How to Pick the Best Fabric for Your Cockpit Cushions

How to Pick the Best Fabric for Your Cockpit Cushions

You spend a lot of time in your boat’s cockpit, so you naturally want the most comfort and function out of your cockpit cushions. We’ve already shared our video tutorial on how to make cockpit cushions, but today we’re going to follow up with an in-depth look at the pros and cons of the different materials you can use to put those cushions together.

Consider Your Foam Choice

For the best performing cushions, the choice of which foam and fabric to use should influence each other. Let’s start by taking a look at foam. There are 3 types of foam we recommend for cockpit cushions: closed cell, polyurethane and Dry Fast foam.

How to Pick the Best Fabric for Your Cockpit Cushions

A common priority is cockpit cushions that will also float. If you want your cockpit cushions with floatation, you’ll want to use closed cell foam. Closed cell foam can be wrapped in just about any type of marine material, because the foam itself won’t soak up any water or moisture. Polyurethane foam is the standard for OEM boat manufacturers, but it soaks up water and takes a long time to dry out so we recommend covering the foam in vinyl. The waterproof vinyl will keep your foam nice and dry. The third option is Dry Fast foam, which is a very breathable foam and allows water to run through the cushion. We recommend using a breathable fabric like Sunbrella or a mesh fabric to accommodate this main feature of the foam.

To learn more about theses different foam options to pick the one that’s best for your needs and tastes check out the second part of our Cushion Foam Series, 5 Types of Outdoor Cushion Foam.

Fabrics & Their Advantages

There are three main types of fabric that we recommend for cockpit cushions (vinyl, woven and mesh) and each has its pros and cons. Let’s break each choice down.

Vinyl

How to Pick the Best Fabric for Your Cockpit Cushions
The pros of vinyl are that it is waterproof, very durable, relatively inexpensive, and it’s the easiest of all three options to clean. We really like Morbern Seabrook Vinyl and Naugahyde Universal and All American vinyl for cockpit cushions applications. The Naugahyde brands cost a little bit more, but they feature a protective BeautyGuard finish that adds to their durability and is a big plus. The cons to vinyl are that it can be very hot to sit on and can have more of a plastic look than a woven fabric.

Woven

How to Pick the Best Fabric for Your Cockpit Cushions
Woven fabrics offer a beautiful appearance with a true fabric look and are the softest to sit on. Woven fabrics are breathable and you’ll want to select one with water resistance for the demands of the application. Sunbrella is our favorite brand for a woven cockpit cushion fabric as it’s breathable, durable, water and UV resistant and easy to clean. The drawbacks here are that woven fabrics are not as durable over time as vinyl or mesh and are not quite as easy to clean as vinyl.

Mesh

How to Pick the Best Fabric for Your Cockpit Cushions
By mesh we mean fabrics like Phifertex and Phifertex Plus that are sturdy, vinyl meshes. These fabrics are ultra low maintenance and will last a long time. When used with the right foam, you can leave mesh cushions out in the rain with no worries. Because the mesh will not block any water from reaching the foam, this fabric should only be used with Dry Fast foam. The open weave of this fabric can also allow contaminates to reach the foam, which could shorten the lifespan of the foam. Mesh can be a little uncomfortable to sit on at times and can be trickier to clean than other options because you need to remove the foam before cleaning.

The Hybrid Approach

You can always create cushions that use a combination of two fabrics, like using Sunbrella on the top of the cushions and then Phifertex Mesh on the bottom with Dry Fast foam. This gives you a comfy seat but allows great drainage for the Dry Fast. We like this approach, but it does eliminate your ability to flip the cushions, if this is something you do frequently.

As you can see, there are several factors to consider before building new cockpit cushions and the right pairing of foam and fabric really depend on your preferences and how you like to use the cushions. We hope that now you have all the information you need to make an informed decision on what is best for you and your boat.

Find all the foams and fabrics discussed here for your cockpit cushions at Sailrite.com.

Have you made your own cockpit cushions before? What foam and fabric combination did you use and why? Share your design decisions with us comments.

4 comments
  1. I like being able to flip the cushions. Also another point is how to secure them so they don’t slide (snaps, etc). Our sailboat with nice teak and mahogany, I can’t get myself to drill for snap studs..so the cushions always slide around.

    Also darker colors are hotter. Have navy sunbrella on our other boat… it gets hotttttttt. we have tan colored on the other, which always stays nice and cool to the touch

  2. Leslie G. Owen said:

    I did vinyl cockpit cushions in white with a hunter green piping that I made from the sunbrella I was using for the dodger, bimini and sail covers and stackpack. Since I did want the cushions to float I did use the closed cell foam. I wrapped the foam in batting to give them some softness to the foam. I find I need to add batting each year as it gets very flat over time. Is there something else I should use for this? The batting I use does not hold any moisture.

    It is interesting that I see folks wanting to stop cushions from sliding. My cushions are tight next to each other and never move a bit. Our cockpit is varnished teak so should be slick and we do sail when there is wind. Maybe the stiffness of the closed cell and the tightness of how they fit helps that????

    My goal was to cover the cockpit seats and still be able to access lockers. This means there are three cushions on our port side; two short for the ends and one long for the locker. It makes for cushions one would not flip over as there are odd shapes but seems to work for us.

    Nice topic. Thanks.

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