Using the right fastener is critical for solving problems rather than creating them.
As any marine fabricator will attest, carefully constructed cushions, windshield covers, enclosures, window treatments and so on have to withstand sun, salt, wind and water as well as normal (and occasionally rough) handling by their clients. These items also need to be firmly secured in place (without damaging the vessel) in ways that are easy to put up, take down or tuck away.
This is where fasteners—snaps, magnets, Velcro® systems, etc.—come in. The role they play in preserving the boat’s aesthetics as well as enhancing safety and enjoyment is significant. Thus, selecting the proper fastener for the task is important. For example, use the wrong kind and holding power could be compromised. Fasteners can create rust stains, corrode, become tripping hazards, puncture surfaces or fail in other ways. Consequently, as insignificant as something like a snap may appear to those outside of this industry, marine fabricators understand just how critical they are.
Mike Charlton, owner of Charlton’s Marine Canvas in Norfolk, Va., offers a variety of products requiring marine hardware: biminis, dodgers, enclosures and covers from fabrics like Sunbrella®, Stamoid and WeatherMax®. He also uses only PTFE Teflon® thread because of its high UV resistance and durability.
For hardware, Charlton most often relies on Common Sense twist fasteners, Lift-the-DOT® fasteners and basic marine snaps, all stainless steel. He’s also started using newer fasteners such as a SNAD® or FAS-N-STIK snap, which are plastic, adhesive-back stick-on snaps.
“A Lift-the-DOT or Common Sense fastener is great for a 45-degree or greater pull, as it will not come off at any degree of pull,” he explains. “Common Sense twist fasteners are great for fastening fabric to fabric as in enclosure or dodger covers because it doesn’t require pressure from both sides; you simply put the grommet over the post and twist.”
Charlton says the new stick-on snap fasteners can deliver a better-looking end result, but favors using them only where “absolutely necessary,” such as when a windshield cover must lie flat on solid glass or for dinghy chaps. And adhesive fasteners don’t get an automatic green light from his clients.
“When I bring up adhesive snaps, all customers have concerns about longevity,” he explains. “With most things there are compromises. I always make sure customers know that by using the plastic stick-on fasteners, we’re achieving their aesthetic goal but they’ll be replacing it more often. Giving them a few extra free always helps.”
Ally Maloney, principal designer and owner of Maloney Interiors LLC, a Newport, R.I., full-service design firm specializing in yacht interiors, likes the versatility of DOT snaps and fasteners. She uses them to secure cushions and pillows, to snap in indoor and outdoor carpets, and on drapery tiebacks. The fabrics she works with are primarily outdoor-grade such as Sunbrella, Perennials® and Link Outdoor. She also makes outdoor cushions in vinyl or outdoor-grade Ultraleather®.
She finds Velcro handy where the owner wants to avoid holes. “Two-inch Velcro is very sturdy and has secured outdoor cushions in place. I’ve also mounted upholstered headboards to the wall with it, hung artwork on my client’s boat with it; there are endless applications for Velcro.”
Other hardware she relies on include Tenax® Pull It Up fasteners for canvas and Stamoid enclosures and canvas covers and YKK zippers and release buckles for securing canvas table covers, console covers and wheel covers.
“We’ve also secured cockpit cushions to the boat with Sea-Dog Tie Down Eye Straps, webbing and Velcro,” Maloney says. “Velcro is applied to a strip of webbing and sewn onto the cushion; the strip of webbing is fed through the Tie Down Eye Strap and is secured in place with the Velcro.”
Mike Erickson, CEO/owner of Canvas Designers®, a Riviera Beach, Fla., full-service marine canvas, upholstery and metal fabricator, says specialty fasteners are found throughout his company’s product line. Included are specialty track pins (used in cockpits); mounting hardware in its headliner systems; tracks and Velcro disks in upholstery; and traditional DOT and Fasnap® fasteners in its canvas products (other fabrics used include acrylic canvas and vinyl for covers, upholstery vinyl, and faux leathers for cushions and upholstery). However, Erickson says over the last few years Canvas Designers has been trying to move away from fasteners altogether.
“Our first version utilized suction cups, which work fairly well in non-stress lateral applications,” he says. “We’ve progressed to using a combination of nonslip fabric, weighted pockets, tracks and suction cups now.”
Working with Maverick Yachts, the Costa Rica office of Canvas Designers has started experimenting with rare-earth magnets for things like door enclosure panels, covers and cushions. Wikipedia defines rare-earth magnets as being “the strongest type of permanent magnet.”
