Cockpit Cushions
This page was last updated on 14 June 2002

We wanted high-quality, durable cockpit cushions that could live outside, given the limited space inside the boat for storing such large items.  Therefore, we did some research into the best products for the job.  Many cockpit cushions are built from hard, dense, closed-cell foam, but to my way of thinking one might as well sit on the fiberglass.  The density of the closed-cell simply transmits too much pressure to one's sensitive derriere.

My wife Heidi--the sewing person of the household--researched the options and came up with the design and materials choices below.

dryfast.JPG (176361 bytes)The cushions are made from two types of foam for best performance.  On the top (the seating surface), we chose 2" Dry-Fast open cell (reticulated) foam.  This is a wide open foam that is designed to allow water to easily pass directly through.  It's nothing like standard open cell cushion foam--it has a texture more like a coarse Scotch-Brite pad than anything else.  It's much softer than closed cell foam, yet is designed specifically for this type of use.

ensolite1.JPG (134115 bytes)Beneath the 2" layer of Dry-Fast, we used a 1/2" layer of black Ensolite, a closed cell foam that resembles neoprene.  Because it is much denser, this thin layer should help prevent transfer of the hard fiberglass seats through the open cell foam on top, which will make the cushions ultimately more comfortable.

sunbrella-21202.JPG (56348 bytes)For the tops and sides of the cushions, we chose more of the same toast Sunbrella that our sailcovers and dodger are made of.  We didn't want to go with a lighter color because they tend to get dirty and discolored so fast; the toast will better hide the inevitable staining.

mesh-21202.JPG (87264 bytes)As a critical part of the "stay dry" system that starts with the Dry-Fast foam, the bottom surface of the cushions are covered with Phifertex mesh fabric.  This is a vinyl encapsulated woven polyester product that features an open design to allow water to easily drain through.

piping.JPG (168355 bytes)To dress up the cushions, the perimeter will feature piping made from foam piping cord (5/32") covered with a slightly lighter Sunbrella color to contrast with the body; the color is an off-white called oyster.

Here are the steps involved in making the cushions.  Perhaps I can get Heidi to write up a more detailed description.

1.  Lay out strips of oyster Sunbrella into which the piping cord will be sewn.  The fabric is cut on the bias to allow the fabric to have more "give" to it, which helps it to stay smoother when it is wrapped around the corners of the cushion.  COMPLETE 2/18/02

2.  Make paper patterns of cockpit seats and test fit.  1/2" seam allowance on all sides.  COMPLETE 2/18/02

3.  Cut fabric to match patterns, as well as strips for sides of cushion.  COMPLETE 2/25/02

4.  Cut foam to match pattern.  We picked up a cheap ($15) electric carving knife that worked really well for this.  Highly recommended.  COMPLETE 2/19/02

foamgluedup.JPG (167307 bytes)After on-and-off work for a couple months, Heidi had the sewing for the cushions done.  Before we could install the foam, though, it was up to me to glue the two different layers of foam together.  First, I punched a series of 1/4" holes in the black Ensolite foam, as recommended by the writeup in the Sailrite catalog.  I used a fabric hole punch for this, and it worked great.  The purpose of the holes is to provide a clear path for drainage--remember, the Dry-Fast foam should let water run pretty much right through, and we don't want it to collect on top of the firmer Ensolite.  I punched the holes on roughly a 6" grid.  Then, I glued the Ensolite to the Dry-Fast with 3M 77 spray adhesive.

completedcockpitcushion.JPG (152703 bytes)After some minor trimming, we were ready to install the foam in the covers.  Heidi sewed full-length zippers on the back sides of the cushions, which made insertion really easy.  The covers fit perfectly, and look absolutely great.

cushionclip.JPG (163089 bytes)cushionhook.JPG (176330 bytes)To secure the cushions in the cockpit, Heidi sewed webbing loops to the inside ends of each cushion--fore and aft.  Into these loops she sewed a stainless steel hook.  I installed some stainless strap eyes in the cockpit in corresponding locations, and the hooks simply snap into the eyes, holding the cushions in place against sliding or blowing away.  The best thing is, the cockpit lockers can still be opened with the cushions in place and hooked in.

Two seasons worth of use has proved that these cushions are fantastic.  They live outdoors at all times, whether we're on board or not, and do not absorb any water.  They drain immediately after a rainstorm, and can be sat upon immediately after getting wet--or at least as soon as the Sunbrella surface is try enough to be comfortable.  I couldn't possibly recommend the process highly enough, if one is willing to make the proper investment in materials for the job.  These were not inexpensive cushions--but the best things rarely come for nothing.

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Glissando, Pearson  Triton #381

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