Quick drying cockpit cushions

Cockpit cushions that dry quickly and could be used as buoyancy aids in an emergency? Too good to be true? Not if you make them like this.

Comfort afloat has become a big issue. Gone are the days when cruising sailors were resigned to spending hours at the helm, their own sterns parked on unyielding cockpit seats that became harder and harder with every minute that passed. And, even if the male of the species thought it heroic and manly, their stiff upper lips only matched by the advancing rigour in their limbs, in my experience this form of masochism was only rarely endorsed by partners and wives. And rightly so.

Times have changed. Most of us now rely on machinery of one sort or another to do the steering and, at least on our boat, comfortable cockpit cushions are definitely here to stay, notwithstanding the extra personal upholstery my body seems to have gained over the years.

  • So, what makes for good cockpit cushions? Well, I can think of only a few essential requirements:
  • They should be comfortable.
  • They should be non-slippery to stand on.
  • They should dry out quickly and not remain waterlogged.
  • They should be buoyant so they can be heaved overboard as an instant reaction in an MOB situation before the dedicated recovery gear is deployed.

Simple really. These seem easy aims to fulfil. Actually, it’s not until you review the various commonly employed materials that you realise that none satisfy all demands. Let’s look at the options.

Polyurethane foam: Cheap, cheerful and readily available but will become waterlogged and will take an age – well, days anyway – to dry out. Also, it’s essentially non-buoyant in any load carrying capacity. To mitigate this problem you can, of course, cover them with ...

Waterproof fabric: Such as reinforced PVC. But this is quite slippery to stand on and, anyway, the seams and zips will still leak. Also it’s heavy and not nice to sit on, particularly in hot climates.

Closed cell foam: Doesn’t absorb water and floats as ably as a duck but it lacks springiness, hardly more resilient or comfortable than the original cockpit seats.

Reticulated foam – such as EZI-Dry: Please don’t reach for the dictionary. ‘Reticulated’ means net-like, the practical outcome of this forms a structure of open galleries (as opposed to cells) which drain rapidly and can’t hold large quantities of water like a conventional sponge. Unfortunately, this facility means that it doesn’t float which rules it out for criteria number four.

Dwelling on this, it occurred to me that the best way forward was to combine the qualities of the closed cell foam with the EZI-Dry, covering the whole in acrylic canvas which is both agreeable to sit upon and has good non-slip properties.

Thus it was that Shindig’s cockpit cushions were born. Basically, the foam is like a layer cake. The bottom layer is 1in (25mm) closed cell foam, white in colour, and is topped by 3in (75m) of EZ-Dry (brown) with the two being glued together with a spray-type latex adhesive. The closed cell foam has holes punched through it (Don’t try and drill them. It tears the foam apart. I used a 6mm punch – the type you hit with a hammer) at about 2in centres to allow any water to drain through.

The laminated core was then covered in an envelope of red acrylic canvas, sewn at home on a domestic machine (see above) and with the last seam being stitched on the boat once the foam had been inserted (see below).

So far, the cushions have been in use for over 10 years and are still in reasonable condition. Left out in all but the worst conditions, they dry (at least the upper surface does) within minutes and are extremely comfortable. Overall, the results could hardly have been better.

Job done!




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