The end use of a boat really dictates how Trevor makes his cushions at Kennedy Custom Upholstery. So last summer when we were asked to make all new cushions for a charter fishing boat, we knew we had to make them as tough as possible while still looking like a high-end custom product. The boat was a 2004 32-foot Regulator, and at less than a decade old, the hull and hard top still looked pristine, but the cushions were absolutely shot. The combination of ragged cushions on a beautiful hull was like wearing an old T-shirt with a tuxedo. We needed to get everything to the same level so that this boat (at right) could maximize its charter profits.
The clock was really ticking on this project because it was brought to us in early June, when we were already swamped with other work and they were fishing the boat every day. So we discussed with the owner and first mate how the cushions would add value on several fronts including image, comfort and maintenance; but with a tight schedule we had to decide what needed to be redesigned and what could be a more straightforward replication of the OEM style. The captain and his mate immediately agreed on what was the highest priority: the comfort of the helm seat and easy maintenance of the forward seating cushions.
The existing helm seating was actually bottoming out when the guys sat down for the long and choppy trips home from the Canyons, a favorite fishing area some 60 to 70 miles off shore from New Jersey, so they were spending hours effectively sitting on fiberglass. The prior seating was also too shallow, which caused the captain to have to sit too far forward instead of relaxing during a long cruise.
The second item on the wish list was to make the forward seating cushions maintenance free so that they weren’t always a soaking wet mess after a rain or a good deck cleaning. Obviously, this is an easy fix since all we had to do was specify reticulated foam, which is always our suggestion on an open boat like this.
When discussing aesthetics, we all agreed the boat would benefit from an upgrade to a bolster style cushion from the previously flat style. When we specify this look, we can use either all smooth vinyl or we can use smooth vinyl on the bolster with pleated vinyl on the rest of the cushion. We have found the hybrid look of smooth with pleated looks great on center console fishing boats, while the all smooth look lends itself more to sport fishing bridge seating. With several Regulator cushion upgrades already in our portfolio, the guys could really picture what they would be getting from us.
Since timing was an issue for both of us, we decided we would have to break the job into phases since we were going to have to drop this into our fully booked schedule. First up was the console. We decided to give those cushions priority because it was the primary seating for the charter customers and it was also the most straightforward. Since the OEM cushions were board-mounted, Trevor took the old cushions down so he could reuse the boards and that way the new cushions would be easier to install. The only downside to reusing the boards is that you need to turn the job around quickly since you are taking the upholstery.
Next up in our project queue was the forward seating. Once again we decided to focus on seating that would benefit the charter customers the most. These existing cushions were wafer thin and offered almost no buffer against the fiberglass, but at least we could leave them on the boat since we were not reusing anything. Trevor made his own patterns directly from the fiberglass rather than basing it off one of the old cushions. By using clear pattern material, Trevor could mark where the snap studs were located so that he could match up the reinforcements on the bottom of the cushion.
Back in the shop, these cushions required a bit of a game plan before we could start cutting. First of all, we needed to add the bolster design to the pattern, which we made wrap around the exposed end as a nice touch. Next we needed to make sure the pleated vinyl would be square with respect to the hull, which in turn wastes a lot of material because then you can’t just nest the two pieces. Trevor used reticulated foam for both the cushion body and most of the bolster, but the crowned top is made out of 1-inch foam with 85-pound compression.
When it came time to install the cushions, Trevor removed the existing metal snap studs and replaced them with plastic domed SNAD studs, which are secured with VHB tape. We usually like to specify SNADs if we need to secure something without drilling into the fiberglass, but in this case we did it for comfort. When the guys fish, they like to remove the cushions so they can stand on the platform, but the old metal studs were torture to step on. We knew that the larger and softer SNADs would feel much better under foot.
The final piece of the cushion puzzle was the helm, and this seat involved the most redesign work. After taking care of their customers’ needs, it was now time for us to take care of the captain and mate. The previous seat was just a flat rolled cushion that attached with keder welt at the top and Velcro at the bottom. To make the seat more comfortable, Trevor used 3-inch foam. He also added a bolster and tacked on an extra 4 inches to the seat depth. To make the fabrication easier with everything that was going on, he decided to make it a board-mounted cushion. To attach the cushion, he used a piece of keder welt at the back and lined the underside of the board with non-skid padding. He paired the bucket-like seat with a simple back cushion, and the job was finally finished except for a small retrofit of the existing cover to accommodate the larger seat, which was easily done.
The captain and mate loved the new upholstery, and we even found out it had some fringe benefits, as well. According to the captain, his wife now loved to go out on the boat with him since the forward seating was so comfortable. We also heard from the guys that they moved the forward seating cushions to the cockpit and used them as mattresses during some overnight trips to the Canyons. After hearing that our product had additional values that weren’t even on our radar, I realized that we should add those anecdotes to our next fishing boat sales pitch.
Rebecca and Trevor Kennedy own Kennedy Custom upholstery in Ocean City, N.J.