Tips on boat upholstery and hiring a marine professional
Last updated: 20/01/2020
Thinking of updating the interior of a boat? Want to protect furnishings from the elements? Looking to increase comfort when sleeping on board? Yachting Pages has created this handy guide on hiring a professional marine upholsterer.
Firstly, when re-upholstering the interior or exterior of a boat, a marine professional with vast experience and good references should always be used. The emphasis is on marine professional, not just a person who specialises in residential upholstery. There are big variances.
Land-based upholsterers, more than likely will use land-based materials that are easily damaged by both UV and salt water. This is mainly because of the type of thread they will use.
Marine thread is the glue of boat upholstery and one of the most important elements. The thread will hold the fabric together and as such it is important to speak with the upholsterer about the highest quality thread that can be afforded.
One of the strongest threads on the market is made with PTFE or Polytetrafluoroethylene, (similar to Teflon). It can be exposed to sun, salt, chemicals, pollution and will last an extremely long time. However this comes at a price, it costs around $160 per stool, which means it is considered costly and will not be accommodated by most marine fabricators.
More common and cost effective thread is polyester or polyester dacron. They are UV resistant and some are anti-wick, which means that as the thread gets wet it expands in the needle hole helping to keep the water from seeping through. These threads are considered chemical and heat resistant, but eventually weaken in the sun.
Boat visits are essential
Once a yacht professional with experience and good references has been chosen, it is important to get them to come on board so they fully understand the task in hand. Photos and measurements will need to be taken so ensure the space is clutter free.
This process is critical, do not accept an upholsterer who asks to bring an old cushion as a template. These will warp and be unreliable.
Choosing upholstery fabric for your yacht
Some aspects of choosing upholstery fabric may seem obvious such as selecting colour, texture and style. However, there’s more to it than that:
Questions to consider when choosing marine fabrics
There is a mind boggling amount of different patterns, textures, and types of fabric to choose from and an experienced professional will be able to give advice. However a clear idea of what is wanted can be found by asking yourself a series of questions.
- Is the yacht subject to long periods of hermetically sealed inactivity, perhaps in direct sunlight?
- Will there be children on board?
- Is there an annual haul out and wintertime storage?
- Do you want to simply refresh an old appearance or pretty much restyle it? And if the latter, by how much?
Marine upholstery foam
The final decision that needs to be made is about foam. There are many kinds, which can be used on board, all with varying densities and resistances to compression. The five main types of marine foam are;
- Compressed Polyester – An inexpensive option that is best used for occasional seating, like patio cushions. Will air dry easily after getting wet. However will compress over time.
- Polyester Fiberfill- An affordable option, it is a common stuffing for pillows and deep seating back cushions.
- Polyurethane Foam - Polyurethane foam is affordable, has a medium firmness, and is suitable for seating and mattress applications. If polyurethane foam gets wet, the cells will soak up the water.
- Open Cell Foam - This foam has open pores that allow water and air to flow through easily. Open cell foams make a comfortable and cool seating cushion or mattress. This is a more expensive option than Polyester and Polyurethane foam.
- Closed Cell/floatation foam - is great for floatation applications like floating cockpit cushions and life vests. This foam has no water absorption, so you can safely cover it with any type of fabric.
Choosing the best foam will make a big difference in the furniture’s comfort and performance. Different types of foam have been engineered to float, drain water, and prevent mould and mildew.
Each foam type has qualities that make it more practical for different areas on the boat. I.e. Different foams would be used for sleeping and outdoor seating. However there are some rules of thumb to help pick and choose which foam should be used.
- Use softer foam on the backrests of sofas.
- Use denser, more compression-resistant foam on seats.
- Go with layers in mattresses, with high-density material underneath (to prevent bottoming out) and medium- or light-density material (to produce a softer, more comfortable sleeping surface) on top.
- Be wary of reticulated foam. While it lets moisture pass swiftly through unimpeded, thereby greatly reducing mould and mildew concerns, it tends to break down in intense sunlight, even when covered with some fabrics.