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How to Choose Fabric for Boat Upholstery

how to choose fabric for boat upholstery

When choosing fabric for boat upholstery, you need material that is designed to withstand the outdoor marine environment. Here, we explain how to choose the right fabric for your boat seats.

The very nature of boats as vehicles to be used on open water, means that their upholstery is exposed to a wide range of harsh outdoor environments. Boat seats need to withstand hot summer sun, wind, sea spray, salt water, even mold and fish bait… all the while remaining attractive and comfortable to sit on.

Most regular upholstery fabrics are not built to withstand the challenging outdoor environment that boat upholstery is faced with. For marine vessels, you need upholstery material with special characteristics such as UV resistance and stain resistance.

In this article, we explain how to choose appropriate fabric for boat upholstery to ensure your seats last for years to come.

Importance of Choosing the Right Fabric for Boat Upholstery

When selecting fabric for boat upholstery, it’s important to take time to choose the correct fabric for the job. There are a number of important factors that you need to take into consideration when you are making your selection. These factors include durability, comfort, protection, ease of maintenance, as well as the aesthetic appeal and the long-term cost-effectiveness of the fabric area although you could choose the cheapest fabric available on the market today, taking the time to select the right upholstery material for marine vessels will improve the boating experience and the boat’s value.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Fabric for Boat Upholstery

Main Requirements for Boat Upholstery Materials

Durability

Unlike upholstery that is used within a home or even in a car, boat upholstery is exposed to far harsher conditions, especially when the boat is used in saltwater. Selecting a durable fabric will ensure that it is capable of withstanding the harsh sunlight, and moisture-rich, saline conditions that boats are regularly exposed to. A good fabric for boat upholstery should not just be extremely durable, but it should also be resistant to UV rays, mildew, mold, and fading.

Water and Stain Resistance

Because a boat is used on the water, fabric for boat upholstery should be water resistant. A quality water-resistant coating will help to prevent the fabric from absorbing moisture which can ultimately create the perfect breeding grounds for mildew and mold. But you do not want something that is only water resistant, because it is also important to choose something that offers some form of stain resistance and is thus easier to clean. Check the cleaning instructions before settling on a fabric.

Comfort

Not all fabric used for boats is comfortable to sit on. The fabric needs to be soft to the touch, provide sufficient cushioning, and be breathable. Keep in mind that you will usually be wearing a bathing suit, which means that your skin will come in contact with the fabric for extended periods of time. While it may cost more for a softer, more comfortable-feeling fabric, it is well worth the additional price.

Easy Maintenance

Beyond regular exposure to salt and water, boats are also exposed to dirt and sand. It’s important to make sure that you select a fabric that is easy to clean and maintain on a regular basis. You want something that can simply be wiped or sprayed down in a matter of minutes. Fabrics for boat upholstery that are quick drying, are the best option as they will prevent the development of mold, mildew, and odors.

Aesthetics

Aesthetics also play a very important role when selecting a good fabric for boat upholstery. Not only should you be ensuring that the color matches the boat design, but that you select a pattern or texture that does not contrast with the overall look and feel of the boat. While personalizing your boat is a great way to distinguish it from the others, always remember to take into consideration the resale value of the boat in the event that you have to let it go.

UV Protection

Although this may seem obvious, many cheaper boat fabrics do not actually have any true form of UV protection. It’s important to remember that your boat is out in the sun all day long. The UV rays can fade and discolor the fabric as well as cause it to degrade over time. Think about a car that you or a friend had in the past, where the fabric seats eventually start to crack and rip. This degradation is caused by UV rays.

marine grade material
When selecting material you want to make sure it looks good, but always ensure it is marine-grade.

Fabric for Boat Upholstery Specifications

Fabric Type

When it comes to selecting upholstery material for boats, there are a wide array of different fabrics that are available today. You will have your selection from a myriad of breathable fabrics such as nylon, polyester, or acrylic. Make sure to research what fabric will suit your particular needs best before making a final selection.

