If it's time to replace the flooring on your boat, look at the newest products for durability and ease of installation and cleaning.
BOAT DECKS GET BLASTED with a witch’s brew of organic and synthetic liquids and substances. Sunscreen, juice, salt water, beer, potato chips, motor oil and bird droppings are ground onto the deck or into the fibers of your carpet, and they are even further stuffed and spread into every nook and cranny. There you are, flushing and scrubbing, futilely attempting to dislodge the gunk or snapping out the carpet and cleaning it. What can be worse is nasty carpet that is glued down with rubber cement or an equivalent adhesive. The old rug is chemically bonded to your deck, and the only way to fix this mess is complete removal and replacement.
Take a deep breath. While replacing boat carpet or decking isn’t something you do often, there are new products that will make you wonder why you ever stuck with the stuff you have now. There is woven vinyl fabric that’s soft to the touch and won’t fade for many years. There is closed-cell EVA foam (ethylene vinyl acetate) decking that looks like teak from afar, yet is non-skid and impervious to stains.
Various forms of plastic are the primary ingredient for today’s leading marine decking products. The versatility, durability and ease of manufacturing has made plastic one of the most common elements in boat manufacturing, and nowadays even your feet reap the benefits. In case you didn’t know, the first synthetic polymer (the precursor to plastic) was invented in the United States in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt, and further refined in 1907 by Leo Baekland.
Constant tinkering with plastic formulas has led to countless uses that have improved products and the lives of people worldwide, and that ingenious engineering applies to boat decking.
“What we did was change the recipe of the plastic itself for our PVC (polyvinyl chloride) decking,” said Eve Gribble, co-owner of PlasDECK in Akron, Ohio, with her husband, Bill. “We have among the highest resistance to ultraviolet light, and our product includes an anti-fungal. That means mold may grow on the product but not into it.”
EVA foam, PVC and woven vinyl are three leading types of boat decking. Some boatbuilders use these decking products on new builds; in other cases, the boat owner refurbishes a boat with the new decking, or has a professional do the job.
Inside the Install
Preparing the old surface for the new covering can the most challenging phase of the project. For boat owners, this can be as easy as providing a credit card number to a local installer or as difficult as doing it yourself.
Working on your boat requires commitment and hard work — and the foresight to wave the white flag when the job gets too difficult. A replacement decking project can be accomplished by someone who is relatively handy, and what’s great is the manufacturers provide a wealth of resources to make sure the job is done right. From videos to customer support lines to online forums, all the companies mentioned in this story are dedicated to helping the do-it-yourselfer, in addition to having a stellar network of professional installers.
To be thorough, preparing the old surface involves removing not only the old carpet or decking but also chemicals such as contact cement. There’s also a chemical called mold release that boat manufacturers use during construction. Removing mold release with acetone or a similar cleaner is important, because mold release inhibits the bonding agents for the new material.
“We did not want to create a product that is a burden to people,” said Warren McCrickard, director of marketing and communications for Infinity Luxury Woven Vinyl, based in Dalton, Ga. “Within a year or two, the carpet on a new boat can be old and mangy. Our woven vinyl is versatile and can be installed either as a snap-in or it can be glued down. Some people do it as a family project. Or they hire a professional installer, and the benefit to that is the pros already know all the hitches and glitches. But we are all about giving the consumer a choice, and we will support them either way.”
Removing all the dirt, grease, old glue and/or contact cement, and mold release is crucial in preparing the boat surface. After the surface is clean, the decking is applied using different types of adhesives depending on the type of decking, either in strips to make patterns or in a single piece that is delivered by the manufacturer and is made to order — after careful measurements have been taken.
Boaters get to enjoy today’s rugged decking before, during and after their day on the water. Not only do the products look great, but dings, scratches and dents are minimized, and when you drop a tool, a piece of fishing tackle or other heavy object, the noise is minimized.
“The great thing about EVA foam is that it is soft and comfortable, yet doesn’t hold water and doesn’t get stinky,” said Jason Gardner, vice president of marketing and advertising for SeaDek Marine Products, based in Rockledge, Fla. “EVA foam is closed cell, meaning water can’t get underneath it. It sticks to the deck, yet it doesn’t get scalding hot. SeaDek is applied using a pre-applied pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA).”
SeaDek’s foam provides excellent traction, and the cushioning of the foam can lessen fatigue for someone who’s been standing during a long day fishing. And when fish blood is spilled, a pressure washer can be used to blow the offending material off the surface, so it looks like new.
