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How to Replace Your Pontoon’s Vinyl Seats and Save Money, Too
When my husband and I bought a 1998 Fisher pontoon boat for what we thought was a steal, the first thing we had to do was replace the dry rotted vinyl on all the seats. The pontoon had been sitting in the sun for eight years and all the seats had vinyl that was cracked and split with the foam rubber padding exposed, rotting and disintegrating every time it was touched. It did not offer a comfortable seating arrangement; after all, the reason you buy a pontoon is so you can take all your friends with you on the river. When we visited the nearby marine upholstery shop we were shocked to find out that it was going to cost over $1200 to have someone else upholster our boat. As a mediocre dressmaker I decided that I would dedicate myself to doing the work myself.
Materials needed for this project: sharp, heavy duty scissors, marine vinyl, heavy duty leather needles for your sewing machine, heavy duty thread, sheets of foam rubber (1 inch thick), foam adhesive, stainless steel pins, a ripper of durable seams, staple. gun, stainless steel staples, long handle screwdriver, pliers, electric screwdriver, ziploc bags, a marker,
I first visited my nearby clothing store to see what they had available. After searching the internet for navy vinyl, I was surprised to find a wide variety of colors at Hancock Fabrics and the cost was reasonable, better than online prices. If your fabric store doesn’t have marine vinyl, ask them if they can order it for you. That said, let me remind you that dark colors attract and hold heat. They also fade quickly so I would suggest for your comfort and wear to choose a light color like cream or white. While there I also bought heavy duty leather needles for my Singer sewing machine. That’s right, I used my old sewing machine to do all the work, but I buy at least two packs of leather needles. I would also buy the longest pins the store carries. Look for the foam rubber in the store. Purchase several sheets of 1″ thick flat foam that can be placed over worn and disintegrated foam that has been exposed to the sun.
Remove the seats from the boat and disassemble the seats, such as the seat cushion, backs and any other covered parts. Start by first removing all the hardware that attached each seat to the boat. Thank goodness for electric screwdrivers! Once the seat hardware is removed, place them in one of the zip lock bags and label it for each seat. This way you won’t lose anything and will make it easier to fit the seats and ensure a good fit.
When the seats are disassembled, the next step is to remove the covers from the seat frame. Turn the seats upside down and remove the fabric by lifting the staples underneath. In my case my frame was plastic, still in very good condition, and it was relatively easy to remove the staples. Using the pliers and a screwdriver, remove the covers by inserting a long-handled screwdriver under the seam and simply lifting the staples from the frame.
The easiest way to upholster a boat seat is to use the old fabric as a pattern for the new fabric. Using a seam ripper, carefully separate the cover into the pattern pieces. Place the fabric on a large flat surface and place the old fabric face down on top. Next I used a marker to trace an outline of the pattern on the vinyl, but if you’re confident, go ahead and cut the new fabric tracing the edges of the pattern. I gave myself an extra ½ inch around each pattern piece. I also suggest making each seat one at a time so your pieces don’t get mixed up. Pin the pieces together as if they were coming apart and sew the pieces together. The first seat will be the most difficult and with each additional seat you will improve with experience. With this in mind, decide which of your seats you want to see the best and make the last ones.
Once the lid is complete it’s time to check the foam. If the underlying foam is in good condition, then you are ready to re-cover. If not, cut off the rotted foam and glue the old and new foam together to keep the original shape.
At this point, you’ll need a partner to pull the cover over the foam and pull it firmly back into position. Pull hard to remove wrinkles. Vinyl can take a lot of pull. Once in position, staple with the stainless steel staples. Stainless steel staples are more expensive, but they won’t rust or ruin your vinyl once you get back in the water. Place a staple at four equal points on the frame, then pull and staple the fabric around the seat.
Replace the seats back on the boat. Stand back and admire your handiwork. You just saved a ton of money. In my case I was able to save approximately $950 by doing it myself.
Now is the time to protect your almost new pontoon with the purchase of an inexpensive pontoon cover with a 4 or 5 year warranty. This should eliminate any additional cleaning needed due to the last pelican flyover or the rapid deterioration and fading of vinyl that has been left in the sun for long periods of time.
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