I might be kneeling on the deck of my boat to pull the hook out of a 30-pound striper, or I might be kneeling down to pray to the fish-gods for a bite—either way, I'll feel chipped, cracked, jagged old non-skid ripping into my knees. Sometimes just standing on my boat makes my feet hurt. In fact, merely looking at her dull finish and pock-marked fiberglass sort of makes my eyes hurt, too. Sure, I knew when I bought this faded old 1998 Glacier Bay 22 that she’d never be a beauty. But I didn’t expect her to cause my body so many aches and pains. So I’ve decided to do something about it. Something that would make that deck a whole lot more comfortable to stand, kneel, and ride upon. Something that might also pretty up the boat a bit. No, this Cinderella won't ever become a beautiful princess, but I don’t care. I’m going to give her a new deck.
This won’t be any normal re-decking job, either. Through the past few boat show seasons I’ve notice the prevalence of cushiony foam decking on many new models. The stuff is called SeaDek, and it’s a closed-cell EVA foam with great non-skid properties. According to the SeaDek people, it’s easy to custom-cut and apply to the molded non-skid on an old boat like mine. Let’s find out if that’s true.
Phase I: Measuring and Templating
Before I could even guess at how much SeaDek I’d need, I had to measure and template the entire boat’s deck. This is actually a bit tougher than one might think, because SeaDek sheet material is only available in a few specific sizes: 39” x 77”, 18” x 74”, and 18” x 38”. Larger areas of the deck require several pieces-parts to be puzzled together, and smaller ones need to be cut to fit. So prior to ordering the materials, I had to figure out what I’d need and how it would all fit together.
With my tape measure and a notepad, I drew out diagrams of the deck sections and noted the dimensions of each. When I had the final tally, I went to the SeaDek web site and priced up what I’d need. The total: $825. Not that I actually paid that much. In fact, SeaDek agreed to supply the materials for this project, knowing that I'd write about it. But they didn't pay anything to get this article nor the accompanying video produced, and they did it understanding that I'd tell you boaters the full story—good, bad, and ugly.
With the order placed, it was time to template the deck. Each section you’ll be covering with SeaDek needs its own template, which you then lay over the sheet material to cut accurately-fitting pieces. I started with the easiest parts first: the pair of 18” wide, 36” fishbox hatches, which are basically simple rectangles with rounded corners and a circular cut-out in the middle for the pull-ring.
Since I’m unbearably cheap, I’m always trying to save the accounting department some pain (you hear that in the ivory tower, you bean-counters?) and I had a clear plastic drop-cloth in my shed, I decided to use it as my templating material. I laid it over the first fishbox, cut it so the edges were slightly larger than necessary, and used masking tape to hold it in place. Then, using a permanent marker and a straight-edge, I traced out the nonskid area on the hatch. I stood back to admire my handiwork—and then ripped up the tape, balled up the plastic, and threw it all away.
As it turns out, you can’t use a material that stretches for your templates. Just the pressure of the straight edge and marker were enough to cause the plastic to stretch ever so slightly, resulting in wiggly, ill-fitting lines. Clear mylar is the solution. It’s what SeaDek recommends (and sells with their own templating kits, which cost $35.95), and it works much better. I found a roll of it (.005” thickness, 40” x 12’, $18.00) on Amazon, which turned out to be just enough to template the entire boat. It was not, however, as quick and easy as one might think. Between trimming the mylar sheets, taping them in place, tracing, then un-taping each piece, it took me four and a half hours to complete the process.
Phase II: Slicing and Dicing
With all of my templates complete and my rolls of SeaDek sheet material in-hand, I was ready to start cutting. Almost. I needed something to cut on, something larger than the biggest sheet I’d cut, and thick enough that the razor knife wouldn’t go through and damage whatever was underneath. In my case that whatever was going to be the rigid cover over a hot tub: the only flat surface I could find that was large enough to support the project. Unless you have a workbench or a table that’s at least four feet wide and seven feet long, you’ll have to find an alternative working surface like this—and then cover it with a sheet of plywood for protection.
I unrolled the first sheet of SeaDek, laid it flat on the plywood, and watched it curl right back up into roll form. Tip: un-roll the sheets ahead of time, and give them an hour or two in the sun to return to their naturally flat disposition.
When I was finally able to tape the SeaDek onto the plywood, then tape the template over the SeaDek, I made another discovery: masking tape doesn’t stick to plywood very well. You can solve the issue by running a strip of duct tape along the edges of the masking tape, to help keep it in place.
