Best Offshore Boat Cockpit Cushions

Our old Bottom Sider cushions towards the end of their long life.

This article started as a couple of paragraphs in the third part of the series I'm writing about offshore cruising boat cockpits. But then I realized that cockpit cushions are one of those seemingly small details that are actually very important, where getting it wrong can be a far bigger problem than most people would believe possible, so we promoted the subject to its own article.

The Problem

Offshore boats need good cockpit seat cushions. Otherwise the crew will quickly become intimately familiar with a disease that back in the day when I rode the rail while ocean racing, sometimes for days at a time, we called yachty-botty (YB). Also known as fiberglass-ass because the non-skid pattern often imprinted in boat decks, and therefore on our rears, accelerates the condition.

Don't laugh. This starts off as just mild itching, but after a few days at sea it can progress to full-on open wounds on our tender parts—not even slightly funny.

And don't get me started on what all this was like when we wore blue jeans to sail offshore. "You youngsters have no idea"...Oops, old guy moment. Next thing it will be "when I was young we had to walk to school uphill both ways"...Back to the point.

Making It Worse

How can we make sure the dreaded YB does not happen? First off, we need to take those beautiful Sunbrella-covered memory-foam cushions the boat came with to the dump, or at least see if we can sell them to some sucker...err, someone who doesn't go offshore. Or maybe use them on our patio at home. Anyway, get them off the boat.

If we don't, they will absorb salt water at sea and never dry—those that think they can keep their cockpit cushions dry at sea, even with an enclosure, have not been to sea much. And not only will this accelerate the onset and severity of the dreaded YB disease, but they will also take on a smell reminiscent of dog-that-swims-in-swamp that no amount of drying in the sun will fix.

The Solution

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Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
To these cushions, I would add one of their “helm” cushions (although perhaps not for every boat). For us, it serves multiple functions: providing some backrest for the curved parts of our cockpit and mobile cushioning for the foredeck when wished. But most importantly, we stand on it going in and out of anchorages or in areas where there are lots of fish-pots. It fits cozily on the cockpit floor behind the helm and gives 7 inches of increased height (there are short versions) which makes a large difference seeing above the dodger and allowing sight close to the bow of the boat.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Steve Holloway

We’ve had Sport a seat, but cheaper and better, in Europe anyway, are Comfort Seat. Made in the Netherlands. The fact these seats can be adjusted and used anywhere means having fitted cockpit cushions, an invention of the devil, are a thing of the past.

Edwin Chamberlain

I attempted to order cushions for my Valiant 42 from C Cushions. I was put off by the lack of response. The last contact I made to place an order was never returned. We had a set of closed cell foam cushions with sunbrella tops and mesh bottoms made in Grenada (after we got the YB on the sail from The Chesapeake to the VI’s) They drain well and dry quickly and the price was cheaper by a lot than what C Cushions quoted.

Nigel Hollier

Hi John
Have used Sunbrella covered reticulated foam cushions for the last 7 years with synthetic mesh bottoms 80.00 mm thick, super comfortable for our 77yr old backsides, you can even sleep on them. With this foam you can pour water straight through with no retention.

Dan Perrott

If we find a source of reticulated foam here then this is what we will use with a loose weave mesh fabric which will allow water to drain straight through.
Closed cell foam waterproof fabrics get sweaty and unpleasant in hot weather. (Not such a problem with your cruising grounds John).
We also find the back rest to be as or more important to our comfort when sailing.

Stephen Haines

Hi John, interesting article. What is the benefit of C Cushions over simply buying closed cell foam panels off the internet (e.g. https://www.efoam.co.uk/zotefoam-plastazote.php)? If you use them without covers I’m not sure what value they are adding.

Can you (or anyone else on here) offer any advice on the thickness of the cushion and the specification of the foam?

Deborah Lloyd

Years ago I made cockpit seat cushion covers out of a loose-weave plastic patio furniture material in navy blue. I put flaps on the underside in a couple corners with snaps that mate to snaps on the cockpit seats to keep the cushions from moving around, as well as a 1 1/2” decorative front flap that also snaps to the boat. After 20 years I just bought the 3rd round of closed cell foam to insert in them. I chose 1” thick from foambymail.com 72” x 48” for $129. They call it cross-linked poly 2LB.

Closed cell foam doesn’t get softer or more comfortable by making it thicker. I’m not an offshore sailor, but reliable footing on cockpit cushions is still important to safety. 1” thick works best for me. It’s easy to cut the foam with a close-toothed serrated steak knife, and my covers hide the rough edges.

None of these materials holds water. For the helm seat I did a 4” decorative flap and added a second set of snaps so I can shove regular, softer foam underneath and snap the cushion in a higher position. So only the one small extra foam piece needs to be stored below in wet conditions.

It’s been an inexpensive and durable solution. After years of heat in Florida the previous closed cell began to shed annoying “dandruff” so that’s why I recently replaced it.

