The deck makes the boat.
The right boat flooring material will protect your vessel and add to its unique style.
But you might not even be aware that you have much to choose from.
What Type of Boat Flooring Material Can I Choose?
Boat makers usually give you a boat bottom of either wood, fiberglass or metal (mostly steel) on top of which your actual flooring material is placed.
This flooring material in boats is made up of more loosely-laid materials which may include laminates, tiling or vinyl. This serves as a permanent or semi-permanent covering to protect the boat bottom beneath it.
That flooring material and what’s underneath it then provide a solid, durable surface for standing, walking and transporting materials across the vessel.
The 5 Best Types of Boat Flooring Materials
It goes without saying that wood has been the material of choice for boat and ship builders for thousands of years. That’s mainly because of its durability, provided it’s cared for and maintained regularly. Moreover, even low maintenance can even help sustain wood because of its natural ruggedness.
Also, various types of hardwood exist that make very effective boat flooring.
According to many boat builders, one ideal choice is oak because of its strength and flexibility, durability and water-resistant properties. It can be a bit oily, making it difficult to apply epoxy.
However, quality wood can be expensive, and it tends to fade with time. Thus, refinishing is required periodically, and that can be an additional expense. Moreover, wood can rot if exposed to water for a long time (and especially if it’s not epoxied, though the jury is still out on the issue of epoxy’s benefits for wooden boats).
But when it comes to general boat flooring, wood can be slippery, tough on the feet and prone to wear from environmental conditions.
Whenever you put it, you might consider adding a slip-resistant finishing product (seen right, check price on Amazon here) to your wooden boat flooring. It may not look as pretty as it could, but you’ll have less risk of slips and falls.
2. Linoleum or Vinyl
Linoleum or vinyl flooring can be great for a boat, provided that it’s in an enclosed space with air conditioning. As such, this type of flooring is idea for cabins but not decks.
Unless, of course, it has been specific designed to be tough boat flooring. Like, for example, this wood-like vinyl planking on Amazon (check price here).
In this case, vinyl planks to be used as boat flooring not only look like nice wood planks, but they’re totally water resistant and may be used freely in areas where moisture is an issue. They can handle wet areas and deal well with people walking on them as well.
Moreover, vinyl planks are reusable and can be re-installed if the boat is remodeled. That’s a nice plus! You can even pull up the vinyl flooring to transfer it to another boat, or to identify and prevent water seepage under the planks.
Should the cabin get flooded unexpectedly, you can simply pull up the vinyl planks and even air dry them.
Before buying vinyl planks, be sure to check out their durability. Select a vinyl that’s thick, UV-resistant and has a wear layer for better, longer-lasting performance.
Vinyl rolls are known for their ease of installation and sleek, modern look. Glue-down linoleum may be used with waterproof glue in corridors and cabins of large yachts and boats.
Maintaining vinyl is also quite easy, as you only have to sweep it to keep it clean. Mopping with water and soap once in a while leaves the tiles fresh and clean.
3. Specialty Paints
Special, water-resistant marine paints are widely available to be used on boat floors. The preference, however, is for those paints which are low on toxicity, cheap and cleanable with water.
High-quality acrylic boat floor paint is water resistant, and the smell is almost undetectable. It doesn’t flake easily and remains intact even years after its application.
It’s less toxic and dries faster after application. This is particularly true in the case of water-based acrylics as compared to the oil-based ones. Fast drying is something to look out for, and provide a huge advantage—when the paint dries fast, less dust and debris falls into it in the process, leaving you with a nice, smooth finish.
Acrylic paints can change the original color of the wood less when applied. You’ll have the option of choosing between satin, semi-gloss and high gloss.
Paints, however have a shorter life span that other flooring materials and need to be regularly applied to protect boat floors. This could be an additional and recurring expense. If they’re applied on outward deck floors, constant exposure to sunlight and water sprays could make them fade or crack in the short term.
This is perhaps the oldest material known to boat builders and a pioneering marine fabric, known for its simple weave, durability and water-resistance. Thick, rugged fabric is suitable for the extremes of the outdoors in any harsh marine environment.
Fibers are usually pigmented prior to extrusion, and this reduces fading while increasing color-fastness. Moreover, the canvas is available in numerous classy colors that add to the boat’s aesthetics. Even though water-resistant canvas is able to breathe that vents moisture. This makes it the ideal material for sails, boat covers and bimini tops.
It allows rain drops to bounce off while letting moisture from the boat’s cockpit or bridge escape through the top cover. This keeps the vessel drier and prevents mildew and mold problems. Canvas, being a soft fabric, is also flexible to fit in snugly with floor contours.
It also comes with a finished or soft hand look and adapts beautifully to the tensions and shapes placed on it. Moreover, its life span is also a minimum of 10 years, and it can be washed, handled, re-stitched, repaired, folded and re-installed on the boat with no damage at all to the fabric.
Plus, prices are competitive as compared to other boat flooring materials.
The standard marine canvas fabric, however, may just be water-resistant and not waterproof. That’s why after the first 2 years at least, canvas floorings, tops, awnings and covers should be treated with Fabric Guard. They’re going to need a little help while standing up to all those environmental factors.
This material is known to have lesser chafe resistance as compared to many other fabrics, so floor coverings need chafe protection and patches where they come in contact with cleats, stays, winches, sail covers and shrouds.
Also, canvas has a tendency to stretch by at least two percent after the first few weeks of exposure to the weather. On a flat surface like a T-top on a center console boat, this could result in water pooling at the top, which stretches the canvas even further.
If you’re caught in “The Perfect Storm,” you can expect it to stretch. Though if you’re caught in a storm like in that crazy book, you have much bigger issues to think about!
Color fading due to constant exposure to harsh, sun-drenched conditions is also another drawback of the canvas. The shades that fade most and quickly are red, orange, yellow, some browns and toast. The choice should, therefore, be between black, blue, green or lighter neutral colors such as natural, linen and oyster which don’t fade easily.
Carpeting is, of course, another type of boat flooring material with great appeal. It’s a textile-based floor covering used as the upper layer on the boat, attached to a backing material. The textile part may be made from wool, nylon, olefin, polypropylene or polyester.
Carpeting may be either wall-to-wall or for specific spaces only. This flooring type is typically for the indoors, especially cabins of ships and boats, but especially durable boat carpeting can be used for the whole deck.
There are numerous types of carpets. One common option is the twist, often called the Berber. Its fibers are twisted into place, and directly connected to the backing of the carpeting. While it looks nice, it’s typically less durable than other types of boat carpeting. It’s more challenging to clean (precisely because of its twists) and tends to wear out more quickly.
You also have looped carpets, with looped fibers fixed into the carpet backing. These tend to be easier to clean and longer lasting overall.
How to Choose Your Boat Flooring
In sum, with the rapid advent of materials science, more and more boat flooring materials are hitting the marine market every couple of years.
The choice of the correct material, however, would depend on its durability, cost, aesthetic value and toughness.
A combination of all four materials may also be used to protect different parts of the boat depending on its exposure to the elements and frequency of use.