Marine flooring options have exploded in the last decade. Thanks to technological advancements, the quality of materials and the ease of installation have improved dramatically. This cycle of continuous improvement means fabricators need to stay ahead of the curve and have a thorough understanding of the products available to best meet their customers’ needs.
Warren McCrickard, director of strategy, corporate development and communications at Infinity Woven Products LLC, based in Dalton, Ga., says the most popular types of marine flooring are woven products (full PVC or blended yarns) and ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam.
“In woven, you are seeing manufacturers move to the use of ‘wood grain’ looks as well as sport looks,” McCrickard says. “EVA foam has the unique ability to be fully customized down to the boat or boat brand, so personalization remains a cool trend for consumers.”
Clint Halladay, production manager and lead fabricator at SewLong Custom Covers in Salt Lake City, Utah, agrees that EVA foam is the hottest flooring product in the industry. “It’s by far the most comfortable option, and aesthetically it’s beautiful, but I worry about its life expectancy.”
Halladay says SewLong still provides a large amount of snap-in carpets, and lately more woven vinyl. He says that depending on usage, these flooring types tend to last seven to ten years. “If I were to put a product in my boat, it would be PlasDECK®, a synthetic teak,” Halladay explains. “It will last the longest and can be built in larger pieces, making the floor look seamless.
Its downside is the cost in relation to other options.”
According to John Salvatore, general manager at MarineMat, an EVA foam matting supplier based in Oldsmar, Fla., the most popular options in marine flooring vary significantly by boat style. “Runabouts, deck boats and express cruisers are using traditional types of carpet, woven style mats or foam decking,” Salvatore says. “Synthetic teak is popular on larger cruisers and sport fishing boats.”
Flooring options abound
From carpet to teak, and foam to woven vinyl, the plethora of marine-grade flooring can make it challenging for fabricators to understand what to use in specific situations.
Woven vinyls offer a long life expectancy, with some manufacturers offering up to a 10-year warranty for UV/fading. The quality of a woven vinyl’s backing is critical to its comfort and longevity. For example, Infinity Woven Products features a PVC cushion backing that is directly attached to the flooring face. This provides cushioning underfoot and antimicrobial attributes throughout the entire composite material. Infinity offers 10’ and 8’6” standard widths in various cushion backing thicknesses, which can be direct adhered, loose laid or snapped in.
There are pros and cons to every kind of flooring, of course, and woven vinyl is no exception. “Woven vinyl mats are durable, easy to clean and stain resistant,” says Salvatore. “But they can also feel hard, offer minimal design looks, and can be slippery—especially when wet.”
Heat absorption is another concern with some woven vinyl products. However, according to McCrickard, Infinity’s woven vinyls are less hot underfoot than upholstery vinyl. “A splash of water immediately cools off any warming from sitting in the sun,” he says.
Blended woven hybrid yarns have the rich appearance and feel of a more textured “fabric-like” surface. Manufacturers of these products says they provide better traction and absorb far less heat than other types of marine flooring.
Concerns with this type of flooring, especially lower quality products, include the potential for the exposed yarn to disintegrate more quickly in harsh environments. Also, some blended woven yarn products use a padding made primarily for indoor use, which can become brittle in outdoor environments. These lower quality carpets can hold water and trap sand and odors in the fibers.
Holly Harrison, marketing director at Corinthian Textile Solutions in Portland, Ore., says Corinthian’s AquaWeave™ flooring product is a woven hybrid containing both PVC and polyolefin yarns for added texture and slip resistance. “This flooring is sophisticated yet functional, and it works in all types of applications from direct-glue pontoon floors to custom-fabricated boat mats,” Harrison says. “Traditional marine carpeting—while not as trendy—is still a classic choice.”
She says Corinthian’s products are extremely durable and rather than wearing out, they’re more likely to “ugly” out, meaning a boat owner wants to change the look, not that the product itself is worn out.
EVA foam is a closed-cell foam decking that won’t absorb water or moisture, and provides excellent cushioning. The flooring is available in 4-by-8-foot sheets and in different patterns, colors and teak looks. These materials are peel and stick, making them easy to install. Foam decking is also easy to clean, stain resistant and offers great slip resistance—wet or dry. In addition, foam stays cooler than other floors and is soft and comfortable underfoot.
