When we think about trends in marine flooring, traditional glue-down carpet was initially replaced by snap-in carpet, and now, carpet is being used less and less overall. On the interior, the products replacing carpet are heavy vinyl linoleum, hardwood and even tile. As for the exterior, people are using woven vinyl, synthetic teak and ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam products. Woven vinyl products essentially give people who are looking for carpet more texture and color options.
This article will discuss three exterior marine flooring options: synthetic teak; a solid PVC (PlasDECK or Flexiteek), solid EVA foam (GatorStep or SeaDek) and a hybrid of both materials (AquaTrac®). These products bring a unique look and feel to the marine flooring market.
At Sewlong Custom Covers, we first came across PlasDECK in 2010 at the IBEX Expo and, as luck would have it, two months later we had a customer looking for someone to install it. Since marine flooring is a part of our business and seeing a learning opportunity, we decided to take a stab at learning to install this new flooring. With the increase of boat manufacturers moving in this same direction, we now feel it was a wise decision and if you are at all interested in offering these products, there are now a plethora of vendor and manufacturer options.
Among the flooring options discussed in this article, synthetic teak is the most permanent and durable, and in my opinion it has a much nicer, more nautical look once installed. It is also the most expensive option and we’re mostly seeing this product being installed in larger boats. Another benefit of synthetic teak is that the manufacturing process allows you to choose larger panels, which you won’t see with the EVA products.
The most common EVA foam product we are seeing in the runabout market is two layers of EVA bonded together and cut with a CNC router. This product is very comfortable and comes in a wide variety of color options. However, since it is foam, it isn’t going to stand up to the abuse and wear like synthetic teak products will and you are restricted to a 4-foot width.
A hybrid flooring product is a great combination of a PVC top layer and an EVA foam cushion. It will withstand the abuse of wake and surfboards much better than just solid EVA foam, while also providing the comfort of the EVA base layer. As with the solid EVA, you are limited to a 4-foot width.
We have seen shrinkage and peeling with both EVA and hybrid products when they are left exposed to the elements. But with new product advancements and developments in better technology, many manufacturers claim they have now solved this problem.
All three of these product types come in multiple colors and give you many options to customize the look of your customer’s floor. You can easily add a boat name and other custom inlays. With the layered products, you can really get creative with the design—incorporating diamonds, honeycomb or any other custom design your customer dreams up.
Templating and patterning tips
Before templating, make sure to take into consideration the flooring you will be installing. Products using EVA foam (solid and hybrid) have a self-adhesive back and need a smooth finished surface to adhere to. If you are going over the existing non-skid flooring, you will need to extend at least ¼ inch onto the smooth surface. This is not the case for synthetic teak, which allows you to follow the shape of the existing non-skid if that’s what the customer wants.
Patterning these products is similar to the process used with snap-in carpet, but make sure you contact your vendor to verify you are using the company’s preferred medium for the template. If you have the capabilities to digitize the floor, most vendors will give you a more aggressive price and it gives you the ability to customize the look yourself.
After laying out the template material, create a consistent offset to make the floor look uniform and consistent. Unlike carpet, with these products you need a little more planning for how you indent when handling any hatches or removable subfloor; these will need to be separate pieces. Make sure you get references between panels to help line them up in production, so they have a seamless look when installed. I have used a carpenter laser and a good old-fashioned 82-inch ruler.
Once you have your pattern (either physical or CAD), you can draw the design you would like. I recommend being as descriptive and detailed as possible to prevent any miscommunication with the boat owner. If you are sending in a physical pattern, I suggest you ask for a rendering of what will be cut or built so that everything can be verified and shared with the boat owner before production.
When it comes to installation, all three products require similar tools: a vacuum, shop rags, denatured alcohol, floor roller, knee pads, razor blade and, in the case of the synthetic teak, glue and a trowel.
Preparation begins with using Bondo® to fill any low spots you will be covering, such as inset manufacturer logos or gaps between non-skid, and then sanding smooth. If you skip this step, these low spots will show on a hot, sunny day. Vacuum and wipe down the floor with denatured alcohol, making sure the surface is clean. Lay the flooring out and come up with a plan for the install. Start in the hardest corner of the boat to reach and then work your way out. Make sure you don’t “paint yourself into a corner.”
Installing EVA and hybrid
Slit the backing in the middle of the first panel. Then peel back each side of the slit, exposing about 2–3 inches of the adhesive. Next, lay the panel in place and adjust it to your liking. Then stick down the middle, holding the panel in place, and remove the backing on each side. Use your roller to apply pressure, making sure to work the edges with extra care.
Installing synthetic teak
With the floor laid out, peel back where you would like to start first. You only want to work in about a square yard area at a time. Spread the glue out using the trowel, bringing the glue within ¼ inch to ⅛ inch of the finish line of the flooring. Once the glue is spread evenly, lay the floor back down. Before applying any pressure, make sure it is where you want it. You will have time for some adjustments while it is still floating on the glue. With the flooring in place, take your floor roller and roll from the center out, working all the air bubbles out. Clean as you go, using a rag and the denatured alcohol to clean up any glue. Now, peel the remaining floor back until you are lifting parts of the floor that are glued down and repeat the process. Continue working in square yard areas. Prevent foot traffic for 48 hours. Knees, feet and hands can displace the glue, leaving indents that will be visible in the finished product.
You’ll find vendors for all of these products very helpful in offering tips and advice on templating and installation, including videos. While these products are DIY-friendly, they are also very time consuming. Make sure to account for the time it will take to template, collaborate with the customer and vendor on design, and install the flooring. I am amazed every time with how these flooring options will change the feel of a boat. Your customers will be equally shocked and pleased as well.
Clint Halladay is the production manager and lead fabricator at Sewlong Custom Covers. Over the past seven-plus years he has served under the tutelage of Justin Jones, Mark and Deb Hood, and Katie Bradford.