The Best Flooring Materials for a Boat

by Will Charpentier
The wooden decks on U.S.S. Missouri were once covered in gray linoleum.

The wooden decks on U.S.S. Missouri were once covered in gray linoleum.

Whether you're looking to make your boat stand out or simply want to change it's look, there are several "best options" for flooring your boat's decks. Laying down a wooden deck, painting a fiberglass deck with non-skid paint, covering a deck with painted canvas to lengthen its life or laying down vinyl as an alternative to an expensive resurfacing each have their positive points and drawbacks.

Vinyl or Linoleum

Vinyl is ubiquitous. It's used for flooring both ashore and afloat. Linoleum, vinyl's older cousin, served as deck covering on battleships. The installation for both is straightforward. Vinyl is impermeable, soap and water cleans it without damaging it and it can take a surprising amount of punishment. It doesn't do well with burns, but the damage is more to its appearance than to the boat. The only problems are that it must be installed with an adhesive that's made specifically for the marine environment and, unless you want a very permanent installation, one where the vinyl adheres directly to your boat's existing deck, you must fit plywood sheeting to the deck and cover the plywood sheeting with the vinyl.


While wooden decking on a boat looks "nautical" and may last two centuries with proper care, it's labor intensive, requiring constant care. Water, its sworn enemy, will get through the smallest chink in caulking, seeking -- as water does -- the lowest levels of the deck. Once it gets to the bottom of the decking, it will cause rot to set in. Keeping water on the surface of the wooden deck and from between the planks that make up the deck means constant caulking of joints that change size, depending on how wet the planks are, and keeping the exposed surface watertight at all times, with paint or varnish.


Painted canvas glued over a deck, whether wood, steel or fiberglass, is like a slipcover on a favorite chair. It keeps the aging and bedraggled deck beneath dry and secure, as long as the surface beneath it is properly prepared prior to its installation, by plugging holes, repairing divots and caulking any seams. The problem is that, like vinyl, it's either glued to the surface, or attached to plywood sheets. If glued to the surface with a water-resistant marine adhesive, the only way it to remove it is by using a belt sander to "sand" it away.

Specialty Paints

It's the least invasive of options, it's most invasive of options: it's paint. Specialty paints with nonskid are the least invasive option because you don't have to glue something to your deck. You just paint it on. It's the most invasive option because you paint it on. The only way to remove it is with a paint stripper.


  • "The Complete Book of Boat Maintenance and Repair"; D. Kendall; 1975

About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.

Photo Credits

  • U.S. Navy/Getty Images News/Getty Images