Jason Gardner, vice president of marketing for SeaDek® Marine Products, based in Rockledge, Fla., says SeaDek foam flooring’s popularity has grown steadily since its introduction in the early 2000s. “Prior to SeaDek, boat carpet, vinyl rolled flooring and extruded synthetic teaks along with rubber matting were the industry norms,” Gardner says. “But functionally and aesthetically, EVA/PE foam products are superior to other options.”
SeaDek is made from a blended EVA/PE (ethylene-vinyl acetate/polyethylene) material and has UV inhibitors that reduce fading and degradation. “The foam provides incredible comfort, especially for a long day on the water,” Gardner says. “Also, the sheets of material can be thermally laminated together to provide countless color combinations.”
Mike Charpentier, a fabricator at Paul’s Custom Canvas Inc. in Denver, Colo., sees both challenges and benefits to EVA foam decking. He likes the availability of so many different styles because it allows him to do different designs with color and laser etching. “However, sometimes EVA has time-consuming patterns and is difficult to remove,” he says. “There is also a limited size available and a limited area in which EVA can be installed. It can also be expensive.”
Another concern with EVA peel-and-stick products is the potential for its edges to curl after many hours in the sun or after much use.
Synthetic teak products have increased in popularity. They are extremely long-lived, low maintenance and offer a realistic teak appearance. Extruded teak composite decking, in particular, looks like real teak. But these products can be expensive and are labor-intensive to install. Also, according to McCrickard, heat absorption can be an issue with some synthetic teaks, and synthetic teak products without a protective coating can capture dirt and stains that are hard to remove.
“Synthetic teak is more of a permanent flooring solution for boats,” says Halladay.
“Installing it is much more time consuming, as this product is glued down with a trowel. It is comparable to tile but with much bigger pieces.”
Choosing the right flooring
When choosing the appropriate type of flooring for marine applications, fabricators look for products that are easy to install, low maintenance, stylish and priced to allow for margins that keep their businesses thriving.
Of course, builder preference can also be a driver for aftermarket and refurbished boats. McCrickard says these days, yacht builders use a blend of synthetic teak, real teak and woven or carpet flooring. For pontoons, woven vinyl and blended yarn are popular choices. In bass and aluminum markets, carpet is still the dominant player, although there are woven and EVA foam options.
Halladay says that most boaters first lean toward the EVA foam because of the comfort appeal, but then he always asks owners how they use the boat, as well as if they are strict with rules or more relaxed.
“It’s also important to understand how long an owner plans on keeping the boat—for the next 20 years or do they plan to upgrade in two or three years? Longer-term owners will find lots of value in a synthetic teak,” Halladay says. “The strict short-term owner will really like the EVA or hybrid option.”
Maura Keller is a freelance writer from Plymouth, Minn.
The installation differences among the various flooring types in marine applications are mainly determined by the vessel. Most of the products offered, especially EVA foam, woven vinyl and blended yarn, can be installed via glue and snap applications. “Carpet and woven vinyl typically come on a roll or by cut yardage—leaving the fabricator responsible for cutting and binding the edges,” says John Salvatore, general manager at MarineMat. “This requires some specialized equipment and knowledge.” Foam decking typically comes in two forms—stick down and MarineMat’s patent-pending Snap-It Series mats. Stick-down mats work best for swim platforms whereas the Snap-It Series mats are a perfect replacement for worn-out carpet. “Carpet and woven mats are typically one-off designs fabricated on-site. This means if there ever is damage to a piece, the repair will also need to be done on-site,” Salvatore says. “With foam decking, everything is designed in CAD and retained forever. Replacement pieces are as simple as picking the piece from a drawing.” And stick-down mats are a bit more difficult to design and install since an installer has to work around every latch, hinge, access port or hatch in the deck. If an installer makes a mistake on the pattern, another mat has to be made. For woven vinyl, installation is relatively straightforward. For glue-down applications, after removing and cleaning the old surface, adhesive is applied and the product is rolled out. Air bubbles need to be removed from end to end so the product is fully in contact with the adhesive. After curing, the installation of the walls, electronics and seats is completed. “While a premium product, the cost for woven vinyl has steadily declined as the popularity has increased,” says Warren McCrickard, director of strategy, corporate development and communications at Infinity Woven Products LLC. “Most woven vinyl can be purchased by dealers between $3 to $5 per square foot. The quality and longevity of the product allow for local retailers and canvas shops to ensure a good margin for excelling the growth of their business.”