Improve your dodger
Get a grip: Improve your dodger
By Don Launer
Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 4, Number 2, March/April 2001.
Handholds are an easy and inexpensive way
to increase your security afloat
Dodgers are not necessary – that is, if you’re a masochist
or a Spartan who enjoys being hit in the face with water from every
wave when beating to windward or developing windchill in the off-seasons.
Since I’m neither a Spartan nor masochist, I wouldn’t
do without my dodger. I find it an indispensable accessory for creature
comfort. It provides protection from the spray, wind, rain, and sun
and prevents downpours from entering the cabin when the companionway
hatch is open.
For all of the obvious
advantages of a dodger there is one glaring, and potentially dangerous,
disadvantage. If you have to go forward
when the seas are kicking up and the deck is bucking like a bronco,
the trip around the dodger becomes hazardous. There are no handholds
except for the low lifelines; you can’t clip your safety harness
onto the safety line until you’ve made it around the dodger;
and the shrouds are usually too far forward to be of any use. For any
member of the “over-the-hill gang’ like myself, especially
when sailing solo, the risk and insecure feeling is compounded.
The obvious answer is to have a handhold available. I recently installed
handholds on our dodger, and it has increased our sense of security
The stainless steel tubular
frame that is an integral part of dodgers provides the mounting spot.
I used streamlined stainless steel handles
manufactured by AFI Industries. They’re made from bent stainless
steel tubing with 2-inch-long by 1/4-inch threaded studs at each end.
These handles are widely available in 12-inch, 18-inch and 24-inch
lengths from West Marine, BoatU.S., and many other catalog and retail
The first decision is to determine what length handles suit your
installation. Try a simulated trip around the dodger to find the best
a handhold, then at that spot measure the distance between the two
diverging frame members. The figure closest to one of the three sizes
is the one you want. Remember that by just moving the handle a few
inches up or down, a fit can be obtained.
After purchasing the length
closest to your needs, place the handle on the Sunbrella fabric and
slide it up or down until the 1/4-inch mounting studs are directly
over the centers of the stainless steel tubing beneath the fabric.
Check this position with a level, or have someone away from the boat
look at the position of the handle to see if it is at an aesthetically
pleasing angle, then mark where the threaded studs touch the fabric.
Now loosen the dodger fabric so it is away from the frame. Most of
the fabrics used for dodgers are made of acrylic material, such as
Sunbrella. The hole for the threaded studs of the handle can be made
through these synthetic fabrics with a hot soldering iron, a heated
screwdriver, or even a heated nail. The hot tool melts its way through
the acrylic fabric with surprising and disconcerting ease, like the
proverbial hot knife through butter. As the hole for the stud is made,
the fabric ends are simultaneously sealed to prevent unraveling, in
the same way the end of a nylon or Dacron line is sealed with a hot
iron or flame.
Now replace the dodger cover and tension it to its normal position.
This is important, since the stainless steel tubing will be held in
this final position by the handles. Mark the stainless steel tubing
through the holes you have made in the fabric. Pull back the dodger
cover and drill 1/4-inch holes in the dodger’s tubular frame
at these marks.
The cover now goes back on again, and the handhold studs
are put through the fabric and frame. The 2-inch-long studs on the
handle will probably
protrude too far on the inside, and you may want to cut them off to
make them shorter. As always, when cutting a threaded bolt, put a nut
on before cutting. After cutting, removing these nuts helps to clean
out the thread where the cut has been made.
Two rubber gaskets come with each handhold. When installing the handle,
these should be between the handle and the fabric, cushioning the contact
as well as making the hole watertight. Although 1/4-inch stainless
steel washers and nuts also come with the handles, you might want to
consider using stainless steel wing-nuts on the inside rather than
the nuts supplied. This makes disassembling the dodger simpler and
faster, with no tools required. These wing-nuts are available at nearly
every marine-supply store.
Now do the same
for the other side of the dodger, and your job is completed. The
shouldn’t take more than an hour or two.
The first time
I used my new handles in a seaway I wondered why I hadn’t done this
long before; they solve the problem perfectly. And I discovered
that as an added benefit, the handles stiffen up the whole dodger
frame remarkably. Installing handholds on your dodger is an upgrade
project that is well worth the small time and expense required –
and may pay off in unknown dividends sometime in the future.