How To Reupholster Boat Seats

When properly maintained, a quality boat can last indefinitely. However, proper maintenance sometimes includes replacing and refurbishing parts that are subject to wear and tear. Seats are among the most utilized parts of your boat.

Thankfully, you can periodically reupholster boat seats to extend their life cycle. All you need is patience, a pair of shears, and a little bit of elbow grease.

Without further ado, here’s how to reupholster boat seats.

Inspect The Existing Seat

Most boat seats are covered with vinyl for water resistance, and these covers are the most noticeable parts to replace. That said, you might also need to replace other components.

For example, wet foam can degrade over time. Worse, foam can get moldy, creating a health hazard and may trigger allergies. In cases of extreme deterioration, underlying wooden parts can even begin to rot.

If you blindly replace a vinyl cover without addressing these underlying issues, you won’t solve the problem. You will simply accomplish a short-term cosmetic fix.

Using a staple remover or a screwdriver, remove all the covers from the seats, and inspect the underlying materials. Make a note of any damaged foam or wood and add those parts to your shopping list. For our purposes, we will assume that you are replacing only the covers and that the underlying foam and wood structure are intact.

Needless to say, this is best done under a roof. Since reupholstering is a lengthy process, you will need to be careful not to get caught in the rain. If you are on the water or parked outside on a trailer, put a cover over any exposed foam.

Make A Pattern

In order to put new covers on your boat seats, you will first need to know the size and shape of the material you need. Measure your old covers and accurately write down the measurements. Keep in mind that different seats may have different shapes and sizes to fit the boat’s contours. Check every seat to ensure you catch any discrepancies.

During this process, also make a note of any foam that needs replacement. If it does, measure that as well.

Gather Your Supplies

With your measurements in hand, it’s time to go shopping. Here’s a list of all the supplies you are going to need:

  • Marine-grade, UV-resistant vinyl. Make sure this is true, marine-grade vinyl. Ordinary vinyl will quickly wear out due to water and sun exposure. In other words, buy from a boating supplier and avoid purchasing from a fabric shop. Also, stick with white and pastel colors. Dark covers absorb more sunlight, and the dark-colored seats may get red-hot and uncomfortable on a sunny day.
  • Foam, if necessary. The foam should be high density and rated for marine use.
  • Wood, if required. Wood for boats should be pressure-treated. Marine-grade lumber is not needed since your seats will not be submerged.
  • An upholstery stapler or carpet tacker. Make sure to buy staples!
  • Marking pencils and sewing shears. Use these for drawing and trimming patterns.

When you buy your vinyl, make sure to buy at least 10% more than you need, preferably 25% more. There will inevitably be some wastage and scraps, but you may have to throw out a larger piece if you make a cutting error.

Cut Your Vinyl And Foam

Now it’s time to put your shears to work. Using your original seat covers as templates, trace the patterns on your new vinyl, and cut the pieces to match.

Cutting foam can be a bit tricky, since it’s three-dimensional. Start large, and trim more if needed. Remember, you can always shave more foam off, but you can’t stick two cut pieces back together. For very thick foam, shears may not be up to the task; in that case, you can use an electric carving knife.

Reassemble Your Seats

Once everything has been cut to size, you are ready to start reassembling your seats. Lay the vinyl flat, set the foam on top of it, and wrap the vinyl around the sides.

Now, flip the assembly over and place it on top of the seat’s wooden frame. Stretch the vinyl as tightly as you can, so the foam is ever so slightly compressed. Now, fasten four staples, one on each side, to hold the cover in place while you position the rest of the staples.

Now, work your way along the front, putting a new staple every one or two centimeters. It’s best to alternate sides, working your way out from the center. This helps prevent bunching and wrinkling.

After the front, apply the staples in the back, following a similar pattern and continuing to hold the vinyl tight as you work. Last, staple both sides in the same fashion you stapled the front and back.

Apply A Protectant

With everything put back together, you might think the job is complete. But if you want your seats to last as long as possible, consider applying some vinyl protectant. These are chemicals that you spray or buff onto the vinyl, protecting the seats against UV rays and premature aging. Not only that, the protectant adds an attractive shine, similar to seats that are fresh from the factory.

If All Else Fails, Hire A Professional

As you can see, reupholstering boat seats is well within the realm of most people’s capabilities. It should also be apparent that it’s an involved project that can take many hours of work, particularly if you have several seats to upholster.

Hiring a professional is one way to simplify the process. Yes, you will need to pay for their service, but you won’t have to do all the work yourself. Make sure the person you hire is experienced with boats, though. If they are not familiar with marine work, they may not have the proper expertise for the job.

Another option is to ask a friend for help. If you know someone who’s already an upholstery enthusiast, partner up and see what you can accomplish. Just make sure to offer them a free boat ride as a thank you!