UpholsterCycle DIY Upholstery

How to Choose a DIY Boat Upholstery Kit

boat upholstery diy kit

Thinking of reupholstering your boat seats? In this article, we explain how to choose and put together your own DIY boat upholstery kit, to bring new life to your boat seats.

Let’s face it, a boat is exposed to one of the harshest recreational environments known to man. The marine environment openly exposes your boat seats to saltwater, temperature fluctuations, UV rays, and a myriad of other conditions which can result in cracking, fading, and the development of mildew and mold.

Therefore, when it comes to repairing the upholstery in your boat, it is important to make sure that you choose nothing less than the highest quality materials available on the market today. In deciding how to go about your boat reupholstery, you should pay close attention to factors such as longevity and durability, enjoyment and comfort, aesthetics, ease of maintenance, as well as the resale value of your boat.

Your Options

When it comes to DIY boat upholstery work, you have two options:

  • Get a custom boat upholstery kit created for you.
  • Do your own DIY boat upholstery.

Custom do it yourself marine upholstery kits can save you a fair bit of work, however almost all the boat upholstery kits currently on the market depend on a custom measure and quote for your boat. As you can imagine, this can be very costly; one example I found for a regular, family-sized recreational vessel was $5,000+.

Despite looking everywhere on the internet for pre-made off-the-shelf boat upholstery kits, that you can simply order online and put together yourself at home, we couldn’t find anything. It’s a great idea, but the product simply does not exist. Of course, you have the option of buying some premade skins for your seats, but this means you need to have the exact right size of seat to match the skin. Alternatively, you can buy entire new seats, but you may not want to go to quite that extent, either.

So, that leaves you with one affordable option: do it yourself.

Custom Boat Upholstery Kit vs Doing It Yourself

You may be wondering whether it is better to do all the upholstery yourself from scratch, or if you should use a custom boat upholstery kit to ease some of the work. Re-upholstering your boat seats from scratch is not impossible by any means, and uses the same principles as upholstering other furniture using techniques explained in our step-by-step guide to reupholstering boat seats here.

The main deterrent to getting a custom-made boat upholstery kit is the cost, since it involves measuring your existing boat seats and making custom skins for you. To get an idea of the costs involved in getting custom boat upholstery work done, have a look at this article where we compare all the different boat re-upholstery options available to boat owners.

Custom Boat Upholstery Kits

Pros:

  • Upholstery is professionally measured, designed and sewn together, giving a higher quality appearance.
  • Potentially higher boat resale value, as the boat seat upholstery will appear more professional.
  • Quicker than doing it yourself.

Cons:

  • Limited designs, patterns and materials available. You may not be able to achieve the visual look and feel that want.
  • Expensive compared with buying the materials and doing it all yourself.
  • You need to take your boat in for a custom measure and quote, which may be difficult if your boat is in a remote area and/or cannot be towed.

Reupholstering Yourself

Pros:

  • Full control over the materials and appearance, including the quality, color, design and pattern. Doing everything yourself means it is fully customizable.
  • Cheaper than a kit, although this depends on the type of materials you choose. If you choose high quality, difficult to find custom materials it could end up costing more.

Cons:

  • More time consuming and challenging. Doing it from scratch, you will need to learn how to carry out upholstery tasks including measuring and sewing.
  • Rough, amateur finish if you don’t have prior experience with upholstering. Even if you can sew, using a sewing machine with heavy marine canvas is a totally different challenge to sewing clothing.
  • Heavy duty sewing machine required. For boat upholstery, you need a sewing machine that is capable of handling thick, heavy duty materials such as canvas. If you don’t have one, is it worth the expense?

If you want to learn how to reupholster your boat seats yourself, check out our article below where we explain how to do it from scratch:

STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO REPAIRING BOAT UPHOLSTERY SEATS

Next, we explain how to put together your own boat upholstery kit, with the tools and materials you need to do it yourself.

diy boat upholstery kit cushions
You can get simple cushions such those pictured here, quite affordably from many marine supply stores. If this is all you need, save yourself the work and just pick up a set of brand new flat cushions like these – job done.