“One of the best aspects of SeaDek foam is the way you can keep it clean,” said Gardner, who has a Ski Nautique watersports boat that utilizes SeaDek EVA foam. “We can take the kids out, have a great time and not worry about spills or cookie crumbs, and then pressure-wash the inside so it looks like new.”
Gasoline, motor oil, and spider and bird droppings — nothing can penetrate and stain these new materials. Even salt water, which corrodes and destroys many of the parts on a boat, cannot ruin EVA foam, PVC or woven vinyl, even after long periods of exposure.
Eww! That Smell?
Carpets made with the same fibers you have at home trap odors, and once mildew takes hold there’s no way to shake the smell. Today’s new decking of EVA foam, PVC or woven vinyl is either neutral in smell or infused with much more pleasant odors, such as a sandalwood scent with SeaDek’s closed-cell foam. Infinity’s woven vinyl has a neutral smell and actually allows 20 percent of the moisture to drain through and dry out.
“Because you can either snap-in or glue down our woven vinyl, you have a product that’s easy to clean,” McCrickard said. “It dries quickly, and the woven vinyl includes antimicrobial technology, which prevents bacterial growth.”
Infinity’s woven vinyl is available in at least 17 distinct collections and 160 color choices, while PlasDeck and SeaDek offer more than 20 different color choices.
Faux Teak Is Fantastic
Real teak is luxurious, natural and expensive. However, the myriad patterns and materials that can closely imitate the look of teak make offerings from today’s decking manufacturers worth checking out. The look of teak can be achieved without the expense or the need for constant maintenance.
“Real teak can fade and get hairy if you don’t maintain it properly, and when it’s wet it gets slippery,” Gribble said. “Our biggest seller is the PlasDECK teak with the black lines. We also have a CoolTEAK product that doesn’t get hot in tropical sun, because it’s a lighter color than the traditional teak.”
The new PlasDECK E-Series synthetic teak deck material has shiplap edges for ease of use. The shiplap edges allow each plank to fit securely next to its neighbor, without gaps.
SeaDek’s teak look in EVA foam can be designed with wide variety of patterns and configurations.
“Real teak is gorgeous, no doubt,” Gardener said. “But after that, the benefits with SeaDek are enormous. The cost is less, and so is the maintenance. Ours is a lot more comfortable to stand on, and with our product you can create a weathered look, or get creative with different colors or engrave custom logos or text.”
Infinity’s Better Than Teak comes in 17 different colors that emulate the look of real teak. “Customers put this on swim platforms, and they get a real high-end teak look that is much easier to clean and much softer,” McCrickard said. “We’re on boats from a 15-footer to 150-foot yachts. Our products come in 10-foot-wide lengths, so it can be cut down easily for many of the boats that are eight and a half feet wide.”
Money Well Spent
The payoff for replacing your decking with today’s materials comes in two forms: cleanup is much easier, and the material will last three times (or more) longer and look better than what was originally installed.
“Right there you are saving money in the long run and putting value into your boat,” McCrickard said. “If you are replacing your marine carpet every two to three years, then you will be appreciating ours, because it’s going to last seven to 10 years or longer before you need to replace it.”
Ah yes, replacing the decking. At some point in time even the “replacement” decking you put down is going to need to be replaced. Keeping the end game in mind, SeaDek’s EVA foam and pressure sensitive adhesive doesn’t leave behind a bonding substance that is difficult to remove.
“Years down the road, when you do pull up SeaDek, you won’t have to grind your deck down like you would with contact cement,” Gardner said. “You just clean it up with acetone and are ready to lay down the replacement.”
Neat & Tidy
Only a real-world inspection — and a long, fun day on the water — reveals just how well EVA foam, PVC and woven vinyl fabrics work on boats. The fit and finish is amazing, and the use of these products is only limited by your imagination.
For example, SeaDek’s EVA foam is also used on boat trailers, in stowage lockers and on dashes. Infinity’s woven vinyl comes in two different thicknesses for added flexibility depending on where the product is installed, and PlasDECK’s PVC can cover up cracks, discolorations and other boat boo-boos that might have accumulated over the years.
“I installed PlasDECK on our own boat and everything came out looking symmetrical and beautiful,” Gribble said. “It creates a fantastic look, and it’s something a boat owner will appreciate every time they are on the water.”