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Evolution of Pontoon Captain's Seats

Maritime history goes back as much as 45,000 years; some experts claim evidence exists all the way back to the initial habitation of Australia. While those first seagoing vessels may have had pontoon seats and captain's chairs, they were quite unlike the pontoon captain's seats we know today. Pontoon boats, with their enclosed hulls, which are also called sponsons, are a recent innovation in the sport boating maritime history.

Pontoon boats have been very popular among inland water communities since the 1950s, when they were first introduced to the general public in the United States. Most of these vessels are used almost exclusively on inland waterways because pontoon boats, also referred to as party boats or toons, do not fare so well in the open sea. They are difficult to navigate in the ocean turbulence, making them dangerous on rough water.

The first evidence of a patented boat using pontoons was given to Alexander Wilkins in 1908. The captain's seat on Wilkins' boat was nothing more than a hard wooden pontoon bench seat. The "captain" of this boat was responsible for propelling the pontoon boat using pedals similar to those found on a bicycle. The pedals were used to both propel the pontoon and to stop it. Modern pontoon boats arrived in the 1950s and were invented, or perhaps re-invented, by a number of individuals who saw their potential for fun. Pontoon boats quickly became popular, and led to the creation of many manufacturing companies with important improvements in design and comfort of pontoon seats.

What Damages Captain's Seats?

Pontoon boats and all marine vessels are exposed to a number of damaging natural and manmade assailants. Pontoon captain's seats, bench seats and other furniture are particularly vulnerable because they are manufactured using materials that need to be comfortable as well as durable.

Wind causes damage by blowing dust, grains of sand or dirt and airborne debris. Like a mini sandblaster, wind can use the material it carries to wear off the outer layers of protective laminates on fabric, vinyl and other upholstery materials. Often winds are more intense on the waterfront, so pontoon captain's chairs and furniture require protection.

Water damage ranges from water spots that mar fabric surfaces to more severe damage. If captain's chairs or other exposed furniture is endures extended periods of dampness, standing water or unwanted leaks, deterioration speeds up. Water allowed to leak inside seating can alternatively dampen and dry out the upholstery foam, breaking it down into unusable granules. Hardware, even stainless steel or aluminum, can suffer the effects of a continuously damp environment. When first introduced, pontoon boat seats were primarily constructed using wood, which rots after a short time if exposed to water. The use of polyurethane or plastic in the construction of pontoon furniture has significantly extended the life span of the seating.

The sun's UV rays are notorious for their damaging effects. Sun bleaches upholstery fabric and pontoon seat vinyl and causes the materials to age prematurely. If the protective coatings on fabric and plastic are worn away by the rays, the seating is left them unprotected from the elements, shortening their lifespan. Using pontoon seat covers will extend the life of pontoon seats, protecting them when the boat is not out on the water.

Dirt, pollen and other debris from trees left on the captain's seat can hold water longer and eat away at the upholstery material. A crack in the covering or worn seams can allow water to enter and damage the upholstery foam. Mold, mildew and general disintegration of the foam can follow, rendering the chair unusable.

Suntan lotion and sunscreen have chemicals that, if left on the captain's chair, can contribute to wear and damage the pontoon seat. They alter the molecular structure of the upholstery materials and allow unwanted moisture to seep into the interior of the seat.

Captain's chairs and other pontoon furniture left out in the damp weather are prime targets for mold and mildew. There are countless varieties of mold and mildew that can attack and eventually destroy the integrity of upholstery materials and pontoon seat vinyl.

Overexposure to high temperatures causes upholstery fabrics to break down, leaving more room between fabric fibers. The additional space can allow water to seep inside the cushions.

And do not forget the partying. Pontoon boats are perfect for gathering a group of people together for a good time. On a pontoon boat, the seats, captain's chair and sometimes most of the deck are filled with people eating and drinking. Waves often cause food and drinks to spill and catch guests off balance. Even the best-behaved people can unknowingly cause a rip or stain in the upholstery fabric.

Upholstery Fabrics for Captain's Seats

The best materials for captain's seats and other pontoon furniture include those resistant to natural elements. But more than that, they must be resistant to wear and tear from use, be able to withstand heat, and be able to resist manmade products like sunscreen lotions. The upholstery fabrics used for captain's chairs and other marine seating like pontoon fishing seats is often coated with protective materials to add durability and to protect them against destructive forces.

Vinyl is the most popular type of upholstery fabric for captain's chairs, benches, and other pontoon boat seats. Vinyl is a manmade fabric with a multitude of grades, patterns and properties. Often marine grade vinyl is treated with coatings that provide fire-retardant properties, coatings that offer protection from UV rays, and increased resistance to abrasion and other damaging effects. If water seeps into pontoon furniture, it tends to trap water and encourage the growth of mold and mildew.

Acrylic fabric is best described as a cross between cloth fabric and vinyl. The manufactured acrylic fibers are woven together to create acrylic fabric. Vinyl is much denser and keeps out water, but acrylic fabric breathes. Any water that seeps into captain's seat cushions through acrylic upholstery can dry out.

Laminated fabrics of all kinds can be durable, waterproof and resistant to heat. Newer protective finishes can also provide anti-bacterial qualities and make the upholstery material resistant to the sun's UV rays. Acrylic fabric is often laminated to add protective layers.