Thread Count

Just like buying fabric for a home, boat upholstery fabric comes in a wide selection of thread counts. A higher thread count results in a more comfortable fabric but can increase the cost substantially.

Strength and Tear Resistance

It’s important to take into consideration the strength and tear resistance of the various materials available on the market today. Some fabrics that tend to be stronger and less resistant to tear, are more likely to be uncomfortable to sit on when compared to fabrics that stretch more readily.

Breathability

Since fabric allows moisture to flow from one side to the other, it is important to make sure to choose a fabric that breathes easily. Some upholstery materials don’t allow water to evaporate as quickly as it should, which can cause moisture buildup and lead to the formation of mildew and mold.

fabric for boat upholstery
There are a number of stores online that sell boat upholstery fabric nowadays, as well as in-person retailers.

Where to Find the Best Fabric for Boat Upholstery

When it comes to locating the best fabric for boat upholstery, you have a number of different options to choose from. You can go to any number of local marine suppliers, hit up the local boat shows and expos, try a local upholstery shop, or even purchase the fabrics online.

In Person Stores and Markets

Marine Upholstery Suppliers

Most major cities throughout the country have marine suppliers in the area. While most boat owners go to the suppliers simply for accessories for their boats, many suppliers also have access to upholstery. You want to make sure that the material you select is specifically designed for use on boats and in marine conditions.

Boat Shows and Expos

Another good source of fabric for boat upholstery is at the local boat shows. In fact, boat shows are probably one of the best options for locating marine-grade fabrics, at the cheapest prices possible. Many vendors like to showcase their latest products at these events, and may even offer them at huge discounts.

Local Upholstery Shops

It’s also possible to find marine fabric in any local upholstery shop. Although not all local upholstery shops will actually carry marine-grade upholstery fabrics for boats, if you are looking to save some money they might have a large selection of other water-resistant options to choose from.

Recommendations from Boat Manufacturers or Dealers

When all else fails, you can simply go to any local boat manufacturer or dealer and ask them for their recommendations. Regardless of whether you purchased your boat, or through the classifieds, manufacturers and dealers are an excellent source for quality information regarding boat upholstery.

Online Boat Upholstery Fabric Dealers

Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to check out the local brick-and-mortar shops in their city. For this reason, more and more people are turning to the Internet for fabric dealers. The most common source of Marine fabric is through online retailers. There are a number of excellent websites that have a wide selection of fabric for boat upholstery to choose from. Some of the biggest names in the industry include Defender, Sailrite, and Outdoor Textiles can be found online.

Sailrite

Website: https://www.sailrite.com/

Sailrite is one of the pioneers of online boat upholstery fabrics. They specialize in selling nothing but marine-grade upholstery fabrics for boats, as well as a wide selection of other accessories for DIY boat enthusiasts. In fact, their number one product is sail kits which are available for just about any boat that has ever been sold completely assembled or in a kit form. Sailrite has been in the marine business since it opened back in 1969. They are one of the oldest and most well-respected Marine fabric businesses in the industry.

Pros
  • Extensive Product Range
  • DIY Friendly
  • Resources and Tutorials
  • Great Customer Service
Cons
  • Expensive Specialty Upholstery Fabrics for Boats
Features
  • Extensive Product Line
  • Excellent Customer Service
  • Knowledgeable Staff
  • A Wide Selection of Tools and Accessories for Boats

Outdoor Textiles

Website: https://www.outdoortextiles.com/

Outdoor Textiles is a leading provider of marine-grade fabrics. Not only do they offer a large selection of fabrics and materials for upholstering boats and outdoor furniture, but they also provide a wide assortment of accessories and tools to help you get the job done right. Outdoor Textiles has been in the business since 1985 when the company first opened as an awning supplier. Over the years, they continued to expand their profile to include materials for outdoor lawn furniture, before moving into the marine industry.

