How to Make a Lifesling Cover


Finished Lifesling Cover on our Islander37

A Lifesling is a very valuable piece of safety equipment to keep on board your boat at all times. This man-overboard recovery system makes it easier than other recovery methods to hoist crew members back on board. However, the number one complaint of sailors is that the deployment bag that stores the Lifesling doesn’t hold up to UV rays and chafing. We’ve received many requests for instructions on how to make a sturdier Lifesling cover. We listened to those requests and today we’re sharing our latest how-to video that will detail how to sew your own Sunbrella Lifesling cover.

We modeled our cover off of the original pouch that comes with the Lifesling. To give our cover better UV protection, we used a Sunbrella® Marine Grade fabric. Many sailors like to use a Sunbrella that matches the rest of their boat canvas for a cohesive look. We also added a chafe protection patch of Phifertex® Plus mesh to the back of the cover where it will rest against the stanchion. We also added Phifertex Mesh to the bottom of the cover to help promote drainage and airflow.

To give the cover a sturdy shape, we created internal pockets to house plastic stiffeners. You can buy thin sheets of plastic at a hardware store to insert in your cover, or repurpose the sheets from your existing Lifesling cover. Although we do not show this in the video, it is also a good idea to cut out the instructions from the original Lifesling bag and sew them to your new bag so they can be easily seen.

To view the full video and materials list, visit

Have you ever made a Lifesling Cover? Share your experience, tips and advice in the comments!

  1. steve said:

    Hoooray!! Another project that really hits the nail on the head. Well Done Sailrite!!.

  2. Tejas said:

    We preemptively made a Sunbrella cover to fit over a new Lifesling to avoid later replacement. A video for that might also be helpful for many.

    As for the replacement cover video, there seemed to many useful techniques shown that should be transferable to other projects.

  3. I sell marine safety equipment and for years have complained about how poorly the original LifeSling covers hold up. They finally are producing one out of a “Sunbrella type” fabric complete will all of the required labeling.

    If you are using your LifeSling to comply with US Coast Guard carriage requirements, it must be in an approved bag. The bag and its instructions are part of the approval. This is just one of those little things that can bite you when you start working on USCG approved safety equipment.

    So if you make your own bag, you must have an approved throwable device on board other than your LifeSling.

    • Nikki said:

      Hi Rollie,

      Thank you for your comment, that is a very good point. In the video we do instruct to sew the instructions from the original bag onto your new Sunbrella cover.

  4. Doug said:

    I just used the video yesterday and made the replacement bag. Being pretty new to sewing this type of project and having made a couple of “oops” I probably took a bit longer than I should have. Overall I had the project done in 7 hours and it really looks great! A couple of things to note:

    I tend to follow instructions like this verbatim and ran into a little issue with assembly sequence. When following the video it made me believe that I wanted to sew the large panels together (That hold the stiffener sleeves) earlier than I should have. For instance I had the two panels sewn together before the rope pocket was sewn on.

    I added Phifertex material on the panel that has the Velcro loops since I noticed that this was a heavy wear area from my previous bag. I just installed a 5″ wide strip from between the upper Velcro loops down to the top f the bottom Velcro loop. This was done in addition to the one outlined on the video for the back flap panel.

    My hotknife was used for cutting the Phifertex which of course creates a lot of smoke but I didn’t end up with the little hairs on the edge of the material once it was cut. I sure it would have been fine with the scissors but for some reason it bothered me.

    With a little luck my wife will never find out about the helpful videos and I will remain a super star for the projects!

    Thanks for the excellent support system!!

    • Nikki said:

      Hi Doug,
      Sorry for the confusion, but glad your bag turned out! We’d love to see a photo of your finished project.

      • Doug said:

        How can I add pictures? I tried copy and paste in this section but it wouldn’t do it…

  5. John Hughes said:

    I, too, recently made a new bag. I have a few suggestions for folks thinking of doing this: (1) Go ahead and add an inch or so to the height. Maybe two. I added an inch, and still found myself needing to stuff in the lifesling. Perhaps having the stiff sides gives a little less freedom for the bag to adapt to the shape of the stuff crammed into it. If I were doing it again, I’d add an inch to the width as well, for the same reason. (2) Consider putting a piece of stiffening into the top (i.e., making it a double thickness, like the sides, front, and back). (3) Draw a picture showing every piece you’ll be making; then put a piece of masking tape on the hidden surface of every piece, labelling it, as in “back panel inside piece” and “back panel outside piece”. That’ll keep your pieces upright and organized. (4) Consider drawing lines for the half-inch seam allowance on all those panels, so that it’s hard to forget the seam allowance when making measurements. (5) If you’re going to hang your lifesling on a stern rail rather than a lifeline, the rail thickness will eat up some space (as will a stanchion, if it wraps around one). When you’re measuring for the placement of the velcro on the back panel, put down a couple of broomsticks on the back panel to be certain about where to put those velcro bits on both the panel and the back flap. (It won’t help to put the broomsticks down when you’re measuring the velcro on the back flap — you may have already placed it wrong on the back panel!).

