Sailboat dodgers are at the forefront to keep you dry and protect you from the wind. So they suffer from wear and tear and gotta be replaced every now and then. The question is: how far will this set you back?
A sailboat dodger costs between $1,300 to $5,000 with circa $2,000 being the average. Material quality and longevity is the price-deciding factor here, not necessarily the boat size.
But as the variety is quite large here, let's have a look at the specifics so that you get your money's worth and don't pay more than you should.
Average Cost of Sailboat Dodgers
What Is a Dodger?
Just to make sure we are all on the same page - sailboat dodger is the sheet, as it were, in front of the cockpit, that you can raise or fold down. It usually extends a bit, providing a small roof that overlaps with the bimini. They are made from sheets paired with sort of plastic windows so that you can see through them.
Dodgers can take all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they don't have the see-through part, sometimes it's just a small window. Sometimes they are all made of one piece, sometimes they have detachable parts. Sometimes they are directly connected to the bimini, sometimes they are independent of it.
And sometimes (well, most of the time, in my opinion) they are a bit of an eyesore, and sometimes they actually better the boat design.
Their purpose is to shield the cockpit from whatever may come its way - like water spray. But mostly it's used as a windshield, which can make a surprisingly significant difference to the warmth of the cockpit, even it if's otherwise open.
Dodger Wear And Tear
Now the main issue here is that dodgers are foldable, so they are constantly being put up and down. Pair that with issues with pitching them that result in rough handling, and with people stepping on them when they are folded all the time, and with them being made from soft materials… and with the fact, they are exposed to the elements and you will understand why it is only a matter of time before you have to buy a new one since the old one has broken down.
As with anything when it comes to sailboats, it all depends on size and kind. But surprisingly, the quotes for dodgers of various sizes are not that different. Sure there is a difference in the amount of material used, but the designing and stitching work is not that important for a 30 vs. a 50- footer in determining the price.
So when I tell you your next dodger will cost you $2,000, it will be pretty much in the right ballpark. That price is the middle ground.
I know what you are thinking - that's quite a lot of money. Sure, if your boat is worth $200,000 it makes sense, but if you have bought a boat for $20,000 and now you gotta spend one-tenth of its price on a piece of sheet, well you might start thinking whether you actually need a dodger at all.
And that's being on the reasonable side. If you don't want to spend much time looking for a good price and go for premium materials, you will easily end up paying north of $5,000 for a dodger.
Hence this next chapter.
How To Get a Dodger Cheap
You would not be alone in thinking that dodgers are pricey. That is why when you google 'sailboat dodger', the world's most famous search engine fills in the word 'kit' before the word 'for sale'.
Google indeed is quite an effective sociological probe to what the general opinion on the matter is.
So to answer the main question - yes, you will save money if you get a DIY kit. Expect to pay around $800 for it. This number can of course go up and down a bit depending on the materials chosen, but this is the ballpark figure.
The bad news is that the time, skill, and attention needed to make yourself a dodger is a lot - enough to turn many sailors away from this endeavor and spend the extra money to get things done by a pro. I know that the DIY lovers out there think nothing can stop you, after all, you might have built the boat, but working with sheets is a whole different beast.
The fact that this instructional video on how to make a sailboat dodger is longer than the behemothic extended director's cut of Lord Of The Rings feature film should give you an idea why to many people, it is worth the extra cash not to have to do this yourself.
It is part of the Sailrite Dodger kit, which is well-known.
Oh, and did I mention that you need a special sail sewing machine costing about $800 to make the dodger? Well, now I did. And if I do my math correctly, I get the sailors who turn away from DIY. However, it can be worth the effort if you're into DIY-ing and want a quality dodger for a great price. It isn't the most efficient way, but if you like to make things yourself, it can be a good way to go.
But if you're interested in making your own, here's the full instructional video (it is a great instructional video):
How To Get a Dodger For a Good Price
Please know that when I am talking about getting a new dodger, I mean only the sheet and plastic part. The supporting steel bars that hold it all in place would mean another investment, but let us not mention that here, since they rarely break and if, it is usually the joints that are not expensive to replace.
It is possible to get a dodger for as low as $1,300. So if you are set on saving money, look around a lot. Boat show discounts, sale discounts, and all that jazz might save you a bit.
But when you see a $3,000 price mark, don't think you are being taken advantage of. The quality of the sheet matters a lot when it comes to longevity and durability. And as we said in the beginning, these sheets need to withstand a lot. So if you are serious about quality, you can't go with something mainstream like Sunbrella, which is based on purely acrylic weaves. That is just not up to the task when it comes to serious boating.
Instead, something like Topgun by Marchem fabrics or anything with a polyester base weave will do the job well - for a price.
And then there are the plastic see-through parts. They are not in fact plastic, it is some kind of vinyl, and the quality here matters a lot. Since the boat is out in the sun most of the time, you want the kind of vinyl that will not start yellowing after being exposed to it.
Even if you live in cloudier parts of the world, you want something good for the window material. Think Strataglass and similar, kinds that come with some sort of polymer protective coating.
How Not To Have To Buy a Dodger Ever Again
Well, I might have slightly exaggerated that title, but it is not far from the truth. You can always go for a hard dodger.
The upside is that you will end up with something way more durable than a dodger made of sheet is. Also, maintenance will be way easier and you can rest assured that it will last you way longer. You can bid the restitching and repatching farewell.
Not that I would try to sell the idea to you, but another upside is additional places to hold onto on deck, and the option to fit a cockpit light, speakers, or anything that you previously couldn't.
Of course, you can't fold it down, so if you are like me and enjoy the unspoiled view of the flat deck, well, that'd be the end of it. Also, it's more weight up of the desired center of gravity, which isn't ideal performance-wise.
The purchasing price here will be likely easily twice as much as a soft dodger would cost, but then again if you decide to go at it DIY style, it is much easier and cheaper. Not less complicated or time-consuming, but working with hard materials requires less expertise and is much more self-explanatory and googleable than making it out of canvas. And to save money, you can make it out of wood or inexpensive plastic, if you choose to.
Getting a new dodger is not among the most pleasant experiences. It is not as exciting as for instance new sails or a motor, it is way pricier than you would think at first glance and you will have to replace it every now and then in a never-ending cycle of spending.
Getting a hard dodger is a much more durable solution, though a much more permanent one. It will save you money in the long run though. And in the short one too, possibly.
All in all, new dodgers are either about a relatively cheap solution that consists of quality compromises and the inevitable need for more frequent replacement, or about getting high-end materials that will last you twice or three times as long, but end up costing much more.
Choose your poison.
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