UpholsterCycle DIY Upholstery

Step-by-Step Guide to Repairing Boat Upholstery Seats

repairing boat upholstery guide

Repairing boat upholstery has its own unique challenges not found in other types of upholstery. In this guide, we explain how to repair damaged boat seats yourself, using inexpensive tools and materials.

Unlike other forms of upholstery such as car or home furniture, boat upholstery is exposed to UV light, high wear and tear, and of course a constant spray as the boat pounds through the waves. But, that does not mean that a DIY enthusiast cannot carry out their own upholstery repair for boats at home. We explain how to assess the damage, discuss boat seat upholstery repair kits, and how to do your own repairs from simple to severe damage.

Assessing the BOAT UPHOLSTERY Damage

The first step in repairing any boat upholstery is to assess the actual damage. Is it just superficial, or is the foam damaged? Maybe the underlying framework is bent or corroded. If you don’t take these things into consideration before you start any upholstery project, then you may have the boat out of the water for longer than expected.

If you are considering more extensive repairs and upholstery replacement, check out our article on choosing a boat upholstery DIY kit for further help.

Slight Damage

Luckily, most damage is considered slight. That is, the damage itself can be easily fixed using off-the-shelf repair kits that can be found at any upholstery supplier. So long as the seats are vinyl and are in decent shape, a restoration kit can quickly and easily fix the damage. The kit itself is specifically designed to help conceal any broken fabric.

However, before you can use a restoration kit to fix the slight damage on your boat upholstery, there are a number of important factors that must be taken into consideration. You may not be able to find a perfect match for your seat’s color. The scratch itself may be too large or in an awkward location which makes using a kit more difficult. And of course, the quality of the kit plays an important role in how long it will last.

Considerations When Buying a Boat Seat Upholstery Repair OR RESTORATION Kit

Seat Cover Color

If your boat is a common make and model, then chances are you might be able to find a good restoration kit for it. You may need to reach out to the manufacturer. However, many boats are older, and some were even handmade. This will make replicating the color and texture more difficult. Moreover, it will be virtually impossible to find a kit for boat upholstery that is of a non-standard color.

Scratch Size and Position

The larger and longer a tear is, the harder it will be to fix it. This is important because of how vinyl is made. The vinyl used for boat upholstery makes use of a threaded mat that’s embedded into the material. When the tear is too long, these fibers are damaged to the point where repairing them will be futile.

When the scratches or tears are located at the edge, or even near the edge of the seat, they can be very difficult to repair. As a result, if the scratch is too large, or is too close to the edge, it is generally recommended to replace the upholstery rather than attempting to repair it.

Quality of Boat Seat Kit

Not all kits are of equal quality. As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. If you try to cut corners and save some cash, you may find yourself with a repair kit that provides less-than-acceptable results. If you decide to use a kit, take your time in finding one that matches the color and texture of your vinyl better. Sometimes it is best to take a sample with you to the store, in order to match it up.

Severe Damage to the SEAT Base

Next off, you have severe damage to the base. After you have determined just how severe the damage is to the old seat cover, you need to look at the underlying base of the seat. You would be amazed at how often boat owners will simply replace the upholstery, but leave the base in a terrible state.

Pay close attention to whether there is any mold on the seats, in the foam, or under the base. If the mold is not taken care of when you reupholster the seats, it will come back and damage the new seats. As a result, it’s important to take steps to prevent any further mold from reoccurring in the future. This also means checking your boat cover, to make sure that the seats are not going to be exposed to any moisture when it is not being used.

Damaged Foam

Chances are, that if your upholstery is damaged, the foam may also be damaged as well. It’s not uncommon for boat owners to simply replace the vinyl seat cover, and leave the foam as it is. Unfortunately, there may be chunks of foam missing, or the foam may have lost its bounce back through years of service. If the foam is damaged, it must be replaced or repaired before you recover it.

This will give you the opportunity to inspect any underlying wood that may have been used in the seat construction. If the wood itself is starting to decay, then it is probably best to replace it as well. Decaying wood is an excellent source of moisture, and that can result in the decomposition of the foam and the formation of mold and mildew.

