When my husband and I purchased a 1998 Fisher pontoon boat for what we thought was a steal, the first thing we needed to do is replace the dry-rotted vinyl on all the seats. The pontoon had been sitting in the sun for eight years and every seat had vinyl that was cracked and split with the foam rubber padding exposed, rotting, and disintegrating each time it was touched. It did not provide for a comfortable seating arrangement; after all, the reason you purchase a pontoon is to be able to take all your friends along with you on the river. When we visited the nearby marine upholstery shop we were shocked to discover that it was going to cost upwards of $1200 to have someone else reupholster our boat. As a mediocre seamstress I decided that I would look into doing the job myself.
Materials needed for this project: sharpened heavy duty scissors, marine vinyl, heavy duty leather needles for your sewing machine, heavy duty thread, sheets of foam rubber (1″ thick), foam adhesive, stainless steel pins, a durable seam ripper, staple gun, stainless steel staples, long handled screw driver, pliers, power screwdriver, ziploc bags, a marker,
First I visited my near-by cloth shop to see what they had available. After checking the Internet for marine vinyl I was surprised to find a wide variety of colors at Hancock Fabrics and the cost was reasonable, better than the online prices. If your cloth shop does not have marine vinyl, ask them if they could order it for you. With that stated let me remind you that dark colors attract and hold the heat. They also fade quickly so I would suggest for your comfort and for the wear choose a light color like cream or white. While there I also purchased heavy duty leather needles for my Singer sewing machine. That’s right, I used my old sewing machine to do all the work, but buy at least two packages of the needles for leather. I would also purchase the longest pins the store carries. Look for the foam rubber in the store. Purchase several sheets of the flat 1″ thick foam that can be placed over the worn, disintegrating foam that has been exposed to the sun.
Remove the seats from the boat and disassemble the seats, such as the seat cushion, backrests and any other covered pieces. Begin by first removing all of the hardware that attached each seat to the boat. Thank goodness for power screwdrivers! Once the hardware is removed from the seat, place them in one of the zip lock bags and label it for each seat. This way you will not lose anything and it will make it easier to put the seats back and ensure a good fit.
When the seats are disassembled, the next step is to remove the covers from the seating frame. Turn the seats upside down and remove the fabric by lifting the staples from underneath. In my case my frame was plastic, still in very good shape, and it was relatively easy to remove the staples. Using the pliers and screwdriver, remove the covers by inserting a long-handled screwdriver under the seam and simply lifting the staples out of the frame.
The easiest way to reupholster a boat seat is to use the old fabric as a pattern for your new fabric. Using a seam ripper, carefully separate the cover into the pattern pieces. Lay the fabric down on a large flat surface and lay the old fabric face down on top. I then used a marker to trace an outline of the pattern on to the vinyl, but if you feel confident go ahead and cut the new fabric by tracing around the edges of the pattern. I gave myself an additional ½ inch allowance around the outside of each pattern piece. I would also suggest that you make each seat one at a time so that you don’t get your pieces mixed up. Pin the pieces together like they came apart and sew the pieces together. The first seat will be the hardest and with each additional seat you will get better with experience. With that in mind, decide which of your seats you want to look the best and do those last.
Once you have completed the cover it is time to check the foam. If the underlying foam is in good condition then you are ready to re-cover it. If not, cut away the rotting foam and using foam adhesive glue the old and new foam together trying to maintain the original shape.
At this point you are going to need a partner to pull the cover over the foam and pull it tightly back into position. Pull tightly to remove the wrinkles. The vinyl can take a great deal of pulling. Once it is in position, staple with the stainless steel staples. Stainless steel staples are more expensive but they will not rust and ruin your vinyl once you are back on the water. Place a staple at four equal points on the frame, then pull and staple the fabric all around the seat.
Replace the seats back into the boat. Step back and admire your handiwork. You have just saved yourself a ton of money. In my case I was able to save approximately $950 by doing it myself.
Now it is time to protect your almost new pontoon with the purchase of a low cost, 4 or 5 year warranty pontoon cover. This should eliminate the extra cleaning needed due to the pelican’s last fly-over or the rapid deterioration and fading of the vinyl that has been left out in the sun for long periods of time.