We stand on, walk on, drop things on and slide things across our boat’s deck every time we leave the dock – and all of it takes a toll. No matter what type of boat you have nor what sort of deck it sports, if you love your boat and keep it for years on end, there will come a time when its deck needs to be replaced or refinished. Just what this entails depends on how it was constructed and whether it’s still structurally sound. In most cases, your boat’s deck will be made of one of three materials: wood, fiberglass or aluminum. So, we’ll address handling each in turn.
Re-Decking Wood Boat Decks
Wood boat decks are usually finished off with marine-grade carpet, a vinyl skin or a painted-on nonskid surface treatment. In the case of carpet or vinyl, if the deck’s finish has merely worn away and the wood beneath it is still sound, you can rip away the old stuff and apply new carpet or vinyl. If painted nonskid has worn away, applying a fresh coat will get the job done. However, if the wood shows any signs of rot it should be completely replaced.
To remove the old wood, you’ll need to remove any finish material, locate the fasteners and back them out. Try to keep the pieces intact even if they’re rotten, so you can use them as templates when cutting new pieces. Different types of plywoods also have different treatments and properties that can lead to corrosion issues with aluminum boats or structural problems with fiberglass boats, so you should always use the exact same type the original manufacturer used. Use the same thickness as well, because a wood deck adds substantial weight to a boat, and you don’t want to change the manufacturer’s original intended weight calculations. Otherwise, the boat may sit lower or higher in the water than before.
Re-Decking Fiberglass Boat Decks
Fiberglass has a lengthy lifespan, and if it was constructed properly, a fiberglass deck can remain structurally sound for decades on end. The one exception is when fiberglass decks are cored with plywood and the ply rots. This is actually a worst-case scenario (and somewhat common), since the rotten wood will have to be literally cut out and replaced, then re-glassed. This is a big job that most DIY boaters will eschew, but if you know how to work both wood and fiberglass and want to take it on, remember these key tips:
- As with replacing a wood deck, use wood that’s as close as possible to the thickness and weight of the original. Also, mimic the original fiberglass work, using the same size and weight cloth and the same number of layers.
- Be cautious when cutting free the old deck, as it’s possible to cut through integrated fuel lines, tanks, wires or even the hull. Before you begin, drill a hole in the deck and use a probe to measure its thickness. Then set the saw blade to cut no deeper.
- Paint all surfaces of the new wood with fiberglass resin to help seal it from water intrusion.
If the deck remains sound but the raised molded nonskid surface on a fiberglass deck has worn away, recognize that you’ll never be able to restore it to its original form. However, there are plenty of good paint-on nonskid products that are easy to apply and look great.
In many cases, even if the structure of the deck is solid, the surface of the gel coat will likely be cracked in numerous areas, especially near fittings and in corners. Before painting over these surfaces, the cracks should be repaired or they’ll likely reopen in your new deck’s finish and may eventually lead to water intrusion in the deck’s core. To fix a crack, route out a V-shaped groove over the crack, going as deep as the crack itself. Clean and decontaminate the surface of all routed areas, then fill in the cracks with epoxy resin thickened with a thickening agent like silica powder (as per the manufacturer’s instructions).
Re-Decking Aluminum Decks
It’s rare to find an aluminum deck that needs to be structurally repaired unless the boat has had some significant damage, and in that case, fixing the deck should be left to a pro. Otherwise, in most cases all the deck will need is a refinishing with a skin, new carpet or paint-on nonskid.
Re-Decking with Foam Padding
In addition to the abovementioned options, if your boat’s deck is structurally solid but needs a refinishing job, you might want to consider simply covering the old deck with foam padding. While it’s certainly more expensive than painting on nonskid, foam padding is favored by many people because it looks great, can significantly reduce the physical wear and tear on the boat’s occupants, and it can be DIY-applied over all surfaces.
Note that the lifespan of foam decking materials can vary quite a bit depending on the climate. Most foam deck pad manufacturers offer warranties from one to three years and project a service life of three to seven years. Having the padding put on by professionals as opposed to doing it yourself generally leads to better longevity, as surface prep prior to sticking the pads down and their exact placement are critical factors.
If you choose to do the application yourself, you might be able to order a kit that will fit your boat. Many manufacturers already have the templates for popular make and model boats in their computers. In other cases, however, the boat will first have to be templated. You can then have the manufacturer router-cut the pads, or order it in large sheets or rolls and cut it to fit with a razor knife.
Which of these re-decking options is right for you? That depends on what sort of deck issues you have and just how willing you are to get your hands dirty. But one thing is for sure: With a fresh new deck underfoot, you’re going to love that boat even more than before.