What to Include in Your DIY Boat Upholstery Kit

you Will need these items in your DIY boat upholstery kit:
Kit ItemNotes
Marine-Grade Vinyl or FabricYour choice of design and color, see notes below.
Heavy Duty Staple GunPneumatic is great choice for heavy-duty work such as this.
For tips on selecting a model and style, check out our article on choosing a staple gun for upholstery.
Heavy Duty Sewing ShearsAvailable from sewing and craft stores.
Upholstery FoamFor cushions, if it is old and needs replacing.
Electric Bread KnifeFor cutting foam.
Seam RipperTo remove existing upholstery from seats.
Spray AdhesiveTo attach foam to the substrate (wood).
Heavy Duty Sewing Machine and NeedlesCapable of handing thick, marine-grade materials, whether fabric or vinyl.
Heavy Duty ThreadFor your sewing machine, capable of handling marine-grade canvas.
Carpet TackerTo attach vinyl to the base.
Wood (for base)Only required if the original wood shows signs of severe damage or rot.

Now that you have gathered your boat upholstery DIY kit together, follow these steps to replace your boat upholstery.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Materials for Your Boat Upholstery DIY Kit

When it comes to selecting the best tools and materials for your DIY boat upholstery kit, it’s important to determine whether you want to upholster your boat with vinyl or fabric. There are many differences in the factors to consider when choosing these two materials. Vinyl upholstery is one of the most common and popular options for DIY boat upholstery kits. The reason for this is that vinyl is generally a lot easier to clean and maintain than fabric. Fabric is more comfortable to sit on than vinyl, but it is also a lot more difficult to clean and maintain on a regular basis. If you have plenty of time to focus on cleaning and maintaining the fabric, then it is an excellent choice for just about any boating need.

Durability and Longevity

When putting together your own DIY boat upholstery kit, selecting durable materials is always best. It’s essential that the kit uses marine-grade fabric or vinyl, to ensure that it can withstand the harsh environment of the ocean and open waters including sun and salt.

As a general rule, vinyl upholstery is extremely durable. Although it can be quite uncomfortable to sit on because your legs tend to stick to the material, it is its ease of cleaning and maintenance that ensures that it will last longer than fabric upholstery.

Easy Maintenance and Cleaning

Since boats are routinely exposed to marine conditions, it is important to make sure that you select something that is water and spill resistant. This will help to make sure that it is easy to maintain as well as easy to clean. Many quality vinyl materials available on the market today can be simply wiped down or cleaned with mild detergents.

Compared to vinyl, fabric requires a lot more effort to maintain and keep clean. There is a wide selection of different materials to choose from when it comes to fabric upholstery, and not all of them are created equal. If you choose to use fabric, pay close attention to the recommended cleaning instructions before making a final selection.

UV Resistance

The higher the quality of the material, the better the UV resistance. Due to the amount of time that a boat is exposed to direct sunlight, and is more likely to fade and deteriorate over time. The better the UV resistance of the material, the longer it can stand up to harmful UV rays. Over time, vinyl is more likely to crack due to continued exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Comfort and Enjoyment

Boating is a popular recreational experience that is meant to be pleasurable. As a result, it is important to make sure that you select high-quality materials that are soft, breathable, and comfortable to sit on. This is important because there is a wide selection of lower-quality materials that may feel like sandpaper on the back of your legs.

Unlike fabric boat upholstery, vinyl is not as flexible. While a quality vinyl material can be soft to the touch, and easily stretched and shaped, it is generally a lot stiffer than fabrics.

Aesthetics and Visual Appeal

Aesthetics and visual appeal also play an important role in putting together your DIY boat upholstery kit. The kit should include materials that look great and are of a high enough quality to provide you with that professional look when finished.

There is a wide selection of colors, textures, and patterns to choose from for your boat upholstery kit, so select wisely. Vinyl comes in a wide selection of color options that can match just about any boat. However, you will find that there are not quite as many color options, textures, or patterns to choose from when compared to fabric upholstery.

Resale Value

While it would be nice to own your boat indefinitely, it’s important to remember that there may be an eventual need to sell your boat in the future. As a result, it is always crucial to consider the resale value of your boat whenever you make changes. By choosing extremely durable and visually appealing upholstery fabrics or vinyl, you can increase the overall value of your vessel.

Cost

As a general rule, vinyl upholstery material costs substantially more than fabric. Because of this, many of the DIY vinyl boat upholstery materials available on the market today are slightly more expensive than the fabric alternatives. In general, fabric DIY boat upholstery sets are cheaper than their vinyl counterparts. However, when selecting a higher quality and higher thread count material, the price can quickly skyrocket.

marine do it yourself kits custom made
You can get a custom made and measured marine upholstery kit, but these can become very costly. You can also buy pre-made kits from the manufacturer, but these are only available for a very small selection of specific boat models.

