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Canvas Covering on Cutters, Barges

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Hello Everyone, 


I am currently build a scratch Uss Constitution at a scale of 1:96. It is a waterline model. My question is.......the cutters, whale boats and or barges (all the ships boats) would have been covered in canvas during sailing, or would they? Has anyone covered there boats with canvas before? If so could you post a picture. 


I am playing with the idea of using silkspan but not sure if at the end of the day the canvas covers will look unrealistic. 


Any help would be appreciated. 


Cheers, Cole 

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Hi Cole,  I cannot speak for the merchant marine but it was general naval custom to cover all boats (sea covers) except if you were designated the 'duty safety ship' or for some evolution requiring a seaboat to be ready for immediate use, at which time the sea covers and sea lashings were removed, and 'temporary' lashings used, the boat prepped and crews on immediate call.


In my time we used PVC (vinyl) rather than canvas covers, but each would have been generally formed/shaped to suit the boat.  they would also, where possible have been kept as taut as possible to shed water.  This latter was not always possible and we would have to go around emptying the water in the depressions etc.


Attached is a photo one of the boats for HMCSS Victoria (a club build @ 1:72) showing a canvas cover.  TNot a great photo but gives the general impression.  Sea Lashings / gripes will be placed over these once hung from the davits.  'Victoria' was built 1855 for reference.





If at first you do not suceed, try, and then try again!
Current build: HMCSS Victoria (Scratch)

Next build: HMAS Vampire (3D printed resin, scratch 1:350)

Built:          Battle Station (Scratch) and HM Bark Endeavour 1768 (kit 1:64)

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Hi Cole,

I've used facial tissue soaked with PVA to simulate canvas covers... here's a shot from my Harriet Lane build265-painted.JPG.f8c71cd5c1ccf73a2fda11971620186d.JPG 

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I'm not sure the boats would have been covered at all in that era, that's a more modern thing but I could be wrong of course, would be interested to know for sure as well




The clerk of the cheque's yacht of sheerness

Current build HMS Sirius (1797) 1:48 scratch POF from NMM plans

HMS Winchelsea by chuck 1:48

Cutter cheerful by chuck 1:48

Previous builds-

Elidir - Thames steam barge

Cutty Sark-Billings boats

Wasa - billings boats

Among others 😁


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My impression is that warship’s boats were not covered.  Boats hung on davits were designated as “lifeboats” in the sense that they needed to be launched quickly in the event of a man overboard so removal of covers would interfere with this.  Civil War era photos of boats stored on deck do not show covers.


To check out my thesis I checked out several old Seamanship texts with the following results:


Luce (digital copy on Naval history command website) no mention of boat covers.


Brady, Kedge Anchor- Recommends boat covers be removed daily in tropical waters to ventilate boats.


US Navy Ordinance Instructions 1866- Tables of standard boat equipment do not list boat covers as such.  A tarpaulin is included to cover ammunition when boats are armed and a tent cover was available when boats were used foe expeditions.  The drawing of this tent shows that it was intended to use the boat’s boom when rigged for sail as the tent’s ridgepost. So this is not a boat cover intended for storage.


Keep in mind that most US Navy boats were carvel built, and would leak badly when dried out.  Standing water in these boats was therefore not necessarily a bad thing.  Boats, excluding captain’s gigs and admiral’s barges had little or no brightwork to protect from sunlight.  And as the song goes, there were plenty of sailors, drunken or otherwise to bail them out.


Like many ship model research topics, you’re the captain.  If uncovered boats look unseamanlike, cover them.



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Cole, I once read where adhesive tape (medical) was used to simulate canvas. I experimented with the adhesive tape idea on the flat hurricane house roof of the Charles W Morgan and had excellent results. I had used it to look like a tarred surface but prior to painting it looked like white canvas.


Current builds Charles W Morgan and HMS Pegasus

Current Build:

Erycina 1882 Fishing Trawler by Vanguard Models 1:64 scale

Syren by pearwill Model Shipways 1:64 scale

On Hold:

HM Cutter Cheerful  Syren Shipmodel Scratch 1:48 scale

1776 Washington Row Galley scratch scratch from NRG plans #121  1:48 scale

Completed Build:

Charles W. Morgan by Artesania Latina circa 1988, Lowell Grand Banks Dory 1:24 scale by Model Shipways, Norwegian.Sailing Pram 1:12 scale by Model Shipways, Muscongus Bay Lobster Smack 1:24 scale by Model Shipways


Member Nautical Research Guild


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