Best Seat in the House

Posted: June 1, 2013

Who says a new seat has to be a new seat?

By: Capt. Wilson J. Sheppard

I believe one boater’s trash can be another boater’s treasure, so I never throw anything away. A few months ago, I replaced the helm seat on my boat with a pedestal seat, and just recently, a friend inquired about updating the old seat. I was excited about the possibility of upholstery work, sanding, painting and teak work. He handed me $20 and said, “Keep the change.” He already had some vinyl and wanted the seats re-covered. I agreed to do a basic re-covering — nothing fancy like piping or zippers. He said I didn’t even have to replace the wood inside the seat.

Break It Down

My old helm seat had two sections mounted on a wood frame (1). The seat’s bottom was removable, but the backrest was secured with screws. I had to work through a puzzle of storage bins, cupholders and (for some reason) a mirror to access the screws (2).

Once the seat is removed from its support, you can begin removing the fabric. If your seat has multiple parts, work on them individually to avoid confusing the materials. Turn the seat upside-down to see how the fabric is attached to the bottom. Heavy-duty staples are generally used to secure it. Use a small flathead screwdriver to pry out the staples (3). Vice grips or pliers can be used to extract broken or rusted ones. I also used the pointed end of a metal scraper to remove hard-to-reach staples. Be sure to collect removed staples in a container and dispose of them properly, to avoid damaging the new materials or injuring yourself.

After the staples are removed, you can completely disassemble the seat. Seats generally have three parts: fabric, foam and wood backing. You can use the old parts as templates for their replacements.

Material Witness

Unlike my cheap friend, you should use materials suitable for the marine environment for your project. Fabrics such as Sunbrella or marine-grade vinyl are good choices, especially for exposed deck seating. Also, use high-quality foam that does not easily absorb water and is dense enough to provide good cushioning. The wood backing should be made from half-inch marine-grade plywood.

Since I had a $20 budget, I shopped around and found 3-inch foam on sale for $5.49 per yard at Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores. Both pieces of the wood backing were 30 inches by 20 inches, so I bought 2 yards (approximately 6 feet).

I also checked the fabric prices to determine the cost for properly re-covering this seat. Jo-Ann has marine-grade vinyl for $16.99 per yard and fabric similar to Sunbrella starting around $20 per yard. In addition to materials, a heavy-duty stapler and an extra pack of staples was $25. This entire project could have been done for less than $200, including new wood backing.

Making the Cut

It is important to cut the foam to size before cutting your fabric. I used the wood as a template and traced each piece onto the foam with a black marker. Then, I used a sharpened fillet knife to cut out the two foam pieces (4).

Next, unroll the fabric and place the foam and wood on the back side of it. Cut the fabric large enough to cover the foam and about 2 inches of the wood, which will allow you to stretch and staple the fabric in place.

Fold & Staple

Once the fabric has been properly measured and cut, pull it so it stretches across the foam and the edge of the wood. Place a few staples on each edge to hold the fabric in place. Working from one side, pull the fabric tight and staple it about 1 inch from the edge. Continue moving along the edge, pulling and stapling the fabric. The staples should be no more than a half inch apart. At each corner, fold the fabric at angles (similar to wrapping gifts), and place several staples at each corner. Trim any excess material with scissors or a razor blade.

Once the fabric is secure, place the seat in its normal position (5). Any bulges indicate areas where the fabric was not pulled tightly or secured evenly. Remove the staples from that area, tighten it and re-staple.

Boating is an expensive lifestyle, but you don’t have to be cheap like my friend. You can save money by using this basic re-covering technique to turn your trashed boating seats into treasure. Or, you can make money by selling your re-covered treasure, but hopefully you can sell it for more than $20!

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