Join Date: May 2007
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I've owned boats from 16' to 31', including a couple 20's and a 21. My current boat, the 31, has a bimini.
I'm not a huge fan of biminis, period. I seldom use mine, as I don't like the extra tubing and hardware. I tend to keep the bimini in storage, and instead I have a flat Sunbrella panel that I can attach to the rear edge of the dodger and run the panel aft, where it ties to a couple uprights coming off the stern rail.
I can put the panel up in about a minute, under sail, and take it down in a little less time. It just rolls up and ties to the dodger.
The problem I have with a dodger, aside from the hardware, is that they're so tall on a boat this size. If the sun is at anything other than high noon, or if you're heeling, finding a spot in the shade can be tricky. The height, which is nice so you can stand under it, is part of the problem. If you stood on your dock with a square yard of sunbella 6" over your head, you'd have excellent sun protection. Now put the same square yard 3 feet over your head (as if sitting down in the cockpit), and you're likely to find you're no longer in the shade.
Admittedly, my flat panel doesn't allow for standing headroom, but it clears our heads by at least a foot when seated, and provides unmatched sun protection. When we're working hard in the cockpit, we can roll it up.
How high off the cockpit seats is the boom on your 17 footer. I'm going to assume when you say the boom clears your head, you're sitting down, right? There's really very little room for a bimini and its related hardware. Obviously, this is in my opinion, but I think you'd find there would be more hassle than benefit. Particularly if you don't have a dodger that could be connected to the bimini to increase protection.
I understand the need to get out of the sun whenever you can. There's nothing like having the wind die down at the end of the day, and having the scorching sun low in the sky, frying the back of your neck for a couple hours as you crawl home.
With all this said, if I was looking for protection on a 17 footer, I'd consider engineering a flat panel. Flat panels have their downsides...probably the main one being that they don't do well in higher winds...too much flapping. But we've found in actual use that the flat panel serves us very well in real conditions.
One last thought. Your desire to find a way to bring sun protection to your boat is very understandable, not only form the skin cancer aspect, but also for making your boat a more pleasant place. We find that whether we're using our big flat panel under sail, power, or simply lounging at the dock, it makes it a whole different boat. Seems downright luxurious to have a shady little porch while you're out on the water. Best of luck.
The trick would be how to suspend the panel and stretch it tight on your boat. We have the luxury of attaching to the dodger forward, and at the stern, we just have a couple of pvc pipe uprights that are holding up just fine. We had no need to drill holes in the boat.