Heavy canvas can be used for upholstering captain's chairs and pontoon furniture, but can rot or shrink and has a shorter lifespan than pontoon vinyl or acrylic fabrics. Surface treatments are available to make it water resistant and increase the life span of captain's chairs and other seating.

Another type of upholstery material is mesh fabric, which is constructed using vinyl but has the acrylic property of drying quickly. Mesh fabric can be laminated with polyurethane to provide waterproofing. While polyurethane is especially susceptible to UV rays, damage can be significantly reduced by a coating of UV absorbers and using a pontoon seat cover.

Both leather and cloth fabric are low on the list of preferred upholstery fabrics because they are more difficult to care for than products like vinyl or acrylic, and the cost for both purchasing and maintenance can be prohibitive.

Upholstery Foam for Captain's Chairs

Highly resilient, high-density polyurethane foam is used for captain's seats and most of the larger cushions for pontoon boat seats. A thin plastic membrane between the foam and outer fabric protects it from water that might seep in through seams. Polyurethane foam was first placed on the open market in 1954, at about the same time as pontoon boats were developed for sporting use. Polyurethane is now used widely in innumerable products.

Two main types of polyurethane foam are used for upholstery purposes. Open cell foam is used for large cushions and is more comfortable than closed-cell foam cushions. Closed-cell foam is used for smaller boat cushions and floats. The smaller, closed-cell cushions double as life preservers. This type of upholstery foam is heavier, denser and more rigid than open cell foam.

Polyurethane upholstery foam is priced according to the density. More urethane is required to produce high-density foam than low-density. After manufacturing the foam, it is rated using the indentation load deflection (ILD) rating method. The ILD rating is the amount of pressure required to compress polyurethane foam to 25 percent of the original thickness. The more pressure required for compression, the denser the foam.

The density of the upholstery foam is also an issue when large cushions are manufactured. Closed-cell foam is good for smaller cushions and pontoon seat accessories, but as a rule, it is far too heavy to use in larger seating pieces.

Replacing Captain's Seats

There are a number of resources available to locate used captain's seats and other replacemnt pontoon seats. Online sites, both classified ad sites and companies that specialize in captain's seats advertise a variety of options for both new and used pontoon seats for sale. Local marinas and individual sellers are good starting places to find used seating, to compare market prices and to find the best replacement captain's seat available in your price range. When purchasing a used captain's seat, it is important to inspect the seat to determine whether it will fit correctly and if it has an acceptable degree of wear.

Original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, specialize in providing new replacement parts for all models of their pontoon boats. Purchasing from OEMs ensures the replacement captain's seat will fit on your pontoon boat perfectly. OEMs are an excellent choice when purchasing a single piece of furniture, like a captain's chair or pontoon fishing seat. If the chair is damaged and needs to be matched to the color and style of existing furniture, OEMs may have just what you are looking for. Keep in mind, though, that sun fades furniture, so a combination of used and new furniture may have a significant difference in what was once the same color.

The process to replace the captain's seat on a pontoon boat is relatively simple, like all pontoon furniture replacement. Pontoon boat furniture is bolted in place to retain stability in water.

Removing the bolts holding the existing captain's chair to the pontoon deck and moving it off the pontoon are the only steps necessary to make room for the new captain's seat.

Usually the only problem that arises when removing captain's chairs is stubborn bolts or screws. Several seasons of damp weather may make them rusted in place. Fortunately, several products are available to remove the stubborn bolts and screws.

After removing the captain's chair, install the new or new-used captain's chair by attaching it to the boat decking with non-rusting hardware. Stainless steel and aluminum are the best choices for replacement hardware because they are less likely to rust in the damp atmosphere. If the replacement captain's chair has a different footprint, additional holes for bolts or screws can be drilled.

Caring for Captain's Chair Upholstery

Several steps can be taken to prolong the life of your captain's chair, bench seat or other types of pontoon furniture. Preventive maintenance ensures a longer lifespan for your pontoon boat and its furniture. Routine cleaning upon docking is a good habit to prolong the lifespan of your pontoon boat and its furniture.

Clean the captain's seat regularly and often with a good quality marine cleaner. After washing, rinse well to remove any soap residue and remaining debris. But do not use a power washer - the water stream is too strong and could damage the upholstery.

After a good rinse, apply protectant to the clean furniture. Marine protectants will maintain pliability and act as a barrier for harmful UV rays. This additional protective coating will help keep mold and mildew at bay, and control other destructive elements.

While boating, sit on towels to keep the captain's chair dry and to protect the pontoon seats from sunscreen. By keeping the seats as dry as possible, the risk of moisture seeping into the upholstery foam is lowered. Clean up any food, drink, gas and oil spills as soon as possible. Each of these can damage the upholstery fabric on your pontoon furniture.

When you dock your pontoon boat for the night, use a good quality tarp to cover it with a pontoon seat cover. The tarp will block out UV rays, water, tree pollen and dirt. When storing your pontoon boat for the winter, try to find a covered location, like a carport or garage. After you clean the pontoon boat one last time before winter and apply the protectant, cover it snugly with a tarp.

Excessive cold, wind and wet weather will speed up the degradation of the upholstery.