Don’t Tread on Thin Threads
Carpet really ties your interior together, and sometimes your cockpit, too.
Maybe it’s time to replace yours—your feet will thank you.
Who doesn’t love brand-new carpet? Snuggling your toes into deep pile? Swapping the musty odor of damp, worn fabric for the marine equivalent of new-car smell? Untrodden-upon carpet makes your cabin or saloon look, and feel, like a million dollars again. Carpet on the cockpit or helm sole is a lot easier on the feet, especially bare feet, than nonskid fiberglass, and provides improved footing, too. And it can add a design element that’ll really tie things together.
Unfortunately, too many years of Top-Sider abuse, spilled drinks, and ground-in marina grime will knock the stuffing out of even the best carpet. Don’t tread on thin threads—replace them. Investing in new carpet is a slam dunk. It’s one of the most cost-effective things you can do to spruce up your boat, and installation is a snap. Either pay a pro to do it (writing a check is easy), or order the carpet online and lay it yourself: Only basic tools and skills are required. The result will be a cushy layer that makes you feel like you’re walking on—well, maybe not air, but on something soft, anyway. Here’s how to get started.
Caesar divided Gaul into three parts; I divide carpet into two: There’s carpet that’s necessary—underneath it there’s plywood or some other unsightly surface that’s best kept hidden—and carpet that’s optional—it lives atop a finished cabin or cockpit sole that would look fine bare. Necessary carpet is like the wall-to-wall in your house: It’s laid down once, stays put and lasts for years, especially if you get it cleaned periodically. Optional carpet, on the other hand, is easily removed and reinstalled; it’s usually held in place by snaps or Velcro. You can lift it out when you wash down, scrub it on the dock, and store it at home over the winter. If you can use the Internet and cut a template, you can order online and do the install yourself.
I wouldn’t dream of replacing the wall-to-wall carpet in my home as a DIY project, and my rooms all have square corners and removable furniture. Aboard a boat? Forget it: There are too many angles and curves, and hatches in the sole, too. Recarpeting a saloon or interior is a job for a professional, somebody like Robert Rogers, a third-generation carpetmeister from Rye, New York, whose company, Carpet Trends (www.carpetrends.com), was founded by his grandfather in 1956.
Rogers’s showroom is an Aladdin’s cave of carpet—more kinds than I knew existed, but after a lifetime in the trade, Rogers knows the characteristics and best use of each. A pro like Rogers can steer you toward the proper carpet material—polypropylene if it’s going to get wet or undergo lots of traffic. (Indoor/outdoor carpet is polypropylene; some manufactures call it olefin, a synthetic fiber made from polypropylene.) Polypropylene fibers are solution-dyed—the color is added when the fiber is manufactured, rather than afterward. “It’s the difference between a carrot and a radish,” says Rogers. “The color goes all the way through, so it won’t fade.”
In a climate-controlled cabin or saloon, where the carpet most likely won’t get wet, go with any material, says Rogers, just like in your house. Nylon carpet is durable, stain-resistant, and cleans better than polypropylene, but costs more. Most residential carpet is nylon. If you’re concerned with a carpet’s fire rating, or just want a natural fiber, wool is best, but is also most costly. There’s also vinyl—it’s available in tiles and strips that mimic a variety of woods and natural materials, and is also woven into carpet. Check the vinyl selections at Infinity (www.infinitylwv.com) and Corinthian Marine (www.corinthian-marine-carpet.com). And, advises Rogers, pick the right color so it won’t show the dirt too quickly.
Look Under the Carpet
Installing new carpet takes care, skill, and experience. When possible, Rogers uses the old carpet as a rough template, leaving a few extra inches around the edges that he’ll trim. If the subfloor is plywood, he secures the carpet with mechanical fasteners or, sometimes, tackless strips (they look like tacks driven through thin lath, nailed to the floor with points up; the carpet hooks to the points). Otherwise, he glues it down. Hatches take time; Rogers wraps the carpet around the hatch frames, and around the hatch edges, so there’s carpet-to-carpet when the hatch is closed. If the previous carpet wasn’t done this way, he says, some carpentry may be requried. A DIY job? Like I said, write the check and have a pro do it.
