‘Composite’ is such a loose term. It actually refers to a lot of different things, as long as they combine two different materials together. For instance, ceramic matrix, reinforced plastic, and even plywood are all composite materials. But in the world of pontoon boating, composite simply refers to boat decking material.
Back in the day, teak was the golden standard when it came to boat decking. But things have changed rapidly over the last few years, and composite is making a splash. Even then, there are a lot of reservations about composite in the boating world. So we’re here we're going to provide you with all the information you need in regards to pontoon boat composite decking and whether it's worth it or not.
What is Composite Decking?
Composite decking refers to a number of decking materials that uses a combination of different raw materials to produce a sturdy, rot-proof flooring that’s ideal for use on a boat. Strictly speaking, composite can pertain to over a hundred different types of material, but in the boating industry, it mainly refers to PVC, EVA, or polyurethane.
Contrary to popular belief, PVC - otherwise known as vinyl - is actually a type of composite flooring. Vinyl is sold in the form of planks or tiles that you can purchase online and fit to your boat. In general, PVC provides lasting performance, water resistance, and a non-skid texture that makes it ideal for boats with children and elderly passengers.
EVA on the other hand is a rubbery soft material that provides a cushy underfoot feel. This composite choice is cut to match your deck’s size and shape, and then is glued in place with adhesive. They’re impressively durable and comfortable to walk on, but harsh weather often gets the best of EVA.
Finally, polyurethane comes out on top as one of the best composite decking choices. This material provides durable performance that comes in a range of faux-wood colors and textures. They’re pleasing to the eyes and are usually machine cut to perfectly fit your boat. Needless to say, they’re also relatively more expensive.
The Pros of Composite Decking
Composite decking offers some pretty sweet benefits. Especially these days when manufacturers have worked hard to improve their product, modern-day composite is way more impressive than the composite in the past which has often gotten an overwhelmingly negative response.
If you’re still on the fence about whether you should give composite a try, these benefits should help you understand whether this stuff is truly for you.
This has to be composite’s biggest plus. Composite decking generally doesn’t absorb moisture, so you don’t need to worry too much about stains and smells. Spot treatment can be insanely easy since moisture and spills can wipe right off. Composite decking also doesn’t require routing deep cleaning like carpet, which means you can just wipe and scrub any problem areas and keep your boat sparkling clean (see how to get black stains out of pontoon carpet here).
UV radiation can easily destroy flooring material especially if your boat is constantly moored under the hot sun. Even then, composite seems to survive just fine even with extended sun exposure. The material doesn’t get brittle or lose its color like carpet or wood. Keep in mind though that some vinyl materials, despite being composite, won’t do too well under harsh weather conditions.
Rot typically comes as the result of extended moisture exposure or water-logging. When a material doesn’t have any means to drain water, the moisture sits on the surface for extended periods of time, causing bacteria to thrive. This eats away at the material, developing all sorts of problems like mold and mildew along the way.
Composite generally doesn’t absorb moisture. These materials take the form similar to plastic, which means they’re not likely to let any moisture penetrate. Of course, EVA might be an exception due to its rubbery texture. But even then, EVA is far less absorbent than carpet or wood.
Despite being pretty affordable, composite material is one of the longest lasting pontoon boat flooring choices you’ll find. The stuff was made for the long haul, so that amount you pay today might serve you just fine for the next several years or so. Of course, that also entails that you take proper care of your deck. But even with minimal care, composite seems to do just fine.
Another thing is that most composite materials are recyclable. That’s because composite can be processed into brand new composite material, which means that it has an almost endless life cycle ideal for eco-conscious boaters.
The Cons of Composite Material
Well, it’s anything but perfect. While composite definitely has some upsides, there are some noteworthy downsides as well. Understanding where the material could possibly fall short of expectations should give you a more holistic understanding of whether the stuff actually is for you.
Weight and Structural Stability
This has been one of the major concerns among boat owners looking to find new boat decking material. Some composite material can be heavy, which may impact your boat’s weight rating. But then again, newer composite choices rarely ever come at such dangerous weights, so it’s really a matter of choosing the right composite.
If you do manage to get your hands on the heavy stuff, you’re going to find that it might sag close to the center where there’s less framework to hold up its weight. That said, some boat owners might have to install extra supports underneath the material to prevent it from dipping.
While it definitely looks like wood, composite won’t always feel like wood. Even the most intricate replicates of wood look and texture might fall short of that wood standard once you walk across the surface. Composite can feel very plastic-y which might not work for you if you’re looking for something a little more luxurious. And the fact that composite often isn’t seamless might give away the fact that it isn’t actually wood.
Some boat owners have found that composite can actually change its size with changing temperatures. Under significant heat, composite can stretch and expand, while colder temps force it to contract. If you live in an area where extreme weather changes are common, then your composite flooring might give in to some wear and tear especially along the edges.
It’s also been pointed out that composite flooring can get pretty hot underfoot. Most composite materials absorb heat from the sun pretty well, conducting that heat so that it feels uncomfortable to walk on. Unfortunately, this could also make your entire boat a little warmer than usual, which probably isn’t what you would want if you were heading out for a refreshing swim.
How to Choose Composite Decking for Pontoon Boats
There are lots of different kinds of composite material out there, so don’t be surprised if you find the selection to be pretty overwhelming. On the upside, there are a few considerations you can keep in mind to help narrow down your choices and lead you to the right material.
Some composite materials can be extra slippery, especially when they get wet. And because it will definitely get wet, you’re going to want something that won’t cause a slip and fall. Fortunately, composite flooring that tries to replicate wood will come with a more textured surface. This doesn’t only make it look more authentic, but also provides more traction to prevent injuries and accidents.
To be perfectly honest, some composite material can look drab and utilitarian. So if you want your flooring to upgrade your boat’s look, you might want to look for composite that tries to look like wood or tile. Designs, colors, and patterns are limitless with composite, allowing you to choose a look that best fits your boat and your preferences. Others even come with hidden fasteners that create a more seamless look on deck.
On the topic of colors, it helps to choose your shade wisely. Darker composite will absorb heat more readily. And because the material can get warm, it might help to choose something a little lighter. If you live in hot climates, or if you don’t have a covered garage or a shaded area to park or moor your pontoon, opt for light faux-wood designs, or neutral light shades.
If you feel confident in your DIY skills, then you might be able to install that composite decking on your own. But since some materials require technical know-how for cutting and installing, you might need professional assistance. With that, it’s also important that you factor in the cost of installation and how it might impact the price you pay overall.
Can’t Go Wrong with Composite
The composite of today is a far cry from how things were way back when teak topped the charts. Providing durability, aesthetics, and low-maintenance performance, this often affordable choice can easily keep your boat looking clean, pristine, and stylish. So to settle the great debate on pontoon flooring materials and whether pontoon boat composite decking is any good, it’s really still up to your preferences. But based on most boaters’ experiences, you can’t really go wrong with composite.