John Deakin

Sooner or later l just knew you would write about cockpit cushions John.
Be kind with me this is my first post since joining AAC nearly 2 years ago.
Having a need for comfort and enduring numerous over nights and day long torture sessions on my posterior the time came to design and ask my dear wife whose an ace with a sewing machine to make my ideas come to life.
I consider myself lucky to have brought an Ovni 385 with slatted cockpit Teak seating at least that allows the water to drain away to a degree.
We started with a children’s play mat from IKEA. To firm but a good starting point.
Off with the wipe down plastic cover and the closed cellular insert became the base for a top layer of reticular foam to be added.
That was then encased in Saleda the Spanish equivalent of Sunbrella and a lot cheaper from our local material shop.
(l did say l was a sailor)
The bottom and back are joined together so they can be used in a number of configurations.
The base has a textured surface to give some grip and is a permeable material to allow water to escape.
Both section have zips( we shall see how they perform, but my wife insisted on them) so we can remove the covers for washing off salt and drying the inserts.
I also bought a metre of vinyl to create a pop over cover for really wet sailing conditions.
We shall see how that works.
Sorry to ramble on John but you do inspire the need to take a look at what is available to buy and ask, is it fit for purpose.

Richard Ritchie

Interesting. Another option: I have just purchased a norwegian product: the Freebag.
This is a cross between yours and a beanbag, designed for offshore.
I expect to use it at the helm and under the dodger, as well as in port and even on the beach…
Might be worth a look, lighter, cheaper, no solid frame.
Available in UK at £80 from
https://www.marinechandlery.com/freebag-boat-cushion

William Murdoch

We have a couple of the So-Pac cockpit cushions West Marine sold in years past. They are simple sheets of 1-1/4″ closed cell foam. Ours are grey, but blue was available. I trimmed them to the size we needed with a jig saw. Whey they get wet, we just wipe them off. I prefer their matte surface to the C-Cushion slick vinyl surface. I wish they were still available.
http://i225.photobucket.com/albums/dd80/Rum_Pirate/Sopaccockpitcushions_zpse067c2d2.jpg

Richard Simons

We sailed across the Atlantic and purchased 4 cockpit seats with shaped seat and attached back, they were fantastic. I purchased them in gran Canaria but cannot see them online in the USA. I would def go that route for a long journey

Drew Frye

My favorites are closed cell foam covered on all sides with Phifertex (not Sunbrella on the top). A little better in hot weather than pure foam, and still very fast drying. But even in fair weather, I would take C-Cushions over fabric-covered cushions.

In wet conditions, yeah, just closed cell foam. I always tie them down in the back with Fastex clips or simple knots in cord (to attach these to the cushion with long webbing loops glued to the underside with polyurethane adhesive). I don’t want them slide or to blow or wash off, but I do want to be able to remove them quickly, even throw them to an MOB if need be. Snaps are fiddly and unreliable. Snaps on the front edge are the worst; they seem secure, but can slide if the boat heels or you step on them from the outside.

And don’t forget padding for the coaming, if you sit there. Depends on the boat, but many have terrible visibility from any of the seats.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

I have not found a cockpit cushion that I like yet. Our last boat came with the type of cushions you are discussing, I am not sure of the exact vendor though. I will admit that they were far better than other ones that I have used but I still didn’t like them. They just always felt underfoot, somewhat insecure and I never wanted to step on them.

But the problems that you discuss of fiberglass butt (we have reformed our language with little kids) and numbness are also real. So the solution that we use is Crazy Creek chairs. These are great in that you can get comfortable in many different positions with different heel, rolling, whatever and you can usually find a spot to sit to brace your feet as you don’t need to be against a backrest. I use one that is around 30 years old and my wife just retired one at around 20 and then there are a few for guests. Mine is a high back version which I don’t believe that they sell anymore but works great for a tall guy. The outer fabric on these will get wet and salty but the foam itself does not absorb moisture. The key to success is that you always close it when not using it and then any spray only hits the outside so the part where you sit always stays dry and salt free. We occasionally intentionally leave them out in the rain in a sort of teepee fashion and that seems to wash the salt off well enough from the outside. The one thing that this doesn’t cover is sitting down in wet foulies and for that, we have a few old vinyl covered boat cushions but these see very little use, especially as I don’t have a problem sitting on the bare seats once in foulies. Also, if one does get soaked in salt water, we don’t want to immediately put it into a cockpit locker so they do very occasionally end up out for a long wet period until they can be dried. It is worth noting that a friend of mine found out the hard way not to use these chairs on wooden seats, his beautiful varnish was pockmarked with dents from the rods that keep the chair stiff. Still not perfect but for a boat with a comparatively dry cockpit, they work well for us but they would not be good for bashing upwind offshore for days on end.

