with a secure fit without spending excess amounts on a customized boat cover.

But they’re generally more expensive than the generic boat covers.


  •         More customized fit at an affordable price
  •         Easy to install
  •         Caters to a range of boats


  •         Bit expensive than the generic boat covers

Custom vs. Generic Boat Covers: Which to Choose?

Choosing a custom or generic boat cover will depend on your boat storage needs, finances, and type of boat.

Let me explain.

For example, a generic boat cover seems like a great option if you’re on a budget. It’s an inexpensive way to cover your boat. However, if finances are less of a concern, I strongly suggest a custom boat cover.

And no, it’s not like the generic boat covers are less functional, but a custom boat cover is more pragmatic and provides a more reliable cover than the universal cover.

When it comes to storage needs, you must pay attention to the type of boat, specifically the dimensions. Some boat models are generally unique and have a distinct configuration, different from the traditional/standard boats.

This means that, in most cases, a generic boat cover is less likely to shield your boat to its entirety. A custom boat cover would make more sense in such cases because it can cover the bases where the generic covers can’t.

Material Quality

Design notwithstanding, you must also consider the fabric quality of a boat cover. Even the best-fitting custom boat cover will fail if constructed from poor-quality materials.

When you’re ordering a boat cover, whether custom or generic, I advise you to pay attention to the quality of construction, the material, and the seams. The construction of the boat cover will play a much bigger role in protecting your boat against inclement weather than the style.

Measuring your Boat

Unless you’re ordering a custom boat cover, you must accurately measure your boat’s dimensions for the perfect generic cover. However, if your boat has too many protrusions, it would help if you sought the help of a professional.

With that said, here’s a brief overview of how to measure your boat for the right boat cover:

  •         Measure centerline with
  •         Measure beam width

Centerline Width

An easy way to measure the centerline width is by measuring the distance between your boat’s bow and the transom.

Ensure your measuring tape has no slack and remains parallel to the ground.

Measuring the Beam Width

You measure the beam width by measuring the distance outside between the widest points of your boat.

Why You Need a Boat Cover

You need to invest in a boat cover for numerous reasons, but the biggest one is inclement weather. While most boaters think water does the biggest damage to the boat, UV rays do more harm. The sun’s rays fade your boat, making it more susceptible to breakage.

Boat covers are also necessary for keeping debris and pets. It may also help to deter burglars.

But one thing to be aware of is boat covers aren’t and shouldn’t be used as a substitute for boat parking and storage. Proper boat parking is necessary to keep your boat in top condition.


It’s a wrap and everything you need to know about boat covers. Investing in the right boat cover will enhance the longevity of your boat and ensure your boat stays protected.

But as I mentioned earlier, whatever boat cover design you choose, ensure it has a high-quality fabric and does an effective job of protecting your prized possession.