Do you want the yacht-y look you get from freshly cleaned teak, but think life’s too short to scrub? Maybe you need some plastic.
Don’t wear out your knees and bum scrubbing teak decks—walk on plastic instead. Man-made teak is hard to tell from the real thing, and it’s better: It provides the beauty of teak, the secure footing of teak, it’s easier to clean than teak, it doesn’t start to go grey the minute you turn your back like teak does, and it won’t stain when a guest capsizes a glass of Pinot Noir onto it. Whether you’re replacing skeevy teak decks you already have, or classing-up garden-variety nonskid, consider eschewing real wood for low-maintenance, man-made plastic “faux teak.” Few of your neighbors will tell the difference, your body will thank you and the maintenance you save will give you more time on the water.
In days gone by, traditional teak decks were built of thick planking over deck beams, but most modern decks consist of thin planking glued and/or screwed to the structural deck, usually cored fiberglass. It doesn’t take many years of enthusiastic scrubbing to wear down the thin wood, making it so ragged only sanding will restore it, and causing the bungs sealing the screw heads to start popping out. Soon, water leaking around the unguarded screws will also find its way into the cored deck underneath. Switching to glued, not screwed, faux teak seals the holes, protects the structure and ends the tyranny of scrubbing. (Some builders of teak decking now bond the wood to a man-made backing, which in turn is glued onto the deck, without fastenings; so, if you want real teak decks, this is the way to go.)
But wait. Isn’t swapping real teak for a molded plastic lookalike akin to wearing a Rolex purchased from a guy with a card table set up on the sidewalk? Maybe—but I wear a Timex that vaguely resembles a Submariner, so do I care? Many moons ago, I was captain aboard a sailboat with teak-over-plywood decks and lots of varnish. Both made my life a living hell, and during that Purgatory, I vowed that I’d never own a boat with either one and I never have. If you must have the yacht-y look, faux teak is the only sensible choice, in my opinion. Buy it from a company whose product is made from recycled materials, and you’ll keep some plastic out of the landfills, and maybe out of the ocean, too. Then, when you send your boat to the salvage yard, your faux teak can be peeled off the deck and recycled. And, while not cheap, faux teak costs less than the real thing.
All Faux Is Not Alike
The most “wood-like” faux teaks are made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride). There are many brands available, most with names incorporating “teak,” often with an alternate spelling: Nuteak, Flexiteek, Permateek, Flexiteek and others. PlasDECK is another, made by a company called PlasTEAK. Google will find them for you. The products seem, at least to me, more alike than different, varying mostly in color choices. (I’m sure the manufacturers will disagree.) Along with light brown faux teak planking with black or white caulk lines, most manufacturers offer silver gray, too. (Teak that’s left alone to age naturally turns a shade of light gray.) Each company will send you samples—this stuff will last for a long, long time, so check out all the products before writing a check.
Faux teak that’s not PVC is usually closed-cell EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foam. SeaDek is the best-known name in EVA decking for boats. But, as EVA foam is used for commercial and residential flooring, too, there are many manufacturers offering products at widely varying quality and pricing. EVA isn’t as “teak-looking” as PVC, nor as rugged, stain-resistant or long-lasting, but is less costly while providing excellent footing and cushioning. EVA comes in many colors and designs—way more than just faux teak. It’s easier than PVC decking to apply—the adhesive’s on the back, so it’s peel and stick. When it gets damaged or dirty, you can pull it off, wipe away any remaining adhesive with solvent, and start over. But if you want to fool your marina neighbors into thinking you’ve got real teak, eschew EVA and go with a PVC faux product.
Three Steps to Teak Decks
Sailboats benefit from teak decks fore and aft: Sailing involves going forward often, with the boat heeled and the decks glistening wet. The improved footing of teak (real or faux) vs. nonskid fiberglass is a big advantage. But powerboat folks spend most of their time at the helm or in the cockpit, so that’s where I’d spend my faux-teak budget. If you must cover the weather deck, consider working around cleats, windlass, stanchions and other hardware—it’ll make the job less complex and less costly. Leaving an uncovered waterway along the gunwales allows deck drains and scuppers to do their job, too.
Think carefully about how you want your planks arranged. Classic teak decks often have a margin plank around the deck edge, running along the curve of the gunwale. The rest of the planking follows the same curve, and the inboard ends of the planks tie into a king plank running along the centerline. Or, the deck planks can run fore and aft parallel to the centerline and tie into the margin planks along the gunwale. In the cockpit and on the bridge deck, planking usually runs fore and aft, with margin planks around the edges. Check out some classic boats with old-fashioned teak decks to see how they’re done.
Deck hatches are often framed by margin planks—I think traditionally that was in order to minimize exposure of end-grain in wooden planking. But faux has no grain, so the only reason to do so is aesthetic. It adds a lot of detail work and, therefore, expense, and I think too many margins make the deck look haphazard. I’d rather have the planking flow continuously fore and aft, with the hatches discreetly cut in. But that’s me, your taste might differ. Nuteak has examples of margin and no-margin decks on their website, worth a look even if you buy a different faux teak.
Once you have the coverage and planking patterns figured out, there are three steps between you and a classy PVC faux teak deck. The first is to make a detailed template of your deck using clear plastic sheeting and magic markers. This is the most important, and, to me, most frightening part of the project: The finished job is only as good as your template. Most manufacturers have detailed instructions on templating, either on their website or YouTube. Or find a local distributor/installer who will make the template for you. Some pros measure your boat digitally to create an exact template, more precise than the one you’ll cut yourself. And the better the template, the better the job. I’d take this route: Hire a pro, let them make the template, and then any mistakes in the finished product will belong to them.
The second step is building the panels that will make up your faux deck. PVC planking is assembled like a real teak deck, in “planks” typically about 60 mm wide and 5 mm thick. The planks key together along the edges and are bonded with glue and adhesive/caulking. (The exact process differs slightly among manufacturers, but the basics are the same.) The result is essentially a one-piece panel, which is then cut to the shape on the template. But you don’t have to do this yourself. Send the template to the manufacturer and let them build the panels for you. You’ll get them back rolled up in tubes, ready for gluing down. Even professional faux-deckers farm out this part of the job.
Third, apply the faux teak to the deck. The longevity of PVC decks hinges on perfect adhesion between the faux teak panels and the underlying deck; the PVC itself will last for decades, maybe forever—it’s plastic. Incomplete adhesion can leave spongy areas or let in water that will eventually cause the deck to lift, especially if you boat where it freezes in the winter. Prepping the underlying surface thoroughly, using plenty of high-quality glue, and then rolling the heck out of the new decking should produce a long-lived job—faux teak manufacturers say more than 20 years. You might have to do some caulking around the edges of the new decking, or in seams where two panels join. (For a more detailed investigation of applying faux teak, see “Installing Synthetic Teak Decks”.)
It sounds easy, but there are tricks to every trade, including this one, so I’d hire a professional. Faux teak is expensive, and nickel- and dime-ing the project to save a few bucks is false economy if the job fails due to inexpert installation. If you’ve hired a pro to make your template, chances are his fee will include applying the decking, too. The pros I’ve spoken to won’t do half the job, and their customers don’t want them to, anyway. This is an investment in the boat, and the long-term success of the job depends on correctly applying the faux teak to the underlying deck.
If you want your boat to look “yachty,” embrace the joy of plastics and lay down some faux teak decks. Write the check, toss the deck brush and go boating. Even spill some wine if you want to—it’ll wash right out. That’s the magic of plastics.