Eric

Robert Hellier

Those look like a great alternative to sewn-up cushions. Your sample price of $1400 for a full set of cockpit cushions on a J-42 is more than competitive to a similar set of sewn cushions made in the EU, USA or Canada, especially if you specify quality water resistant foam, top-of-the-line marine fabric and thread that have any chance of lasting as long as solid vinyl.

But what about those that prefer to make their own? $1400 would go a long way to buying all the materials and supplies one would need – not just for the cockpit – but for all interior cushions and a few more canvas projects besides. So there’s always going to be a sizable number of sailors who will make their own. Just check out Facebook’s “Sewing On Boats” to get an idea of how big and creative that group is.

We’ve been doing our own canvas work for the last 5 years and we’ve discovered a few products that work well in the cockpit. For example “Instant Dry cushioning” is made of polyethylene fiber in an open weave that passes water immediately https://www.prestigedecor.ca/outdoor-cushions/. The only issue with this product is that the texture of the weave tends to translate through the covering fabric. To avoid this we add 1/4″ of closed cell foam between the instant dry cushioning and the fabric. No big deal. Combined with a rubberized open weave seat cushion underliner, this assembly resists sliding on the seat, does not trap any water and is comfortably firm on the tush.

For the cover material we always use a top quality marine faux leather (actual materials are typically PVC with polyester backing) such as “Softside”. Looks and feels great and is super tough.

Will any sewn assembly hold up to a salt water environment and constant use for 30 years? Probably not. But a capable sailor can replace any failed component of a sewn assembly and make it like new again. I’m guessing that there’s not much one can do when a C-Cushion starts to deteriorate (fades, reacts to a strong cleaner or chemical, losses its lustre, has a chunk taken out, etc.), so one has to put up with the defect until one is finally ready to replace the entire cushion.

Wilson Fitt

Instead of full length cockpit cushions, we have always used a half dozen smaller ones, about 16” square, made of closed cell foam with a vinyl cover. One goes under the butt and one behind the back, or four or five are laid out for snoozing. Yes, they sometimes fall off the windward seat into the footwell as soon as you stand up but they can easily be tossed into a corner out of the way. Maybe it’s an example of 80% of the result for 20% of the cost.

Wilson

Marc Dacey

That is what we do, but we have a very non-traditional aft cockpit, which is basically a footwell with some slatted bench area on three sides. We’d need to put in weather clothes to keep ourselves aboard if lying down, so usually a single cushion below the backside serves. Our previous boat had custom closed-cell fitted cushions with vinyl covering; usually, tucking a couple of beach towels under them was enough to stretch out while other crew worked the tiller and lines.

Mark Blackmore

Hi John, quite a coincidence, the timing of this article. We’ve had 2 Sport a Seats/Comfort Seats for 3 years in the Med and use them all the time including on passage. We have a standard aft cockpit set up with centre fold down table and it occurred to me a little while ago to fit a removeable plywood bridge between the cockpit seat and the table, with the Sport a Seat strapped to that and facing forward. I haven’t done this yet, but we’ll be able to stand watch on passage in a seated forward facing position. The table will serve as a good arm rest I think.

Carl Nelson

I have found C Cushions fine in northern latitudes but miserably sticky when it’s hot. And always uncomfortably hard such that you yearn for nice enough weather to bring out the Sport Seats. The best I’ve found is a phifertex covered sandwich of 2″ of drain fast foam glued to 1″ of closed cell foam with 1″ holes drilled in the closed cell for drainage. You don’t even need to wipe them off.

Stuart Birch

I tried to order C Cushions a couple of years ago. Met them at their Annapolis boat show booth and really liked the product albeit on the pricey side.
Sent them full size patterns and didn’t hear back. Called and left messages; no reply. Emailed, no response. Finally gave up on them and bought foam from Sailrite and had a shop make them for me.

Neil McCubbin

We have been using C-cushions since 2004, from 10 North to 79 North.
They last about 8 years. When Milvina was in Europe we were unable to find replacements so finally paid shipping from the US.
Only negative is that when new they are very slippery to wet bare feet.
Teh company has treated us well, although we did find phoning was useful to keep things moving.

Daniel Culpepper

Sorry John but I must disagree with you about closed cell foam cushions. Sure they do not absorb water nor do they absorb AIR and therefore are not much better then sitting on fiberglass/teak. Dry butt but Painful butt. I had closed cell for the first ten years of voyaging and there was finally a mutiny from my wife in the form of multiple pillows appearing in the cockpit. I did purchase 4 sport a seats and damn they are wonderful. Leaning back in comfort on the Lee side is sublime. When we remade the cockpit cushions 5 years ago we added a top layer of open cell foam and WHAT A DIFFERENCE. Sure, they got a bit wet when we forgot to fold them under the dodger but dried quickly. 2 transatlantics later they have been great. When the heavy rain comes you are dress appropriately in foulies so no wet butt. Also, which is more dangerous, the rare wet butt or 12 pillows crowding a busy cockpit.