Traditional vs. California Dodger — What's the Difference?
Does your sailboat have a dodger yet? A dodger is a partially enclosed canvas and clear vinyl structure that covers a sailboat’s companionway. This structure protects you from spray, wind and rain. Dodgers also offer shade and keep water from getting into the companionway, and some have roll-up or removable windows to encourage airflow.
With so many benefits, it’s easy to see why dodgers are a favorite among sailors. But when it comes to style, there's no one-size-fits-all option. There are actually two styles of this popular canvas piece: traditional and California-style dodgers. Both are great additions to any sailboat, but there are a few differences to consider when choosing the right style for you.
In this blog, we’ll discuss the differences between traditional and California dodgers to help you pick out the style that best fits your boat. We’ll talk about size and shape, the front and side windows, and whether you want a one-piece or multi-piece assembly. Let’s dive in!
Dodger Size & Shape
The first difference to consider is size. Traditional dodgers are generally more compact, both in height and depth, than California dodgers. This style won't shelter the companionway as much because it's not as deep from front to back, but it may be easier to see over. A traditional dodger's compact profile also gives you more space to move around its sides to the front of your boat.
On the other hand, a California dodger tends to be taller and deeper front to back, giving more coverage to the companionway. Because of its height, though, it may not be easy to see over. It might also be tougher to move around the sides to access the front of your boat. Be sure to take size and ease of movement into account when picking your dodger.
Second, take a look at the dodgers' shape. Traditional dodgers typically have rounded corners, giving them a sleek and streamlined appearance. This is because they're sewn as one piece — windows and all. Because they're made of multiple interlocking pieces, California dodgers tend to have squared corners, making them look boxy.
Shape is definitely a cosmetic concern, not a functional one. A sleek dodger will protect you from wind and spray just as well as a boxy dodger. So, it all depends on your preference of how you'd like your dodger to look.
Front & Side Windows
Let's move on to the front window — the equivalent of a car windshield on a boat dodger. Being more compact, a traditional dodger may have a smaller or narrower windshield than a California dodger. This can affect visibility to the front of your boat and the water beyond, so think carefully about how much forward visibility you need from your dodger.
That's not all to think about on a dodger windshield though. Another consideration is airflow. Traditional dodgers are sewn as a single piece and the windows aren't removable. (However, you can modify a traditional dodger pattern to add a roll-up or removable section to the windshield if you want.) Nonremovable windows may be beneficial if you boat in areas that are chilly, windy and/or prone to rain. In that case, you may prefer the solid protection of a single-piece dodger.
On the other hand, the large windshield on a California-style canvas is completely removable from the rest of the dodger. Not only does this allow airflow, but it also gives you the flexibility to decide how much shelter you want from one day to the next. If you boat in areas that are often hot, muggy and/or don't get much rain, you would benefit from the airflow that a removable windshield allows.
Next we'll turn to the side windows. The port and starboard windows on a traditional dodger are much smaller than those found on its California-style counterpart. Traditional side windows take up a quarter to a third of the canvas on the side of the dodger, offering limited side-to-side visibility. They’re also not removable.
Since California dodgers are deeper front to back, their port and starboard windows can be much larger. The majority of a California dodger's side curtains are comprised of vinyl window material with only a border of marine canvas. This extends you much greater side-to-side visibility. California dodger side windows are completely removable from the rest of the assembly.
One-Piece vs. Multi-Piece Assembly
The final difference we'll go over is how many pieces make up each dodger. Traditional dodgers are usually sewn as a single piece with no removable parts. Conversely, California dodgers are comprised of four separate parts: the top, front windshield and two side windows. This difference brings up unique challenges when sewing, installing and storing the dodgers.
Which is easier to work with in these regards is subjective. We'll point out the pros and cons of each to help you decide which is the better fit for your sewing skill level and lifestyle.
You may find it challenging to sew a traditional dodger because it's one piece. That means you have to fit the whole assembly through your sewing machine's throat as you work — and it only gets larger as you add more canvas and window vinyl. The benefit here is that there's only one piece to build on, minimizing the chance that any pieces will get lost.
A California dodger is sewn one piece at a time, so there's less material to fit through the throat of your sewing machine all at once. However, there are more pieces to keep track of when sewing this dodger style, and you have to make sure all the pieces fit together properly as you work.
Next, think about the process of installing the finished dodger on your boat. A single-piece traditional dodger may be quicker and easier for you to install. After all, there's only one piece to tension rather than four separate pieces. On the contrary, you may find that the separate pieces of a California dodger are easier for you to tension one at a time, even though matching up the pieces may take longer.
Finally, there's the important matter of storing your canvas dodger for the off-season.
Because it's all one piece, there's no way to separate the window material from the marine canvas in a traditional dodger. Unless you have a large open space available, you may find it impractical to hang a traditional dodger for winter storage. And since the assembly is curved to fit the dodger frame, storing it flat may not be ideal either. You'll probably have to roll your traditional dodger around a piece of soft fabric for winter storage — but even then, the curved sections of canvas may wrinkle or refuse to lie flat in a roll.
Disassembled California dodgers offer a bit more flexibility for storage. You can roll each piece individually with less wrinkling than a traditional dodger may give you. Hanging the pieces vertically is also an option. Just make sure you have plenty of side-to-side space to keep the panels from touching. Lastly, you could stack the pieces on top of each other (with soft cloth between each panel) for flat storage — but this could take up quite a bit of space and require a large storage area as well.
As you can see, both sailboat dodger styles have their merits. Which one you choose depends on your needs, preferences and off-season storage capabilities.
Choose a traditional dodger if:
- You don't need or want much coverage over the companionway.
- You need or want a compact dodger that's easier to see over and move around.
- A sleek, rounded appearance is important to you.
- You don't need or want extra visibility through the front of the dodger.
- You don't need or want a removable front window.
- You don't need or want much side-to-side visibility under the dodger.
- You don't need or want removable side windows.
- You prefer sewing and installing a single-piece dodger.
- You have the space to hang or roll a single-piece dodger for off-season storage.
Choose a California dodger if:
- You need or want more coverage over the companionway.
- You don't need or want as much space to see over or move around your dodger.
- A sleek, rounded appearance is not important to you.
- You need or want extra visibility through the front of the dodger.
- You need or want a removable front window.
- You need or want good side-to-side visibility under the dodger.
- You need or want removable side windows.
- You prefer sewing and installing a multi-piece dodger.
- You have the space to hang, roll or stack multiple dodger pieces for off-season storage.
Whether you choose a traditional or California dodger, making your own is definitely the way to go. Not only is it more cost-effective than hiring a canvas shop, but you’re also in complete control of the outcome. Sailrite® can help you with the DIY sailboat dodger of your dreams! Sailrite dodger skin kits have the materials you need to make a traditional or California dodger for your boat.
Remember, both dodger styles need to be attached to a sturdy metal frame. If your boat doesn't have a dodger frame yet, never fear. We have a stainless steel 2-bow frame kit with rigid supports and handrails that accommodates both dodger styles with ease. It's adjustable, allowing you to customize the fit to a huge variety of boats. A how-to video is included to help you install this kit as well.
When you choose a sailboat dodger kit from Sailrite, you also get free access to thorough how-to videos that will walk you through every step of the sewing and installation process.
Watch our Dodger DIY Series how-to videos
Watch our California Dodger Series how-to videos
We hope this blog helped you decide whether a traditional or California dodger is the right fit for your boat. But if you still have questions, we can help. Reach out to our highly trained customer support team via phone, email or the chat function on our website. Someone will be able to answer your questions and get you sewing your own dodger in no time!