    For those who (like me) have watched the video multiple times, I found that having a written list of tasks helped a lot. Here’s my list, which others can copy/modify/use at will.

    Draw everything: 2 port side panels, 2 front panels, 2 rear panels, one back panel, one

    Phifertex wear patch for the back panel, a phifertex bottom panel, a Phiftertex inside pocket, the top panel, and the boxing.

    Cut out all panels w hotknife, mark inside, outside for each, front/back, left/right using masking tape. Mark 1/2″ seam allowance on all panels with tailor’s chalk.

    Cut out velcro pieces as well, for closing back panel (2 short pieces; one long for bottom edge), top (long piece, 2 shorties), and 3 bits for attachments to stanchions.

    Build mounting straps (opposite gender velcro on opposite faces of the two ends); attach to exterior back panel in same places as on old bag, remember 1/2″ allowance.

    Sew velcro to exterior back cover: one wide strap, two short ones on side. Measure with broomsticks in place to substitute for stanchion/rail; measure with back flap resting over broomsticks. Seam allowance!

    Sew 1″ wide 1.5″ tall vertical velcro bits at top of side panels, at back corner (to hold down sides of lid). Seam allowance!

    Sew 1″ or 1.5″ velcro across top of front panel, 1/2″ from top for seam allowance, at and least 1/2″ from sides (maybe 1″). (Could also sew this lower down, to match bottom edge of the lid — perhaps 1.5 or 2″ from top — probably preferable!)

    Build interior pocket (Phifertex). Fold bottom 45 degrees, sew 5″ up (for my model); trim off triangle. Do same on other side.

    Invert interior pocket; sew hem (1/2″) all around, facing inside of pocket.

    Sew pocket to interior of back panel (which has nothing sewn to it yet!), remembering seam allowance in determining offset.

    Sew up front panel on 3 sides, starting 1/2″ from top, approx 1/8″ from edges.

    Sew up side panels (3 sides), in the same way.

    Build back flap: sew 1/2″ seam along sides. Fold 1″ seam at bottom, and sew velcro (of proper gender) to it.

    Lay back flap on back panel (with brromsticks as needed) and determine locations/genders for side-velcro bits. Sew on these side velcro bits.

    Add Phifertex chafe material to flap at 1/2″ from top.

    Fold a 1/2″ hem at top of flap, and sew to back (i.e., exterior) of back panel.

    Sew up back panel on 3 sides, starting 1/2″ from top, stitching about 1/8″ from edges.

    Sew sides to rear (with exterior faces facing each other); start 1/2″ from top. Do all 4 vertical seams.

    Sew phifertex bottom to bottom edge of bag. Start at middle of a long edge for good lineup.

    Sew about 1/2″ from edge. Hint: at corners, fold a small triangle (1″ each side) of the bag and the bottom upwards to make the corners easier.

    Cut the plastic panels that stiffen the bag if you don’t have them already. Round off the corners slightly, or cut off a small triangle (1/2″ – 3/4″) at the corners, to prevent excessive wear.

    Install plastic panels. Fold over top edges of bag, and hem (with unfinished edge ending up inside, of course).

    Measure for boxing: (front + side + side + 4) x 3″; cut with hotknife.

    Make 1/2″ hem along one long side of boxing, and one short side. Test fit on top of bag.

    Sew other short hem.

    Mark center of top and center of boxing, and sew together, 1/2″ from edge, with boxing hem visible! Start near center and work outwards to both ends.

    When done, fold over 1/2″ of remaining top panel, and top stitch all the way around (see about 22:00 in video); leave the final long edge of top panel unfinished.

    Add webbing “lifting loop” for opening the box at middle of boxing (23:15).

    Sew appropriate gender velcro onto front edge of boxing, and the 1 x 1.5″ bits onto the back corners, too.

    Attach top to body via velcro, and mark excess fabric on stitch line for back flap (or higher, depending on taste).

    Strike a line, cut, and hem 1/2″. Sew top to back (only!) so it abuts the top of the back panel (or higher up. If you abut the back panel, you may have to sew through the plastic stiffener, which may be tough, depending on your machine: I sewed my top more or less to the hem-line at the top of the back panel, even though my back-flap starts about 3″ down from the top.)

    • Nikki said:

      Wow! Thanks, John. Those written instructions will be very helpful to others, I’m sure. Thanks for taking the time to do that.

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