how to reupholster boat seats

How to Reupholster Boat Seats (Steps & Tips to Recover)

So, you're taking a look at your boat, and it just doesn't look quite as spiffy clean and polished as it used to. Well, you can thank wear and tear for that. But of all the things that can look worn and tired on your boat, your seats are most likely to take the cake. After all, seat upholstery can only last so long.

Of course, you could always try to clean the material to get it back to its original bright color. But if those old seats just aren't getting better with mildew stain removers, vinegar, and Magic Eraser, then it's probably time to repair and reupholster those bad boys. Don't worry - you won't have to bring your boat to the repair shop to get the job done. Here's how to reupholster boat seats on your own minus the sewing.

What You'll Need to Re-upholster Boat Seats

You're probably thinking that the repair of boat seat reupholstery takes a lot of resources, tools, and money. But you'd be surprised to find out that you can finish reupholstering a seat with just a few supplies from your local crafts store and hardware store.

Here are the materials you'll need to reupholster boat seats without a sewing machine:

Staple Gun

stapler gun

And not just any staple gun - a pneumatic upholstery staple gun. This fun repair tool should help you secure the vinyl upholstery to your boat seat frame minus the need for stitching.

We recommend the Surebonder Heavy Duty Stapler Gun.

Staple Remover

staple remover

If you're using a heavy duty staple gun, you're going to need a heavy duty staple remover for the repair. There are quite a lot of staples hiding under that existing upholstery, and you're going to need a proper tool to remove those tricky staples.

Check out the Bostitch Heavy Duty Staple Remover in Chrome.

Tack Strip

tack strip

This stuff goes in places where you the staples might show through the cover material on the seat. It also helps create clean edges for a more polished, professional finish.

We like the House2Home Upholstery Tack Strip.

Adhesive Spray

adhesive spray

Since you're not sewing anything, adhesive makes sense. Some parts of the upholstery cover will need more than just staples to keep the reupholstering down. An all-purpose adhesive spray should make the new material lay down as flat as possible for a better look and feel.

We find the Loctite Adhesive Spray to work great as it's also translucent.

Precision Knife

precision knife

You're going to want some nice, clean edges on your vinyl cover especially in areas where you might have curves or angles. A precision knife should help you make thin, accurate cuts for a professional reupholstery job.

This X-Acto Precision Knife works really well.

Scissors

scissors

For larger pieces of vinyl that need to be cut from the roll, you can use a pair of scissors. But not any pair will do. A set of upholstery scissors should let you glide through thick vinyl without exerting too much effort.

It's handy to get yourself some iBayam Multipurpose Scissors.

Pencil or Marker

markers

To make sure you're cutting up the right size of vinyl to replace the old stuff, you can mark out some outlines with a pencil or a marker. You also have the option to use Ogrmar Tailors Chalk.

We like the Sharpie Permanent Markers.

Measuring Tape

measuring tape

You'll always want to make sure that you're using the right size vinyl fabric and foam for the seat you're working on. Measuring tape helps guarantee accurate measurements and enough overlap cover to complete the job without wasted materials.

Check out the iBayam Measuring Tape.

Foam or Automotive Headliner

how to recover boat seats

Some parts of your seat upholstery will have foam underneath the vinyl cover. This adds both comfort and shape to the whole piece. You can replace old foam with new ones, or with automotive headliner which tends to be cheaper.

We recommend the FoamTouch Upholstery Foam or the HOMCHEK Automotive Headliner.

Vinyl Upholstery

vinyl fabric

Not any vinyl fabric will do. Marine grade vinyl fabric works best for the application since it holds up better against the conditions on a boat. Colors are up to you, with some boat owners even combining two different vinyl fabric colors on each seat to create their own design.

We really like the Marine Vinyl Fabric by The Yard available in a variety of colors.

Heat Gun

curved boat seats

This one's optional, but using a heat gun on awkward corners on curved boat seats can help lay the vinyl fabric down closer to the seat framework so you get a more polished finish and limited creases.

Check out the SEEKONE Heat Gun Kit.

