The High-Tech Deck

By Mark Corke

There's no doubt that boats with teak decks set themselves apart from their naked, gelcoated counterparts. But is it possible to install teak decking and give your boat a lift?

SeaDeck boat deckingPhoto: SeaDeck

So you like the look of teak decks, but you're anxious about the upkeep and ongoing maintenance and worried that the installation looks complicated and expensive. What are your options? When it comes to teak decking, you've got two choices: use real teak, or go with one of the many plastic or polyvinyl chloride alternatives. I'd been skeptical of polyvinyl chloride, usually referred to as PVC, because I thought that it could never look like the real thing. But the first time I saw faux-teak decking, it had me fooled. Inspecting a boat in a show, I found myself admiring the way that the planking followed the profile of the toerail, and I wondered how the craftsman who'd installed it had managed to get so much lateral bend into the planking. Only upon close inspection — and I do mean close — did I realize that the teak wasn't teak at all; it was PVC.

Professional Or DIY?

Faux-teak decking — I hate to call it fake — comes in a variety of styles and color choices to mimic freshly laid or weathered teak. You must decide whether to install it yourself or trust the pros. I can tell you from experience that installing real teak over the top of a fiberglass deck is time-consuming and an advanced-DIY project. Installing PVC is a simpler task that's well within the capabilities of a committed DIYer. You don't need a lot of tools, but you do need a fair amount of patience; the job will often take longer than your initial estimate.

You can follow one of three paths when it comes to installing PVC decking. One option is to buy all the raw materials and do the whole operation yourself. Another route is to leave everything up to the manufacturer and let its workers take care of the entire process. Or you can choose to make a detailed template of the area you wish to cover, send the template to the manufacturer, and have it send back the complete panel ready for you to glue down, much like laying vinyl flooring in your bathroom at home.

Getting Started

If you're unsure of your abilities, start with a small task, like redoing a swim platform. The area isn't so large that it's daunting, but it will allow you to develop your skills. This way, when you tackle a bigger project later — like the main deck, a more significant undertaking in terms of time, cost, and materials — you can approach it and complete it with confidence.

Cost Per Square Foot

Although PVC decking may be cheaper than real teak, expect to budget around $35 per square foot, and more if you leave it all up to the professionals.

Installation Process

The first order of business is to clean the boat, especially the work area, and remove unnecessary fixtures and fittings that could get in the way: cleats, rails, and such. For a swim platform, there's unlikely to be much in the way, a bonus. Make a template using Kraft paper or, my preferred choice, Tyvek, which comes in large rolls and is easy to cut with knife and scissors, although it's nearly impossible to tear. Tape the pattern material to the deck. Use either double-sided tape or cut small half-moon openings in the template, fold the flap back under itself, and use these holes to tape the paper in position as you mark out the template. Carefully mark the template, noting any hatches, cutouts, or drains. When you're happy with the template and have ensured that all the relevant information is noted, it can be shipped to the manufacturer for it to make up the panel.

  • Area to be covered with decking

    Decking glued together in rough shape

    Accurate patterns are made of the area to be covered with decking then individual sections of decking are glued together into the rough shape before final cutting.
  • Adhesive applied with notched trowel

    Caulking the edges

    Adhesive is applied with a notched trowel before laying the decking. The edges need to be sealed with a caulk bead to form a neat appearance and seal the edge.

If your boat has a nonskid gelcoat pattern, the panel can be glued over this without problems. Check with the product manufacturer for a recommended glue. Wipe down the area with denatured alcohol to remove surface contaminants. Set the panel aside and squeeze out the glue from the tube, spreading it evenly with a notched trowel. Work quickly, especially in warm weather, as it starts to go off — that is, set — in about 10 minutes. At this stage, you'll find an extra helper or two invaluable.

  • Formula 260 before redecking

    Formula 260 after redecking

    Photos: Flexiteek

Lay the panel in place and, starting in the center and working in all directions, use a laminate roller to force out extra adhesive and trapped air. Place weights — bricks wrapped in plastic wrap are ideal — onto the decking to hold the panel in place until the adhesive cures. Run a bead of adhesive caulk around the edge to seal the panel. Then use a wet finger to smooth this out. After 48 hours, remove the weights and tape and reinstall any hardware. Then stand back and admire your handiwork. 

— Published: Spring 2016


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