How to Replace Marine Upholstery

If you spend a lot of time on your boat, your upholstery gets exposed to sun, wind, rain and other weather elements. It’ll probably start to crack, tear or fade in time and need replacing. If you’re wondering whether replacing marine upholstery is difficult to do and how quickly it can be done, here are some tips to help.

Replacement boat upholstery.

Pay Someone Else to Do It

It can take a certain level of patience and skill to do boat upholstery repair or replacement yourself. There’s no shame in paying someone else to do it if you’re short of time or the necessary skills. However, when you talk with various upholstery installers, make sure that they’ve worked on boats. It’s very different upholstering a car seat or couch compared with a boat.

If you’ve never done a boat upholstery project or any type of upholstery project, you may want to shadow a specialist and help out on a few projects before attempting to replace the fabric on your own boat. Alternatively, have an experienced buddy help you out (and buy your bud some pizza afterward to say thanks!).

How to reupholster boat seats.

Do It Yourself

If you decide to do the replacement yourself, then the seemingly obvious first step is to remove the existing boat fabric. Not so fast, though. Actually, take pictures of the old upholstery from multiple angles while it’s still on the boat so you have points for comparison. When you do each piece, take close-up pictures beforehand and as you remove the staples and the skin. Also, if you’re tempted to cut the skin off, don’t. You risk leaving staples in and messing up your new job.

Replace each piece one at a time rather than removing all of your upholstery then going back in to cover everything. When you do it little by a little, your memory is fresher as to how a cover should look.

Where do you get this new vinyl upholstery or other fabric, though? You can make it yourself or order new skins from a company you trust. Once your new upholstery arrives, prep it according to the instructions from the company. You may have to spread the fabric to avoid fold marks and may even need to steam the material before installing it. Common tools for installation include seam removers, slip film, a screwdriver, staple remover, stapler, stainless steel staples and spray adhesive. You should also keep welt cord piping, welt trim, bonded polyester thread and marine-grade foam handy.

Learn about DIY boat upholstery.

As you remove existing fabrics, check the foam to ensure it’s still usable. If the foam has gone flat, good thing that you have new marine-grade foam to step in. Go a little larger than may seem necessary because new upholstery will compress the foam. You can use Dacron if only small areas or corners need attention.

Now comes a lot of sewing and stapling. Use needles and thread to replicate the current pattern or devise your own. You can use sewing machines if you want, but they can be dangerous. Wait to trim any extra fabric off until you are 100 percent sure that everything fits as it should.

Another thing to wait on until after installation is nearly complete: the cutting of holes. For example, don’t cut your speaker holes before you’ve installed the fabric. Also, don’t use ordinary pens. Pencil marks or grease marks do the job just fine for identifying where stripes, welt, cording and other pieces start and stop.

One last tip is to cover the foam with plastic slip film before you install new upholstery. This speeds the process along considerably, keeps some water out and makes the new fabric look better.

There can be some trial and error involved in replacing marine upholstery, but when done right, the result is a beautiful boat and many more adventures on the water.

Leave a Reply

  • Is there a company that has a website i can custom design my car seats to be recovered…i can either send them my skins off my seats now and they will send me my new ones by mail?

  • I liked that you explained that upholstery repair or replacement takes a lot of patience and skill. I would imagine that trying to repair or replace upholstery yourself would be stressful and frustrating. I would consider hiring a professional to take care of it for me so that I can be stress-free.

  • Very helpful. Thank you for taking the time.

  • How do you decide when to use 1/4″ foam backing on your vinyl when reupholstering boat seats?

  • It’s helpful to know that we should look for someone that specifically has experience working with boats because other upholstery works differently. We’re thinking of restoring our old boat so that we can use it this summer, and the seats are worn down enough that we want them fixed. I don’t have the experience to feel comfortable doing it myself, so we might want to find a professional that has done it before.