How to Make Cockpit Cushions


The cushions in your boat’s cockpit see a lot of wear and tear. They are frequently sat on and exposed to wind, rain, and sea spray. So it’s no surprise that after years of use or when you purchase a pre-owned boat, you almost always need to replace the cockpit cushions. Making your own cushions not only will save you money, but will also allow you to choose all the materials to create the most durable, longest-lasting cushions possible. Our latest how-to video will walk you step-by-step through the process of making your own custom cockpit cushions.

Cockpit cushions have to be more durable than your typical box cushions, so the performance qualities of each of the materials you select for your cushion should be carefully considered. For the cushions on our Islander 37 sailboat, we chose Sunbrella Marine Grade Fabric in Jockey Red to match the rest of the canvas on the boat. Sunbrella Marine Grade is the perfect choice for cockpit cushions because it is water resistant, durable and breathable.

Since the cushions will see a lot of moisture, we used Dry Fast foam, which is an open cell foam that won’t trap water and moisture. We also used a cushion underlining material as the bottom plate of the cushion. Cushion underlining is an open weave polyester with a vinyl coating that keeps the cushions from sliding around and also allows for water to drain out of the bottom of the cushion. It’s also a great way to save a little money, because the cushion underlining fabric is very affordable.

In this video, you’ll learn how to pattern your own cushions from scratch, sew piping, create a zipper plaque, and assemble your own cushions.


Materials List:

All of the materials needed to make cockpit cushions, including Sunbrella Marine Grade Fabric by the yard, are available at

Want written instructions to read along with the video? Full written instructions for this project are included in the 2014 Sailrite Marine Catalog! Request your copy today!

Have you ever made your own cockpit cushions? How did they turn out? What weather proofing techniques did you use? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments!

  1. Hannah Gardner said:

    I have had good luck using Phifertex and four inch Dry Fast, makes for comfortable napping!

  2. John Hughes said:

    Great video, esp. since I’m just about to re-make my cockpit cushions. I’ve got a sewing question or two, and some design questions.

    Any special considerations for making cushions with vinyl fabric rather than sunbrella? The vinyl’s got a bit of stretch to it, so is the 1+% added length on the zipper side still needed?

    When you’re sewing the box-panels together to make one continuous box, Eric says “use a stitch 6mm or longer here”, and I’m wondering why. For a 1.5″ cushion, that’s only about 6 stitches. Is it cosmetic? Will a smaller stitch cause puckering or something?

    The cushions you’ve shown are long; when the boat’s heeling, the aft ends will tend to slide off to leeward and tangle with the helmsperson’s legs. If they were shorter, fitting just about the length of the cockpit lockers, for example (so that the forward cushion becomes a pair of ell-shaped pieces), the problem’s even worse — the whole cushion wants to slide downhill. Any ideas for keeping it in place, while still making it easy to open the cockpit locker?

    I’m planning to use Phiftertex for the bottom panel of my cushions (the foam in them is closed-cell, by the way). Are there any problems I should be concerned about?

    Last but not least, the cushions I’m replacing have piping top and bottom (they’re all vinyl), but you went with piping only on the top. Is there a reason for this?

    Thanks in advance,


    • Nikki said:

      Hi John,

      Good luck on starting your new cockpit cushions! We’d love to see photos of them when you’re done. To answer your questions, there are not really any special considerations needed when making vinyl cushions. Even if your vinyl stretches, follow the same 1% added length on the zipper plaque rule. You want the zipper plaque to be the exact size of the plate, so it’s a good idea to add the 1% and after the zipper is sewn, you can always cut down the boxing if it’s too long.

      As for the stitch length, we recommend at least a 6 mm stitch to reduce needle puckering and to create less needle holes that water could leak into. You could use a shorter stitch length, especially on a short seam, but really for vinyl you’d want at least a 5 mm stitch anyway, since shorter stitches tend to perforate the material.

      To keep the cushions in place, install a snap on the bottom of the cushion (just reinforce the area where the button and socket will be installed). Then you can use a YKK SNAD (!&ea_q=SNADs) on the deck to snap to it.

      Finally, Phifertex should be a great choice to let the water escape under your cushion. And our choice to use piping on the top only was just preference. It’s common to put piping on the top and bottom.

      Hope this helps and thanks for reading!

  3. Teremoana said:

    I’m not sure about the wisdom of using open cell foam for cockpit cushions if the boat is going to be sailed a lot. The open foam is a little more comfortable and cheaper, but it takes forever to dry. Also, closed cell foam floats better, which is important if they wind up over the side. I use a high visibility fabric on the bottom for the same reason.

    • Nikki said:

      You’re right, closed cell foam is an excellent choice for cockpit cushions. The flotation is a great benefit! However, the open cell Dry Fast foam that we suggest using, while it doesn’t float, also does not retain any water like a less expensive, polyurethane foam would. The open cells in Dry Fast allow the water to run straight through.

  4. Maggie said:

    Hi, I am making cockpit cushions with closed cell foam. They will have sunbrella tops and mesh bottoms. I like the look of cushions that have a polyester wrap. Is it ok to wrap the top of the closed cell foam for these outdoor cushions?

    • Nikki said:

      Hi Maggie,
      It will be just fine to wrap the top of your cushions in batting. The batting might soak up some water if it gets wet, but with the mesh bottoms, it should dry out quickly. Hope that helps!

  5. Clarence said:

    Hi, I am planning to re-upholster my cockpit cushions in Sunbrella. They were originally upholstered in Naugahyde that has weathered and cracked. Any suggestions for patterning using the same foam? Suggestions from local shops run the range of measuring with the current cover on, to removing the cover and measuring only the foam, to doing neither and disassembling a cover and using the panels as a pattern. Your suggestions would be most welcome.. Thanks

    • Nikki said:

      Hi Clarence,

      Here’s some advice from Eric (he’s the video narrator!):

      “When making new cushion covers and using your old foam for the stuffing I (Eric) typically like to remove the old cover and use the foam as a pattern. I will make my top plate and bottom plate the same size as the foam (tracing around the foam on top of the fabric). Since the foam is probably already compressed slightly (because it was in a cover for years) adding the typical 1% (which is shown in our cushion videos for new oversized foam) is not needed. For the boxing I would follow the same guideline as shown in our cushion videos:
      Boxing Width — Determine boxing width by measuring foam thickness (include batting, if any, under slight compression during measuring). To this measurement add between ¼” and ¾”. Keep in mind that thinner cushions look best with more allowance added and thicker cushions look best with less. Basically adding less of an allowance will allow the seams to roll into the edging of the cushion.
      I never use the old panels as patterns except when upholstering a sofa type chair.

      Let me know if you have any more questions. Remember no rules for making cushions, just do what works!”

  6. John Hughes said:

    I’ve been building new covers from vinyle, and have found that as I’m sewing the boxing to the plates with the piping in between, it’s easy to pull a little on the boxing as I feed things into the presser foot…which stretches the boxing a little. The problem is that on the top plate, the sewing tends to go counterclockwise around the cushion (as seen from above on the cushion in its final position), while on the bottom plate, the natural direction is clockwise. The result: what would have been a vertical line on the boxing ends up a little diagonal, corners don’t want to match up, etc. (It’d probably be fine for a round cushion, as long as it was in a solid color!) My solution is to go ahead and use a good deal of 1/4-inch seamstick between piping and boxing. I also, with a very long stitch, tack the piping to the plate and then sew plate-piping-boxing together with a 5-per-inch stitch.

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