Padding is important, too, and is something even carpet professionals often overlook, says Rogers. He prefers to replace padding along with carpet—but, he adds, some padding on boats provides acoustic insulation, e.g., over engine rooms, and it’s expensive, so he tries to reuse it. However, in a perfect world it’s better to lay down new padding if possible. Usually, padding abuts the tackless strips, and should be the same thickness so the carpet hooks securely to the pins. Rogers says to ask your installer about padding, since many people use the cheapest kind, which isn’t necessarily the best for boats.
Even after years of carpeting boats, Rogers says it’s still tricky to estimate the cost of a job. Removing old carpet can take longer than planned: It might be glued down, and installers often use too much glue, so the old carpet has to be scraped off. “My father taught me to install carpet as if I were going to have to remove it myself someday,” he says.
“Boats are very labor-intensive,” Rogers says, and since most yachts don’t require much carpet relative to the labor cost, there’s not much profit in a job. But, he continues, that’s good news for the client, since he can upgrade his carpet and padding without it costing too much. Before visiting a carpetmeister, do your research (check here: www.carpetbuyershandbook.com) and shoot plenty of pictures, advises Rogers; they’ll show the installer details about the job, and help him help you choose the right carpet. Once the contract is signed, it typically takes a few weeks for the carpet to be delivered and installed. Recarpeting is a good project to start over the winter, so the carpet’s ready for installation in the spring.
A Rug for the Helmsman
After months of day-in, day-out driving an oil-supply boat in New York Harbor, while standing on a vibrating steel deck, I was presented with a fat rubber mat by a fellow bargeman more in tune with his joints than I was. And I tell you, it made a heck of a difference. Now, it’s the first accessory I buy for my boats. You oughta try one.
Technically, I’m talking about an anti-fatigue mat. The last one I used (I gave it to the guy who bought the boat, since he looked like his knees were already on the way out) cost me about a hundred bucks, and looked like the most expensive doormat on the planet. It was made of some kind of mystery material, nearly a half-inch thick. Its backing was sticky enough that it stayed wherever I put it, even in nasty conditions, and it provided cushioning way out of proportion to its thickness. You want to know who made it, right? Well, I forget. But there are many similar mats on the market—just search for “anti-fatigue marine mat” and you’ll find a slew of them in a variety of colors and styles (mine was navy blue). West Marine (www.westmarine.com) even has one in faux teak and holly. Or try SeaDek Marine Products (www.seadek.com); they call them Helm Station Pads, and they have a dual-density model for $120. That’s a pretty expensive doormat, but it’s a lot cheaper than joint replacement.
Optional Carpet: It’s a Snap
Unlike carpeting a saloon or stateroom, installing optional carpet is easy, and a great do-it-yourself job. Many online vendors will cut carpet to fit your boat—try Custom Marine Carpet (www.snapincarpet.com) or Corinthian Marine, or Google “marine carpet” for many more. If you own a popular production boat, with luck the vendor might already have patterns. There’s no fitting or cutting, and the carpet will have nicely bound edges (usually a sewn-on strip of Sunbrella or similar fabric). All you’ll have to do is locate and install the snaps, or stick down some self-adhesive Velcro pads.
You’ll have to make a template if the seller doesn’t have your boat in his files. Use the carpet you’re replacing if it fits well, or start from scratch. Most vendors have templating instructions on their Web sites; at press time, Corinthian Marine was final-editing a free, downloadable how-to-template video that by now is probably on both their Web site and YouTube. You can also buy the materials in a kit. Corinthian’s $30 AquaMat Boat Flooring Template Kit has the tools you need, and includes flooring samples, too. Half the cost of the kit will be credited toward your purchase, or they’ll give you a free step mat. Custom Marine Carpet has a similar deal, but they’ll credit the whole $21 cost of the template kit to your order.
If you really want to save some cash, buy polypropylene carpet in a roll and cut it yourself. Look for “needle-punched” carpet, which means the fibers are pushed into a scrim backing. Needle-punched edges don’t need binding—you can just cut them and they won’t unravel. Get carpet with a slip-resistant, marine-grade rubber backing, cut it to fit, and lay it down; you don’t have to glue it. (Glued-down carpet is also an option, though, and common aboard pontoon boats, bass boats, and so forth.) I’d buy the template kit from one of the vendors mentioned above—it’s worth $30 to get the supplies and instructions. Carpet with unfinished edges looks a little too DIY for my tastes, by the way, but for some applications it’s fine.