Selecting the Best Fabric for Cockpit Cushions

Item # X-HT-300141

You spend a lot of time in your boat’s cockpit, so you naturally want the most comfort and function out of your cockpit cushions. We’ve already shared our video tutorial on how to make cockpit cushions (#200618XHT), but today we’re going to follow up with an in-depth look at the pros and cons of the different materials you can use to put those cushions together.

Cockpit cushions on a Seward22 sailboat

Consider Your Foam Choice

For the best performing cushions, the choice of which foam and fabric to use should influence each other. Let’s start by taking a look at foam. There are two types of foam we recommend for cockpit cushions: closed cell and open cell Dry Fast foam.

Foam options for your cockpit cushions

A common priority in cockpit cushions is floatation capabilities. In this case, you’ll want to use closed cell foam. Closed cell foam can be wrapped in just about any type of marine material, because the foam itself won’t soak up any water or moisture. We recommend closed cell foam for liveaboards or frequent boaters. Dry Fast foam is a very breathable foam and allows water to run through the cushion. Dry Fast foam is suitable for occasional boaters. We recommend using a breathable fabric like Sunbrella® or mesh fabric to accommodate this main feature of the foam.

To learn more about theses different foam options to pick the one that’s best for your needs and tastes, check out the second part of our Foam Series, "Comparing Types of Cushion Foam" (#300053XHT).

Fabrics & Their Advantages

There are three main types of fabric that we recommend for cockpit cushions (vinyl, woven and mesh) and each has its pros and cons. Let’s break down each choice and discuss them.

Vinyl

Vinyl is a great fabric choice for cockpit cushions

The pros of vinyl are that it is waterproof, very durable, relatively inexpensive, and it’s the easiest of all three options to clean. We really like Morbern® Seabrook vinyl and Naugahyde® Universal and All American vinyl for cockpit cushions. The Naugahyde brands cost a little bit more, but they feature a protective Advanced BeautyGard® finish that adds to their durability and is a big plus. The cons to vinyl are that it can be very hot to sit on and can have more of a plastic look than a woven fabric.

Woven

Woven fabrics like Sunbrella Marine Grade make a great breathable option for cockpit cushions

Woven fabrics offer a beautiful appearance with a true fabric look and are the softest to sit on. Woven fabrics are breathable, and you’ll want to select one with water resistance for the demands of the application. Sunbrella is our favorite brand for a woven cockpit cushion fabric as it’s breathable, durable, water and UV resistant and easy to clean. The drawbacks here are that woven fabrics are not as durable over time as vinyl or mesh and are not quite as easy to clean.

Mesh

Create water draining cockpit cushions with Phifertex Mesh fabric

By mesh we mean fabrics like Phifertex® and Phifertex® Plus that are sturdy, vinyl meshes. These fabrics are ultra low maintenance and will last a long time. When used with the right foam, you can leave mesh cushions out in the rain with no worries. Because the mesh will not block any water from reaching the foam, this fabric should only be used with Dry Fast foam. The open weave of this fabric can also allow contaminants to reach the foam, which could shorten the lifespan of the foam. Mesh can be a little uncomfortable to sit on at times and can be trickier to clean than other options because you need to remove the foam before cleaning.

The Hybrid Approach

You can always create cushions that use a combination of two fabrics, like using Sunbrella on the top of the cushions and then Phifertex Mesh on the bottom with Dry Fast foam. This gives you a comfy seat but allows great drainage for the Dry Fast. We like this approach, but it does eliminate your ability to flip the cushions if this is something you do frequently.

As you can see, there are several factors to consider before building new cockpit cushions and the right pairing of foam and fabric really depends on your preferences and how you like to use the cushions. We hope that you have all the information you need to make an informed decision on what is best for you and your boat.

Find all the foams and fabrics discussed here for your cockpit cushions right here at Sailrite®.

Have you made your own cockpit cushions before? What foam and fabric combination did you use and why? Share your design decisions with us in the comments section.