How to Renovate Your Boat with Jim Hendricks

Jim Hendricks, editor of Boating Magazine, recently completed a full restoration of a 1977 outboard-powered 17-foot Witchcraft runabout. This was a project that started with gutting the interior, including the original (but now rotted) seating, side and transom panels, and other upholstery parts. 


An overhead view of a boat on the waterAn overhead view of a boat on the water
Hendricks chose to customize his upholstery design with a multi-colored stripe using Sunbrella Horizon Marine Vinyl. Image provided by Jim Hendricks.


Re-upholstering a boat exceeds the skill level of most DIY boaters. For this kind of project, most will need the help of a qualified marine upholstery shop.  

Boating Magazine offers a great step-by-step on how to tackle an upholstery renovation project, with real-time examples of the decisions and processes Hendricks used with his own boat. Hendricks worked with Bill McDaniel, the marine market manager for Sunbrella, who offered guidance on how to go about this renovation project. 
Here is a quick breakdown of the process Hendricks lays out. For the full How To, you can read the article on 


Two people riding in a boat on the waterTwo people riding in a boat on the water
The restored 1977 outboard-powered 17-foot Witchcraft runabout out on the water. Image provided by Jim Hendricks.


Step 1: Find a quality shop

“A good place to start in identifying a marine upholstery fabricator is to ask local boating organizations or your marina to provide recommended partners,” McDaniel says. “Another option is to check in with the boat manufacturer or dealer.”


Step 2: Ask Key Questions

Before work starts on your upholstery project, it’s important to ask key questions to be sure the shop understands your goals and exactly what you are looking for.


Step 3: Framework

It’s important to have the framework inspected by an expert, so be sure to bring this up with your fabricator.  


A closeup view of boat seating vinyl upholsteryA closeup view of boat seating vinyl upholstery
Adding contrasting upholstery design, colorways of thread, or fabric used as piping results in eye-catching seating that reflects your personality and lifestyle. Image provided by Jim Hendricks.


Step 4: Color and Design

Most fabricators include the fabric design and color selection as part of their prices. To make sure you’re happy with the outcome, it’s important to brief your shop about the goals of your project and the desired look for your boat.


Step 5: Fabric Brand & Quality

When considering marine upholstery vinyl, boaters should think about quality, longevity, design and support. “Sunbrella fabrics are the most trusted and preferred choice and are backed by the most comprehensive warranties in the industry,” explains McDaniel.


Hendricks used Sunbrella Horizon Marine Vinyl on his restoration project, which is backed by a five-year warranty that covers replacement fabric and labor costs, along with a three-year warranty against bacterial pink staining. 


A closeup view of boat seating vinyl upholstery with water on itA closeup view of boat seating vinyl upholstery with water on it
Sunbrella Horizon marine vinyl stands up to all the challenges of constant exposure to marine conditions. Image provided by Jim Hendricks.


“Investing in a high-quality fabric will give you the peace of mind to enjoy your boat upholstery without worrying about harsh marine conditions or potential damage or spills.” 


Step 6: Work Together

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.”


Step 7: Have the Right Attitude

“View the improvements on your boat as an investment rather than an expense and select quality materials and craftspeople to work on your boat,” McDaniel says. “This is an exciting upgrade for years of comfort and memories and taking good care of your boat now will ensure it takes good care of you and your passengers.” 


Two people riding in a boat on the waterTwo people riding in a boat on the water
Sunbrella Horizon and Sunbrella Marine Upholstery is built to last for many years enjoying your time on the water. Image provided by Jim Hendricks.


Learn More about Marine Upholstery

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