Step-by-Step Guide to Repairing Boat Upholstery

Now that we have assessed our damage, it’s time to start repairing the upholstery on your boat seats.

What You Will Need

In order to repair your boat upholstery, you are going to need the following tools:

  • Marine Grade Vinyl
  • Staple Gun
  • Heavy Sewing Shears
  • Carpet Tacker
  • Spare Cuts of Wood
  • Any Foam Needed

If you are considering replacing or repairing boat upholstery using a kit, read the tips on purchasing and putting together a kit above, before you continue.

#1 Measure the Cover

Start simply by measuring the actual cover. This is an important first step because it ensures that the replacement vinyl and any foam that you purchased is the right size. Although it may be possible to find a kit that is specifically designed for your particular boat, most DIYers will need to modify the foam in order to fit accordingly. It is important to ensure that the foam is large enough for the seat and that the vinyl is of sufficient quality.

When you are ready, remove the original vinyl cover, and using a seam ripper, separate it into its individual pieces. You’ll want to make sure to take the time to lay all the pieces out flat so that you can get an accurate template in order to reproduce the original seat design.

#2 Cutting the Foam and Vinyl

While you are flattening out the pieces of vinyl, it’s time to start working on the foam itself. The foam is generally adhered to the underlying substrate using a spray adhesive. Check to make sure that the foam is properly secured to the base, and if not, you will need to re-affix it. If the foam needs to be replaced completely, you will need to scrape off the original foam and begin working with the replacement. An electric bread slicer is perfect for this job.

By the time you are finished with the foam, you should be able to make your patterns and cut the new replacement vinyl pieces. Make sure to use a pair of sharp heavy handled shears to cut the vinyl. Regular household scissors are not designed for cutting such thick material with any level of precision.

Once the pieces are cut, you can begin to sew them back together. Pay close attention to your stitching as you go, and remember that the seats will be exposed to moisture. Always use a good quality thread that is specifically designed for use with marine-grade vinyl.

#3 Attaching the Vinyl and Foam

Next is the fun part, which is reattaching the new vinyl to the foam. The vinyl itself should be slightly smaller than the foam because it will compress the foam once it is pulled tight. Start with the front, and then stretch the rest of the vinyl cover over the sides and back. Using a tacker, attach each side of the vinyl to the base first.

Flip the seat over and ensure that the cover is properly aligned before you start stapling along the edges. It is always best to begin at the front and work your way back, as the front is the most visible portion of the seat. Carefully pull the vinyl tight and work from one side to side to ensure that it is stretched even all the way back.

#4 Reinstall the Seats

Once you have reattached the foam padding and the vinyl cover, you can begin reinstalling the seat. When you originally removed the seat from the pedestal, you should have taken note of the location of all of the bolts and hardware, so that it can be reassembled completely. Always make sure to take photos using your camera during the demolition part, and then reassemble everything using the photos as a reference.

#5 Apply Protectant

Since these seats will be exposed to the elements, you will need to use a vinyl protectant in order to preserve the seat cover. A couple of options include 3M Vinyl Cleaner and 303 Marine and Recreation Aerospace Protectant, amongst others. Once everything is fully assembled, you can then begin the process of applying the protectant. This is one thing you should not skimp on. While there are a number of extremely affordable protectants available on the market today, they may not provide you with the protection that you need. We discuss products and techniques in greater detail in our article on cleaning boat upholstery.

Final Thoughts on Repairing Boat Upholstery

As you can now see, the extent and complexity of repairing damaged boat upholstery really comes down to the severity of the damage. For simple cracks and rips, a boat upholstery repair kit may do the job.

For severe damage, such as large tears and damaged foam, chances are high that you will need to replace the entire seat, maybe even the base. If this is the case, we suggest you check out our article on options for replacing boat upholstery to see if this is a job you are ready to DIY or leave to a professional.

In addition to this article, we also suggest you read our article on reupholstering furniture exposed to rain, sun and soil for more tips on choosing fabrics and other considerations.

Lastly, once you have repaired your boat seat cushions, make sure you start a regular boat upholstery maintenance habit if you haven’t already, with these boat upholstery cleaning tips. This will ensure your boat upholstery stays looking good and functional for years to come. No one likes mildewed boat seats, after all.