Pontoon bimini tops are mainly differentiated by their materials and sizes, with some covering the entire length of the vessel, but others only covering a portion of the vessel where the operator is. Although bimini tops are generally considered to be canvas, some tops that are called bimini may also be made of vinyl. Some tops are permanent, but some are also capable of being removed or folded in cases when they are not desired.
Cotton duck is one of the most popular materials for pontoon bimini tops. This fabric is a heavy fabric, and is usually plain woven. Thus, it is durable and can stand up to the elements and wind that are prevalent in boating activities. Cotton duck is often thought of as the typical canvas material, but may not be waterproof on its own. Therefore, waterproofing the fabric is often needed before it is used on a pontoon boat. If not properly waterproofed, it could succumb to dry rot, and will also eventually break down in ultraviolet light.
While it may not be a true bimini top by those who consider the term to only apply to canvas, vinyl is also a common material for such tops. The advantages of using vinyl for pontoon bimini tops are its inherent waterproof abilities and durability. Vinyl will not rot and does not tear easily. Water generally runs off to the sides, leaving boaters with plenty of dry areas if a rain shower pops up. The material is also very easy to clean.
Other materials include acrylic and polyester. Polyester is a popular choice when there is an emphasis placed on color because it resists fading very well, and is relatively inexpensive. Acrylic is a good option when the priority is on looks and protection from the sun's ultraviolet rays, but will also need waterproofing. Acrylic is generally an expensive material, and, therefore, may not be the best choice if the purpose is to cover the entire length of the boat.
Generally, partial pontoon bimini tops are designed to offer the best of both worlds, especially for those who are hosting groups of people on their vessels. A partial top covers the back portion of the boat, leaving shade for the operator and those who are sensitive to the sun. At the same time, the front of the vessel is reserved for those who prefer the sun. Pontoon bimini tops covering only a part of the vessel can also usually be folded down so that the entire group can enjoy the sun.
Full pontoon bimini tops are a different story. They focus on maximum protection from the elements for the vessel and all of its occupants. The bulk of the top makes it more difficult to put up and take down quickly. Therefore, it may be the best for families with children, and when using the pontoon for sightseeing excursions.