DIY Boat Upholstery Kit Manufacturers

Below is a selection of some of the popular DIY boat upholstery kits available on the market today. To be honest, despite lots of searching, the selection of boat upholstery kits available online is very limited unfortunately. It seems many marine and upholstery stores have not caught onto selling all-in-one DIY boat upholstery kits online, yet. Below is a selection of the stores that we have found, that service the USA with off-the-shelf boat upholstery sets and supplies online. As well as these, there are a number of stores that allow you to bring your boat in and be measured for a custom made skin, but this option is likely to be quite expensive.

C&S Marine Skin Kit for Vinyl

Website: candsmarine.com

The C&S Marine Skin Kit is a vinyl upholstery kit available for a limited number of mass-produced boats. They allow you to update the look and feel of your boat by simply reskinning the existing chairs and cushions. Their kits are high quality, and as expected for marine upholstery they are UV, water and spill resistant. The main drawback is that they are only available for specific boats, so you’ll need to contact them to check if they have an option for yours.

Great Lakes Skipper Boat Seat Cushions and Covers

Website: greatlakesskipper.com

The Great Lakes Skipper boating store sells a range of marine upholstery supplies, including premade skins for boat seats, cushions and entire seats and backrests at an affordable price. They have a large range of products that can be purchased online, and varying sizes and styles.

Deegan Marine

Website: deeganmarine

Deegan Marine sells a range of marine upholstery supplies online, including seat covers and cushions for taking charge of your own boat upholstery. They have a large range of styles and sizes available, at good prices.

Pontoon Stuff

Website: pontoonstuff.com

As the name implies, Pontoon Stuff specializes in pontoon boats. Their main focus seems to be on furnishings, that is, pontoon boat upholstery. They offer a range of pontoon boat seat kits from budget to premium. If you have a pontoon boat, this may be a good option instead of carrying out the re-upholstery work yourself.

Other Popular Marine Upholstery Products

VViViD Marine Vinyl Upholstery Kit

Website: vvividshop.com

VViViD is one of the more popular vinyl upholstery kits available on the market today, however, at the time of writing they only provide the vinyl with other accessories sold separately, rather than an all-in-one kit. In saying that, they do sell high-quality marine-grade vinyl that comes in a good selection of sizes, colors, textures, and sizes. As you would expect for a marine upholstery vinyl, the components are water resistant and UV resistant, as well as easy to clean and durable. While they seem to have a good range of colors most of these are in the black-grey-brown spectrum, so if you’re looking for something more flashy you might not find it here.

SEM M25073 Vinyl Coat Upholstery Paint Kit

Website: semproducts.com

When you can’t repair and reupholster all of the seats in your boat, you can still make sure that all of the upholstery matches with the help of the SEM vinyl paint kit. This kit is the most cost-effective solution for refreshing the interior of your boat, and includes vinyl paint, prep spray and instruction manual. As you have probably worked out, this is not a full upholstery kit, but it could be a useful and cost-effective workaround if you have found some pre-loved or discounted boat seat cushions and want to paint them in a color to match the rest of your vessel. The paint is quick drying and easy to use, however the range of colors is a bit limited; but at least you do get choices in blue, green and yellow if you’re tired of the usual monotonous beige and grey options.

Final Thoughts on DIY Boat Upholstery Kits

This brings us to the end of our chat about boat upholstery DIY kits. We hope this has given you a good idea of the options available to you, and helped you decide whether a custom-made DIY kit or carrying out your own upholstery work from scratch is the better option.

My final thoughts are that while there is demand for DIY boat upholstery kits out there, the reality is there simply aren’t many all-in-one marine do it yourself upholstery kits you can order off the shelf and install yourself. For this article, we have looked up and down for kits that serve this purpose, and only found a smattering of results. Not for lack of trying, but sorry to say the products simply don’t seem to exist… if you’re a boating enthusiast looking for a new business venture, there’s an idea for you.

This leaves you with a few options:

  • Take your boat to a marine upholsterer who can measure a custom skin for your boat seats (expensive).
  • Replace your boat seats and cushions entirely, and don’t attempt to re-upholster them. Affordable option, but for a consistent look you’d have to do them all at once, which is annoying if you only need one cushion replaced.
  • Learn to re-upholster your boat seats yourself.

The option you choose really depends on the value of the boat you have. If you’ve got a luxury yacht with a good resale potential, for Christ sake don’t practice your marine upholstery skills on it unless you’re really determined to do a super fine job of it and you’ve got a professional to guide you. On the other hand if you’ve got a cheap but cheerful fishing or recreational family boat, then I’d say take the time to learn and do it yourself.

You can learn how to do your own boat upholstery work (without a kit) in this article where we provide step-by-step instructions. That article will also give you an idea of whether it is a project you can tackle, if you’re curious.

Happy upholstering!