How to Reupholster Boat Seats Without Sewing

repair

With all of the tools and materials at the ready, it's time to move on to the reupholstering. For this guide, we're doing away with any sewing, so you won't have to worry about working a sewing machine.

Here's how to recover boat seats to make them look brand new:

1. Measure the Seats

Of course, you want to make sure that you're buying the right size of new vinyl fabric cover and foam. To do that, you'll first have to measure the seat's materials. Remove one of the boat seats from its place and work away the vinyl fabric by removing the staples or any sewing that holds it in place. Try your best not to damage or stretch the vinyl.

Do the same with the cushion. Keep in mind though that there's going to be some resistance with the cushions since it's probably going to be stuck there with some form of glue. Some boat owners have found that it's best to spend some time pulling the foam away gently from the edges with your bare hands to prevent from damaging as you remove it.

Once all of the vinyl and cushions are off, you can get to measuring. Lay the pieces on a flat surface and take out your measuring tape. Your new foam and vinyl sheet should be exactly the same size and shape. Now you should have an idea of how much new stuff you should buy to cover all of the seats in your boat.

2. Cut Up Your New Vinyl and Foam

Now you're going to want to cut the new upholstery. But since it should be the same size as the previous foam and vinyl that was used to cover your boat seats, you have to make sure you're making precise measurements.

Lay the old vinyl sheet over the new one and trace the outlines with your marker, tailor's chalk, or pencil. Do the same with the foam cushions. Then take your precision knife and very carefully trace the lines for an exact cut. Do not cut back on the size of the overlap that folds over unseen parts of the seats thinking they're not that important. The overlap is necessary to make sure that the new cover stays in place after the repair.

Keep in mind though that some owners leave the old foam in place. Replacing the old cushions really depends on the status of the old stuff. As you repair and reupholster your seat, check to see if you need to spend on new cushions or if you can do without replacing the old stuff.

3. Secure Your Cushions and Vinyl to the Seat Base

With your vinyl sheet and your cushions (whether old or new) measured, cut, and ready, you can get to replacing the upholstery. Line up the foam with the boat seat base and spray some all-purpose adhesive to keep it in place. Then lay the vinyl sheet over the foam and flip the whole thing over.

Now you can fold the vinyl's overlap and secure it to the bottom of the base. Use your staple gun to get the job done. Some boaters prefer placing one or two staples on each border to keep the vinyl in place, and then going back over each side to get the whole sheet perfectly wrapped around the seat.

In some cases, you might find the need to secure the vinyl straight to the base without any foam in between the two. This happens when you want to create patterns or designs with two different colors or sheets of vinyl. If this happens, you might want to add a line of tac strip to the underside of the vinyl sheet to make the repair more durable and to prevent the staples from showing through the sheet.

4. Use a Heat Gun Where Necessary

If you've got curved seats, then it might be tough to get that polished look when reupholstering with stiff new boat vinyl. So for irregular edges and shapes, you can use a heat gun to make your vinyl sheet more pliable. Staple the edges into place and leave the irregular areas free. Then heat them up with your heat gun to make them easier to mold into place.

Once you've got clean folds and a quality look, you can secure the overlap underneath the base. Do this for all irregularly shaped areas so you can achieve a more reupholstering job.

How Much Does It Cost to Reupholster Seats?

More than just how to recover boat seats, most boaters ask how much the repair will cost. Well, that depends on whether you want to get it done professionally, or if you decide to tackle the job on your own. For a DIY reupholster and repair job, here's what you might expect to pay:

  • Vinyl - starts at around $18 per yard, depending on the color and thickness
  • Foam - prices vary widely, but average roughly $40 or a 74" x 24" x 2" piece
  • Staple gun - between $30 to $40, but you can get them cheaper if you're buying second hand or for absolutely free if you have a friend who will let you borrow
  • Industrial sewing machine - roughly $800, but you won't really need one if you plan to finish the job without the need to sew

Another thing that can affect the amount of money you use for your DIY boat seat reupholstering job is the number of boat seats on your vessel. The size of each individual boat seat will also make a difference in the final cost.