Pros
  • Diverse Selection
  • Reasonable Prices
  • User-Friendly Website
Cons
  • Focuses Mostly on Brick-And-Mortar Sales
  • Limited Showroom Hours
Features
  • Large Selection of Marine Grade Upholstery Material for Boats
  • Affordable Fabric Prices
  • Easy to Navigate Website

Defender Marine

Website: https://www.defender.com/

Defender Marine is one of the leading online retailers that cater to every aspect of boating. Not only do they offer marine-grade upholstery material for boats, but they provide a wide selection of accessories and tools for building and maintaining boats. Defender Marine first opened its doors back in 1938 and has been continuously providing quality marine-grade products to boating enthusiasts throughout the country and the world ever since.

Pros
  • Wide Range of Products Available
  • Highly Competitive Pricing
  • Well-Established Reputation in the Industry
Cons
  • Focuses Mostly on Marine Products
  • Limited Focus on Upholstery Fabrics
Features
  • Largest Selection of Marine Products Available Online
  • Most Competitive Pricing on the Internet
  • Offers More Than Just Fabric and Upholstery Products and Tools
  • Has Been in the Business since 1938

Great Lakes Skipper

Website: https://www.greatlakesskipper.com/

The Great Lakes Skipper has been specializing in boat parts, kits, accessories, and upholstery for more than 5 decades. As a result, they offer one of the largest selections of marine-grade fabrics in the Great Lakes area. The Great Lakes Skipper is a family-owned business that has been operating for more than 50 years in the southeastern Wisconsin area. They have been online since 2002.

Pros
  • Extensive Inventory of Boat Parts
  • Large Selection of Boat Accessories
  • Easy to Use Website
  • Competitive Pricing
Cons
  • Limited Focus on Upholstery
  • Focuses Mostly on Their Primary Offerings
Features
  • Wide Selection of Boat Accessories
  • Very Affordable Pricing
  • Smooth and Easy Purchasing Experience
  • Sufficient Experience in the Upholstery Industry

Marine Vinyl Fabric

Website: https://www.marinevinylfabric.com/

Marine Vinyl Fabric is a popular online retailer that specializes in providing some of the largest selections of marine-grade vinyl and upholstery fabrics for boating enthusiasts around the world. They offer a wide selection of vinyl and fabric for just about any type of boating need. Marine Vinyl Fabric was established back in 2015 exclusively as an online retailer.

Pros
  • Specializes in Marine Vinyl
  • Excellent Selection of Marine Fabrics
  • User-Friendly Website
Cons
  • Limited Experience in the Industry
Features
  • Specializes in Marine Vinyls and Upholstery Fabrics for Boats
  • Extremely Large Selection of Fabrics
  • Easy to Navigate Website
  • Purchases Made Simple

Veada

Website: https://veada.com/

Veada is a very popular online retailer that specializes in boat furniture and upholstery needs. As a result, they offer one of the largest selections of marine-grade fabrics for just about any project. Veada first opened its doors back in 1967 and has been consistently providing some of the highest quality boat upholstery options in the country ever since.

Pros
  • Extensive Selection
  • Provides Premade Seats
  • Customization Available
  • Well-Established Presence in the Industry
Cons
  • Focuses Exclusively on Fabrics Only
  • Limited Experience with Other Boat Products
Features
  • Specializes in Building and Customizing Boat Seats
  • Offers a Wide Array of Upholstery Materials
  • Provides Customization for Many of Its Products
  • Long-Standing Presence in the Industry
  • Specializes in Marine Grade Fabrics and seating

FInal Thoughts on CHoosing Upholstery Material for Boats

This brings us to the end of our article on selecting upholstery material for boats. To recap, the main specifications you should look out for are:

  • Durable, marine-grade fabric
  • Stain resistance (from bait, fish blood, spilt drinks, stray engine oil, mold from storage)
  • UV resistance (to withstand the summer sun)
  • Comfort and aesthetics

For more tips on upholstering your boat seats, check out our step-by-step guide to repairing boat upholstery and selecting a suitable boat upholstery kit. Also make sure to check out our tips for cleaning your boat upholstery to ensure it stays in tip-top shape for many years, and isn’t ruined by mold or mildew damage.

Happy boating!