Tips to Remove and Replace Boat Carpet (It’s Easier Than You Think)

Tips to Remove and Replace Boat Carpet (It’s Easier Than You Think)

When guests slip off their sandals and shoes to board your boat, you want it to be welcoming. Exposure to the elements and the harsh marine environment can take a heavy toll on a boat's carpeting. It could attract mildew, stains and fishy odors. 

Every few years (even with regular cleaning and scrubbing), it will need to be replaced. There's just no way around it.

To replace boat carpet, many boaters wish to go the DIY route and do it themselves. It's easier than you might think. I'm now on my third boat carpet replacement, and I get better at it each time.

It simply takes a willingness to learn and patience. But be aware. Marine carpet installation can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. In addition, you might have to order the carpet and wait for it to arrive. If you work outside, you'll have weather delays.

In short, if you're like me, plan on it taking double the time you estimate.Things come up.

For boaters who want to roll up their sleeves and replace their own boat carpet, follow this step-by-step guide. It will help you do a bang-up job, avoid costly mistakes and even have a little fun.

How to Choose and Order Replacement Carpet

Springing for quality marine-grade carpet is a good investment and boat upgrade. But with so many options, how do you choose?

Consider the Carpet Ounce Weight

The carpet ounce weight indicates how many fibers it contains, so a dense heavy carpet will be more durable. Not only that, it just looks better.

I once tried a cheap 12-ounce carpet and the backing showed when I wrapped the hatches. On the other hand, some boaters find 32-ounce carpet difficult to work with. The thickness also makes the hatches hard to open and close.

Carpet in the 18- to 20-ounce range is both sturdy and pliable and makes a good middle ground.

Order Carpet Samples Before Committing

Take it from me: Order samples before you make a decision. This is especially true if you're ordering online. Color photos on websites can be wildly inaccurate. Reading a product description is nothing like handling the product.

Stains and fading will be less obvious if you go with a textured carpet.

Budgeting and Placing a Boat Carpet Order

You can order pre-cut carpet directly from your boat's manufacturer, but it will cost you an arm and a leg. You'll save a fortune by cutting the carpet yourself, and it's not as hard as you may think.

When you're budgeting for a pontoon carpet installation, plan on ordering an amount of carpet that's roughly double the length of your boat.

Out With the Old: How to Remove Boat Carpet

Removing the old boat carpet is the most labor-intensive part of marine carpet installation. Here are 12 tips that will have you whistling while you work:

1. Secure the trailer with wheel chocks and a dock at the trailer tongue wheel for stability.

2. Disconnect the boat battery and unload all the tackle.

3. Take pictures of any components that you're removing, especially if you're disconnecting wiring under the dash. You'll be glad you did when it's time to put everything back together.

4. Remove all the carpeted hatches and panels. If they're riveted, drill them out slowly to avoid breaking them off.

5. Place all your hardware in labeled zippered/reclosable bags as you work.

6. Use a gentle twisting motion to remove staples with a heavy-duty staple remover.

7. Start in a corner, cross your fingers and see if the carpet pulls up easily. Work slowly and handle the carpet as gently as possible. Each piece will serve as a pattern for the new carpet, so don't head for the dumpster just yet.

8. Here's an important step that I missed the first time around. As you remove each piece of carpet, label the back according to its orientation and location on the boat. This can be as simple as drawing arrows that point to the bow.

9. If the carpet doesn't come right up, carefully scrape with a utility knife or vibrating all-purpose tool with a scraper blade. This is when good friends or your favorite iTunes come in handy.

10. Repeat the process with all the panels and hatches. Again, mark the orientation with arrows.

11. Check the bare deck for damage, rot, mold or mildew and address problems with mildew remover before you proceed.

12. All the adhesive residue has to be removed before you install the new carpet. There is ongoing debate about the best way to do this.

You can use a chemical glue solvent. If you go this route, call your boat's manufacturer for advice. Some solvents are hard to clean up, and some soak into wood decks and prevent new carpet from adhering properly.

Spray the solvent over the adhesive residue and allow it to sit for a few minutes. The residue should then come up easily with a scraper.

Using a soft cloth, absorb as much of the solvent as possible when you finish an area. When all the residue is removed, start cleanup immediately.

First, dry-mop the deck and wipe the hatches with an absorbent chamois cloth or mop head. Then, thoroughly clean the deck and hatches using warm soapy water, boat soap and a soft brush.

Allow everything to dry overnight if possible. The new glue won't adhere unless the surfaces are 100 percent dry. You could also use an orbit sander to prep your deck for the pontoon carpet installation. Some folks swear by a heat gun for dissolving stubborn adhesive. 

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In With the New: How to Install Boat Carpet

Be sure to buy a glue that's suitable for marine carpet installation. Latex-based glue, for instance, is water soluble and won't work for boat carpet installation.

During the installation, protect your hands with disposable vinyl gloves and work in a well-ventilated area. Follow these steps:

1. Completely unroll the new carpet on a clean surface with the backing up. Smooth out any lumps or ripples. Be sure it's oriented in the direction you want it to run. Mark numerous arrows on the backing for good measure and weigh down the corners.

2. Place your old carpet templates, also with the backing up, on the new carpet. Start with the largest pieces and make sure that the orientation agrees. Weight down the patterns to prevent slipping.

3. Trace each piece with a marker, remembering to trace hatch and panel pieces a couple of inches larger than the patterns. This will allow for wrapping and securing the edges.

4. Don't worry about the small holes where hardware was in place. It's easier to drill holes through the carpet when you're installing it.

5. Use a utility knife to cut the carpet. Replace the blade frequently to prevent tears and unraveling. You want nice clean cuts. Trim loose fibers with sharp scissors rather than pulling with your fingers.

6. Take the large piece or pieces of carpet that will cover the deck and lay them out before you apply glue. Make sure that the carpet is nice and smooth and that all the edges correspond to the boat's dimensions. Put a heavy object near the center. That's where you'll start.

7. Gently roll the carpet to the heavy object without allowing the carpet to shift. Spray some glue over a small area at the center of the deck and unroll the carpet enough to glue the center down.

8. Once the center adheres and won't shift around, apply glue to small areas at a time. Work in sections from the center out toward the edges. Use a floor roller or heavy cans to press down the carpet.

9. If glue gets on the new carpet, clean it immediately with warm soapy water before it dries.

10. Start in the center for hatches and panels as well. Double check the orientation of the carpet and leave an even margin of carpet on all sides for tucking and fastening. Use carpet clamps or scrap wood to ensure that the wrapping around the edges stays glued.

11. Allow the glue to set for at least an hour. You can prevent seepage by staying off the carpet during this time. After an hour or so, go over it again with the roller. From there, it's just a matter of putting your boat back together again.

Boat carpet installation is a rewarding do-it-yourself project if you plan well and stay organized. Are you on board?