According to posts from boaters in boating forums, a DIY reupholster job would cost around $300 on average. Of course, that also entails that you know how to reupholster boat seats, and that you have enough patience and time for the process.

What About Professional Reupholstery?

If you don't have the time to figure out how to reupholster boat seats on your own, then you can bring your boat seats to your local professional reupholstery service. Again, prices will vary depending on the number of seats in your boat, as well as the kind of aesthetic you want to have done.

Repair services have the leverage to create a variety of designs that incorporate different patterns, styles, and colors since they have more tools and equipment at their disposal. They're also capable of sewing pieces together, making their work more durable and versatile than anything you're likely to come up with at home.

Then again, there's the cost. When you DIY reupholstering your boat seats, you might have to pay for the materials at retail value. Repair services usually get theirs at wholesale prices, which lets them cut down on that specific cost. But they easily make up for that price reduction with labor charges.

Of course, you're going to pay for the quality of their repair service. According to boaters, you can expect to pay $100 to $200 extra to get your boat seat reupholstering done by an actual reupholstery and repair service. More high-end repair services might charge extra, but provide even better quality results that could make you feel like you have a new boat all together.

Is It Necessary to Replace Boat Seat Cover?

After all, you could always just clean your boat seats. So is it really necessary to repair or replace the foam or vinyl? Well, the simple answer is yes, it may reach a point of necessity. Cleaning your boat seats will only work until a certain extent. As you clean them through the years, you will find that the constant scrubbing, rubbing, and product application will wear away the vinyl and make it impossible to get the seats to look clean.

Even the strongest, highest quality marine-grade vinyl and foam will give in to wear and tear over time. Reupholstering gives you the leverage to repair and restore the seats to their brand new look and feel without having to shell out as much as you would on a replacement set of seats.

Tips for Reupholstering Seats

reupholstering your boat seats

The process of how to reupholster boat seats isn't something that most boaters are aware of. So it can feel pretty daunting to tackle such a major repair on your watercraft, but anyone can reupholster seats with the right attitude. But to make sure you've minimized the margin of error as much as possible, here are a few extra tips to help you get the job done:

Choose Colors Carefully

Light vinyl colored seats get dirtied up crazy fast. Choose neutral, dark colors to extend the lifespan of your seats and prevent dark stains from making them look tired and worn.

Check Your Work As You Go

Sometimes, you could end up securing a whole piece of vinyl, only to turn the seat over and find that it looks lopsided, crinkled, and just plain wrong. As you secure each side, see to it that you turn the seat over to see how it's coming along. Tug the vinyl to keep it taut across the foam, and feel free to pry off and replace staples to achieve a smoother look.

Don't Skimp on Vinyl and Foam Quality

A lot of times, owners are most concerned with the cost of replacing seat covers. But buying the cheapest stuff on the market could work against you. Look for marine-grade vinyl for your seat covers and don't be afraid to extend your budget to buy premium fabrics and foams. This can keep you from having to replace your cover too often.

Replace Rotten Wood

If your boat seats are a few years old, then it's possible that it's more than just the seat cover that needs replacing. Rotten wood can't be reused, so you may have to consider buying new marine plywood and measuring it out to match the original. If you don't have the willingness to add that extra step of replacing the wood, then you might want to consider buying new seats all together.

Minimize Crooks and Folds

As much as possible, you'll want to minimize and crooks and folds when reupholstering your seats. A seat cover with lots of little nooks and crannies will be harder to clean. Use a heat gun if at all possible and try to lay down the vinyl as cleanly as you can to make sure the seats have as little folds as you can manage.

A Cost-Effective Way to Make Your Seats Look New

It's normal for a vinyl upholstered seat to look tired and worn over time. But buying a new seat shouldn't have to be your first option. Reupholstering a seat might seem like a lot of repair work, but you can actually get it done without sewing the foam or the cover.

Not all boaters know how to reupholster boat seats, but this handy guide should tell you all you need. Just make sure you're choosing premium materials and you don't rush through the process so you can come up with a set of seats you can be proud of.

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