How to Choose the Right Marine Fabric

Whether you’re a first-time boat owner, or you are a veteran sailor who wants to renovate your watercraft, it’s important to know how to choose the right marine fabric for your boat.


While re-upholstering or renovating a boat exceeds the skill level of most DIY boaters, it is important to educate yourself on your options and find a quality marine upholstery shop to work with. Communication with your marine upholstery fabricator will be key to your project, and our breakdown of marine fabrics will help you understand what your options are and what to ask for.  


A couple sitting on a boat with pillowsA couple sitting on a boat with pillows
Sunbrella fabrics are made with solution-dyed acrylic for color and durability that lasts.


The Most Popular Marine Fabrics

Knowing your options is the first step in choosing the right fabric for your boat. Generally speaking, you can expect synthetic fabrics such as acrylic, polyester, nylon, and polyolefin to be significantly more durable than natural fabrics in marine environments because they’re engineered to break down at a slower pace.  


Fabric swatches in white, navy, and greyFabric swatches in white, navy, and grey
Sunbrella Marine fabrics are offered in a variety of colors, patterns, and textures to customize your boat.


Sunbrella Solution-Dyed Acrylic 

Sunbrella fabrics are woven from solution-dyed acrylic fibers and are engineered with Color to the Core™ technology for optimal color saturation. This process helps it maintain its rich color and its strength through heavy wear, regular cleaning, exposure to natural light, and exposure to the elements. In comparison, other fabrics are colored with surface finishes that can wear away with use.


Sunbrella Acrylic is extra-resistant to UV degradation, especially compared to polypropylene, olefin, or polyester. It’s also soft, resistant to wrinkling or shrinking, moisture wicking, quick drying, easy to clean, breathable, and resistant to mildew, insects, soil, oil, and chemicals. In fact, it can be cleaned with chlorine bleach to remove germs and tough stains—without compromising the color.  


Fabric swatches in white, navy, and greyFabric swatches in white, navy, and grey
Sunbrella Marine fabrics are designed for long-lasting durability and style.


Other options for marine fabrics include polyester, laminated vinyl, coated vinyl, faux leather, and leather, to name a few. With so many high-performance materials on the market, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. “There’s no one fabric out there that’s going to have everything needed in every single possible scenario,” emphasizes McDaniel. “But fabricators have tricks and techniques they’ve learned over the years, and they can recommend the products out there that will meet most challenges.” 


A bench seat on a boat with several green and white pillowsA bench seat on a boat with several green and white pillows
Sunbrella fabrics stand up to harsh marine elements with UV and fade resistant colors.


Which Fabrics Fit Which Projects?

Sunbrella Horizon® marine vinyl and marine upholstery fabrics are ultra-soft and comfortable while being mold and mildew resistant. From woven upholstery fabrics to the innovative Sunbrella Horizon marine vinyl, Sunbrella has a large collection of beautiful, quality fabrics to choose from and create a look all your own.


Exterior Upholstery

For cockpit seating, captain’s chairs, gunnel pads, tower cushions, sun pads, leaning posts, and other kinds of marine upholstery projects that are out in the open, you’ll need to pay close attention to the durability and weather-resistance of your fabric. Depending on the conditions and climate most prevalent in your boating environment, your choice will need to be waterproof, UV protected, stain resistant, easy to clean, and abrasion resistant while also coordinating with the design and color of the rest of the boat.


Sunbrella Marine offers a marine vinyl called Horizon, developed to provide ultra-soft seating that is ideal for marine upholstery applications and delivers strong protection from microbial pinking. Sunbrella Horizon coordinates with woven Sunbrella Marine upholstery and shade fabrics, so you can easily select a color that coordinates with existing fabrics on your boat, such as a boat cover, bimini top, and any upholstery onboard.


Sunbrella Marine fabric made of solution-dyed acrylic can also be an optimal choice, given its comfortable, soft feel, and its strong resistance to everything from UV degradation to moisture, mildew, dirt, wrinkling, shrinking, and fading. Solution-dyed acrylic fabrics offer excellent fade resistance and colorfastness, which helps them retain their brightness over time. 


A couple sitting on a boat at a dining tableA couple sitting on a boat at a dining table
Sunbrella Horizon coordinates with woven Sunbrella upholstery fabrics, so you can easily select coordinate your style.


Interior Upholstery

Seating and bedding that’s somewhat sheltered from weather conditions doesn’t need to be quite as waterproof and UV resistant as exterior upholstery projects. That said, all fabrics are bound to be exposed to harsher conditions on a boat than they are on land.


Since interior cabin spaces are often used as places to shelter quickly during inclement weather, you will want to consider how often you will sit on the cushions after coming in from wet conditions. Moisture, mold, and mildew can easily take hold in such settings, leading to stains and musty odors at best or unhealthy conditions at worst. You’ll also want abrasion resistance to handle all that interaction, plus stain resistance and cleanability to guard against food and beverage spills. Of course, comfort is also key.


Sunbrella Marine upholstery is an ideal choice, given its comfortable, soft feel, and its strong resistance to moisture, mildew, dirt, abrasion, and fading. Even better, it comes in a wide range of colors and patterns so you can be completely creative in choosing the designs that best suit your taste.  

A couple reclining on a boatA couple reclining on a boat
You can relax knowing that Sunbrella fabrics will last for years to come.


Work with Your Marine Fabricator

For the ins and outs of each type of upholstery application on your boat, you will want the expertise and recommendation of your marine upholstery fabricator. Talk to and work with your fabricator for recommendations on materials like marine foam, thread choices, and any special details you want to add like piping or custom upholstery patterns. “We always advise boaters to lean on their fabricators for recommendations but also ask questions and explore options before making a purchase decision,” says McDaniel.


“Fabricators take great pride in their work and the process should be fun,” he adds. “Treat them as a partner, get involved and you’ll get great counsel and see great results.” Get started and find a marine fabricator near you by checking out our Where to Buy page.


Learn More about Sunbrella Marine

Learn more about Sunbrella Marine Upholstery and Sunbrella Horizon Marine Vinyl and how Sunbrella fabrics can bring your marine upholstery dreams to life.