How to Shrink Wrap Boats and Other Large Objects

Learn How to Use Shrink Wrap Equipment the Right Way

Lucky boats ride out the winter in a glistening second skin known as shrink wrap. Have you ever wondered if you could shrink wrap your own boat? It all comes down to shrink wrap equipment.

We’ve been applying shrink wrap for over a decade, so we’ll share our expertise. We’ll show you how to use shrink wrap equipment on your own. First, we’ll explain how to prepare the area. Then, we’ll go over how to safely apply the shrink wrap itself. We will look at this process for boats first and then other objects.

Keep Safety in Mind with Shrink Wrap Equipment

Several safety guidelines should be reviewed before you start. These are the main risks:

  • Shrink wrap may harm a boat’s finish.
  • Fire is a constant concern.

In fact, safety guidelines must be kept in mind both before and after setting up your shrink wrap equipment.

Be Sure Your Boat Is a Good DIY Project

Some boats are not suited to shrink wrapping. Before you begin, think through whether shrink wrapping is your best choice.

The paint on your boat can be a factor. Some paint manufacturers advise against using shrink wrap. They may recommend certain precautions to preserve the finish. In some cases, shrink wrap traps moisture against the painted surface. As a result, paint may blister or lose its gloss. Another potential problem is delamination. In this case, the surface layers separate.

Take Measures to Prevent a Fire

Shrink wrap equipment is a fire hazard throughout the project. In effect, you’re blasting a high-power heat gun at a sheet of plastic. If you overdo it, the wrap material can catch fire.

The material can then fall off and set something else on fire as well. Always keep a fire extinguisher close at hand, just in case.

What’s more, never perform a shrink wrapping operation in winds faster than 10 mph. High winds in a fire can blow burning material downwind. This can spread the fire, making it hard to control. Safety precautions are crucial if you choose to apply the shrink wrap yourself.


Building a Support Structure

Now you’re ready to get started on the project. To lay the groundwork for the shrink wrap, you’ll build a substructure on the boat. The substructure will hold the shrink wrap in place while heat is applied.

Support Posts

Attach straps between the bow and stern of the boat, secured to either handrails or cleats. Next, thread the straps through the top caps of support posts which you place on the deck.

Place at least one support post near the center of the boat. The post must be at least 10 inches higher than the windshield or other high point on the boat. With a high point in the center, rain and snow will slide off the top. Without this shaping, rain and snow could put pressure on the top of the boat if it’s stored outside.

Side Straps

Next, thread side straps through the sideways threads in the support post top caps and attached to the side rails or cleats. This completes the substructure. Tighten the straps using buckles. Then wrap tape around the buckles to prevent burning. Finally, staple the straps to the top caps.

Perimeter Band

Next, install a perimeter band. This strap forms the bottom edge of the shrink wrap.

Hang straps with open loops at the end to the cleats and grab rails. The loops should hang 8 inches below the rub rail.

Then run a strap from the stern to the bow and back again, feeding it through the loops. Once it’s looped around, secure the ends with a buckle and tighten with a strap tensioning tool.

Applying the Shrink Wrap

Before adding the shrink wrap, measure out how wide your wrap should be.

Start from the highest point on the boat, the support post. Then measure over the widest portion to the rub rail and down to 6 inches past the perimeter band. Double this measurement and you will have the right width.

Now you’re ready to start covering your boat. First, pull the material over the boat. Pull it right onto the boat from the film wrap roll. This keeps the shrink wrap from collecting static or dirt.

Step-by-Step Application

Now that the shrink wrap is draped over the boat, follow these steps:

  1. Trimming — Tuck those additional 6 inches up into the perimeter band. Trim away the excess material with a film knife.
  2. Heating for Weld — Heat the tucked material to create a weld. First, put on a long safety glove. Use your heat gun on the material, then pat it against the boat. This joins the material together.
  3. Belly Bands — Cut slits just above the perimeter band, about every 6 feet. Loop straps through them, connecting to the trailer wrapping around the boat’s belly. These belly bands will hold the perimeter band in place. The shrink wrap will then shrink down closer to the boat rather than pull up the perimeter band.
  4. Welding Pleat — You’ll notice a natural pleat near the center of the boat, at its widest part. Weld this pleat as you welded around the perimeter band. Make sure the pleat runs toward the stern. This prevents separation during transport.
  5. Heating to Shrink — You can now start heating the material to shrink it. Begin with the lower quadrants of the boat. Next, move the heat gun from side to side. Then use a ladder or long extension to the heating tool to shrink the top material.
  6. Cool Down — Once you’ve finished shrinking the material, give it time to cool down. Tape up your pleats and any holes you may have burned into the material.
  7. Add Vents — The final step is to install your vents. Vents prevent moisture buildup. Moisture can cause mold and mildew. Simply adhere the vent, cut through the visible material in the hole, and add the cap.


How to Shrink Wrap Other Objects


Of course, boats are far from the only thing we can shrink wrap. The process is similar with other objects.

Depending on the shape of the object, a support structure needs to be put into place. Next, straps are used to secure the wrap. Take pleat direction into account with welds and heating. Heating evenly is key to getting the desired close fit. Finally, add vents to protect against moisture.

Want Us to Handle the Shrink Wrap Equipment Instead?

Now that you know what’s involved, you may have second thoughts about shrink wrapping on your own. Would you rather leave this job to the experts?

Unlimited Shrinkwrap makes it easy for you. We even make house calls. That’s right, we come right to your home or business to give your boat unbeatable protection from the elements. Based in McHenry, IL, in the Chicago area, we have more than a decade of experience. Give us a call at 815-759-8944 for a free quote.

Editor’s note: This blog was originally published on September 29, 2016