New vinyl flooring options have become wildly popular in exterior marine applications in just a few years. Will the trend last?
When Bob Dylan sang “the times they are a’changin’,” he probably didn’t have exterior marine flooring fabrics in mind. Regardless, the times are a’changin’ for boat manufacturers, flooring designers and boating enthusiasts.
Usually, not a lot changes in the exterior marine upholstery market. So when something new comes along, it has the potential to make a huge splash. Exterior floor surfaces in 16-foot outboards and luxury yachts alike have long been clad in marine carpeting options. Snapped-on, held in by Velcro or glued in place, marine carpet has dominated the exterior marine flooring market for decades. A new woven PVC flooring material might soon bring about change.
Several companies have been developing woven vinyl boat mats that resist UV damage, repel water, are stain resistant, and can be installed with the same ease as marine carpets.
“There haven’t been a lot of changes until the last year,” says Holly Harrison, vice president of marketing at Corinthian Marine of Portland, Ore. “There has begun a shift away from carpet. As a traditional carpet manufacturer, I find that very challenging.”
It’s a challenge Corinthian has faced expertly. The marine carpet company has used its technological savvy and manufacturing capabilities to create a woven PVC floor product called AquaWeave. It’s no surprise that, with more than 30-years in the marine flooring industry, Corinthian Marine is leading the way in developing new styles of exterior flooring, including woven vinyl and removable drop-in mats.
Redesigned from the floor up
It’s hard to say what prompts change, but it’s easy to notice it once it happens. Chris Ritsema of Holland, Mich.’s Canvas Innovations is noticing a changing tide in his customers’ preferences.
“I met a representative from Infinity Fabrics at IFAI Specialty Fabrics Expo in Florida two years ago who was showing me his PVC flooring product,” Ritsema said. “He took a wire brush to the surface of the flooring, and it didn’t leave a mark. I’ve seen this flooring become very popular with our customers in the last two years.”
The Infinity Fabrics product is called Luxury Woven Vinyl (LWV). Although it was designed for the marine market, it has become popular in many other sectors, including health care, hospitality, and retail.
“I think that the traditional marine carpeting, in time, is wearing down and the fibers are getting matted,” Ritsema says. “I’ve also noticed some customers complaining that their exterior carpeting gets wet and holds moisture like a sponge, and it takes a long time to evaporate. The vinyl floor mats don’t let water pass through and they maintain their traction, which is more desirable.”
Luxury pontoon manufacturer Bennington Marine of Elkhart, Ind., has also jumped on the woven vinyl flooring bandwagon. The company sources its woven vinyl flooring from Infinity Fabrics.
“Our transition to woven vinyl flooring options has been mostly driven by the consumer,” says Amanda Jean, Bennington Marine’s art director. “Most people want an easy-to-maintain floor, and the woven vinyl mat cleans up really well. They also have a nice padding underneath them that makes them more popular with customers. Maintenance is less expensive, and it is much easier to keep in shape than carpet.”
Harrison agrees that for exterior marine applications, non-textile flooring is becoming a popular trend. “These kinds of [woven and tufted vinyl] products are what customers are asking for,” she says. “AquaWeave is a PVC combined with polypropylene that looks great, installs easily, and just seems to be a great fit for most exterior boat areas. People do still want carpet underfoot in the interior areas of their boats, however.”
Jean sees woven vinyl flooring as the wave of the future. “This stuff really holds its look and is easier to clean and use than other types of flooring. Customers are beginning to realize that,” she says. “As pontoons evolve, they are becoming more like a home interior, and people want to keep it clean and have it be low maintenance.”
More options for customization
Woven vinyl has brought more possibilities to the marine flooring market, including new colors, designs and textures.
“We have a product called Fusion, as well,” says Harrison. “It combines our carpet technology with PVC fibers to make an all-vinyl floor mat. It’s a cool blend between carpet and vinyl that’s very similar to a barber texture. We manufacture the woven material and cut and fabricate the finished mats in our Georgia and Oregon facilities.” Fusion mats can be applied with Velcro, snaps or adhesives.
Corinthian’s AquaWeave mats come in several color combinations, including carbonite, flax, black pearl and oasis.
“The flooring I’ve seen from Infinity comes in at least 10 different styles,” says Ritsema. “And it has better cleanability, longevity and looks better, in my opinion.”
One of the most exciting parts of being a new boat owner is customizing your vessel. “Typically boat owners don’t want a raw fiberglass floor,” Harrison says. “The new vinyl mat products help keep the floor clean, and make it nicer underfoot. They are for protection, but at the same time, they are very aesthetic. The original boat flooring can be changed to whatever a customer wants. You can really personalize it and tie in colors and designs with bimini tops and other textiles on your boat. The sky is the limit.”
The new flooring products boast more than just good looks, however. “They are definitely low-maintenance,” Ritsema says. “It’s a product that doesn’t stain, it cleans well, you can power wash it, and you can scrub it with a brush without damaging the surface. When carpeting gets wet it can have an odor, but these vinyl mats don’t because nothing penetrates them.”
Harrison has found the snap-in option for Corinthian Marine’s AquaWeave and Fusion products has been the most popular. “The snap-in option is being driven largely by the way boat manufacturers are designing boats right now,” she says. Corinthian provides several snap-in style boat mats to the OEMs and the aftermarket.
According to Jean, Bennington Marine offers two options for installment: directly applied adhesive or a snap-in option. “When customers choose the snap-in flooring, we put down a basic vinyl which is a solid rubber-like surface that you can snap the woven vinyl mats onto,” she says.
Corinthian Marine started supplying their woven vinyl Fusion product to Malibu two years ago. “At first the dealers were uncertain,” Harrison says, “but the next year they asked for more and said they were getting more requests. This year, it’s hugely popular. It’s been an emerging trend. Vinyl flooring is an entirely different look than a tufted carpet. It’s a little more hip. I would liken it to the same feel as sea grass rugs and natural woven rugs that many people are putting in their homes. The great thing is that people don’t have to choose just one option. In the case of a drop-in mat, it’s like an area rug. You can have one for every season.”
Ritsema is seeing more change in marine flooring than drop-in mats. Exterior decking materials like SeaDek are becoming more popular, as well.
“You’re going to see a lot of SeaDek panels on ski boats and other craft,” he says. “It’s an exterior decking that is easily applied with a 3M adhesive backing. Companies have been developing these materials because of customer feedback. I think we’re definitely seeing the vinyl flooring market, whether it’s woven floor mats or exterior decking, take over the exterior carpeting market and outlast it.”
He is also noticing ease of installation with the new products. “The PVC backing on many of these woven products gives them great traction when they are placed on raw boat flooring. It’s also a little soft, so it is malleable and has a good grip to it,” he says. “We are snapping it down in most of our boats, but I don’t think you’d even have to if it was custom cut and fit tightly from wall to wall.”
The wave of new woven vinyl flooring will likely provide an interesting ride for years to come. The increasing amount of options for customization alone should keep this product popular and relevant. As more manufacturers shift to developing woven vinyl, more change could be on the horizon.
Jake Kulju is a freelance writer from Minneapolis, Minn.