The magnets come in several forms; Erickson uses small, round disk-type magnets, sewing them into a pouch, embedding the other into the boat with epoxy. “They can be embedded so you can’t even see them,” he says. He likes that the magnets self-align, helping to resolve a common customer complaint about fasteners being too tight or loose. However, magnets can be tricky to work with in terms of learning what force of magnet is best for what application. Also, the applications are a little more expensive.
“But the applications typically have more value to the customer and, therefore, I charge more and actually make more profit,” he says. “We’ll continue to search for better ‘mouse traps,’” Erickson adds. “The only way to stay ahead of the competition is to constantly upgrade and invest in the research and development that improves our products.”
Fastener manufacturers offer an array of solutions for marine fabricators. Consider, for example, YKK® (U.S.A.) Inc. Headquartered in Marietta, Ga., the company provides fastening products to a wide variety of industries.
Among its newest products is SNAD®, a plastic adhesive snap component that allows for the placement of snaps where drilling holes isn’t possible or desirable, says David Kelly, regional sales manager. Additionally, the product won’t snag clothing or deteriorate from exposure to sun, sand or dirt. This is a plus, because of its dome shape, walking on the fastener is “pain-free,” he adds.
“When applying cushions, you can snap the SNAD into the cushion, remove the adhesive backing and press the cushion into place with 100 percent accuracy,” Kelly says. “It’s commonly used to attach covers to windshields and often used in place of screw studs to hold down seat cushions, floor mats and upholstery inside the boat.”
Another YKK product is the SP100, a 100 percent pigmented resin, all-plastic alternative to metal hardware. There’s no finish on this snap system to scratch or wear off; it’s tough and non-corrosive, quiet and rattle-free, and won’t streak or tarnish canvas or the boat’s surface, says Kelly, adding that it’s also 61 percent less heavy than comparative metal hardware.
Scovill Fasteners, a Clarkesville, Ga., manufacturer of apparel and light industrial fasteners for a broad spectrum of industries, offers the DOT Durable 316 stainless steel snap fastener. The fastener, made from heavy-duty 316-grade stainless steel, resists pitting and crevice corrosion when subjected to harsh chemicals and cleaners, including chloride environments, says Shane McEntyre, vice president of DOT sales and marketing.
The company’s stainless steel grommets and washers are well-suited for marine environments, says McEntyre. Made from nonporous, 304 SAE stainless steel, the grommets and washers offer UV- and scratch-resistance, won’t pit and resist rust, stains and corrosion—qualities fueling stainless steel’s popularity among marine fabricators.
Headquartered in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, SUREFAS® B.V. provides textile fasteners for industrial applications, one of these being PERFIX®. According to Bas Jan Veldhoen, marketing manager, PERFIX is designed to resolve the problem of protruding fasteners with pins that snag ropes, rip clothing or cause injuries. The fastening system, made from high-quality plastic material, is designed with smooth, round fixing points. Used for fixing covers on boats and other applications where comfort and safety are paramount, the fasteners result in durable and corrosion-free fixing without pins, he says.
Its Q-SNAP® resulted from conversations with cover makers and other specialists, says Veldhoen, describing this as a “secure press fastener with stretch function (lever)” that’s easily managed by even those lacking hand strength. He says this fastener installs up to three times faster than other secure fasteners, is seawater-resistant (316 stainless steel) and allows marine fabricators to make covers as tight as desired.
Veldhoen notes there’s a trend toward using higher-quality metals, which stands to reduce costs for marine fabricators.
“We live in an era where labor costs are an increasing chunk of the productions costs,” he explains. “The result is that any repair or warranty issue can take away all the profit of any job at once, not to speak about the loss of reputation and clients. This is making professionals think twice about the quality of what they use for their products.”
Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, Calif.
Although some marine fabricators eagerly embrace innovation, others hold back, unwilling to climb aboard until many others have tested the waters. The need to protect profits and reputation is one reason behind this hesitation, says Bas Jan Veldhoen, marketing manager for SUREFAS® BV. Headquartered in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, SUREFAS offers textile fasteners for industrial applications.
“Even if it’s an obvious improvement, it’s different than what they know,” he explains. “And that brings uncertainty towards something they want to blindly rely on—quality and performance of, in this case, fasteners.”
However, this hesitation can impede the industry’s growth and advancement. Organizations such as the Marine Fabricators Association (MFA) can provide a critical assist in moving the industry forward by bringing together the supply chain, says Veldhoen.
“It is sometimes good to realize we’re all playing ball on the same side, improving products and business for all the industry,” he explains. “It’s the only way we can grow. Any supplier can learn from his or her client and any client can learn from his or her supplier. Our company embraces and engages further collaboration across the value chain; an organization like MFA is the grease in the engine that makes that happen.”