Finally, it was time to cut. I placed my razor knife along the line of the template, applied a little pressure, and quickly made series of perfectly straight cuts along the lines. Then, I used a hole-saw bit with my power drill to cut out a perfectly round hole for the hatch’s pull-ring. I removed the tape and template, and exposed a series of zig-zagging cuts that looked like they had been made by some drunk Zorro wannabe. Hrumph.
As I had been making the cuts, I’d noticed that the template did shift and wrinkle slightly a few times. I had also caught myself leaning the razor knife over at an angle, instead of keeping it perfectly upright. As it turns out, these minor mistakes have a huge impact on the final product. You can avoid making them by ensuring that the template is thoroughly taped in place—a seemingly absurd amount of tape worked best—and by holding your straight-edge on the lines and sliding the edge of the razor knife against it as you cut, to help keep the blade perfectly upright.
Fortunately, I didn’t ruin the entire sheet of material. Fixing botched edges is possible by simply moving your line back a quarter inch or so, and cutting again. Yes, the sheet will be sized a tiny bit smaller, but a slightly smaller sheet with a straight edge looks one heck of a lot better than a larger sheet with edges that aren’t true.
Another thing I learned during this process was not to get too fancy. When SeaDek factory-cuts this stuff with their computer-controlled router, they make beautifully curved recesses for hinges, pipe-work mounts, and other hardware. In trying to mimic that look with my hand-cuts, I managed to ruin an entire sheet of material.
I should point out that I have a personal artistry level closer to Porky Pig than Picasso. I’ve known since third grade that I couldn’t draw a straight line, much less a compound curve. There are a lot of you boaters out there who will be far better at making artistic cuts than I, and if you feel you have the ability to slice out those curvaceous insets, by all means go for it. But for those of us who are artistically challenged, keeping the cuts as simple as possible is probably the best move.
What if you want your SeaDek to look utterly perfect, as it does on those new boats? Just trace out your templates, and stop right there. You can send them to SeaDek, and they’ll custom-cut your decking with their computer-controlled routers. This will make your straight lines perfectly straight, and your curves thoroughly curvaceous. Using my KISS methodology the cutting process took me seven hours, so sending your templates to SeaDek will also save you a lot of time. Having the pieces factory-cut will not, however, save you money. Prices will vary, but in this case, SeaDek quoted me $1,572 (including materials) to do all the cutting.
Phase III: Application
With the material cut and ready to install, a little prep work is in order. The peel-off sticky-back sheets of SeaDek won’t stay put if you lay them down on a dirty deck, so you need to scrub, scrub, and scrub some more, until the deck’s shining. Then, the entire surface needs to be wiped down with an ammonia-based cleaner (they recommend Windex), and then with acetone. This process strips away all the waxes and contaminants that might reduce the sticky backing’s five to seven year expected lifespan.
With these chores complete, it’s time to apply the SeaDek. Start by positioning a piece on the deck, and securing one half of it in place with—yes, you guessed it—more masking tape. In case you’re wondering, by the way, I went through three rolls during the entire process.
Next, fold the sheet over from the side that’s not taped down, to expose the paper backing. Score it with your razor knife, being careful not to cut into the SeaDek itself, then peel the paper away. With the sticky stuff now exposed, roll the SeaDeck back down over your boat’s deck, pressing firmly as you go, while being careful to smooth out any bubbles or ripples. Once the first half is firmly in place you can rip off the masking tape, fold back the second half, peel away the paper, and lay it in place, too.
Now you’ll have to repeat that process for each and every piece of SeaDek, but I found this to be the easiest step of the program. Yes, with 21 separate puzzle-pieces to my deck it took a full five hours to do the installation. But it seemed to go quickly, since I got to finally enjoy the satisfaction of seeing my work come to fruition with each and every piece I stuck in place. Or, maybe I should say I got to feel it come to fruition. I noticed the difference between standing or kneeling on the fiberglass deck versus the SeaDek almost instantly. The foamy cushion makes a significant difference, and I caught myself changing positions just so I could kneel on pieces that had already been applied, as I put the next ones on.
Including the cost of supplies, DIY re-decking with SeaDek cost just under $1,000 and took me two full days of work (16.5 hours). Was the project worth the investment? During the first day of fishing after the installation, I guessed it was around 25-percent more comfortable to stand on the deck, and 80- to 90-percent more comfortable to kneel on it. I positively love this stuff.
Yes, it’s true that some of my lines are imperfect and I didn’t attain the very best look possible. But then again, like I said earlier, I knew my boat wasn't exactly a thing of beauty. And while some may glance at my new decking and think I’m trying to make this boat look like a princess she'll never be, I feel more like I’ve put new slippers on my Cinderella. Not glass slippers, though. Nice, comfy foam ones.
Fore more information, visit SeaDek.