Improve the quality of onboard Z's with better boat-bed technology.
If I don’t sleep, nobody sleeps. And if I’m drowsy in the morning after sleeping on an uncomfortable, damp or stinky boat bed, I’m not only unpleasant in the lovely anchorage, I’m less likely to be alert and able to solve problems on my feet underway. Sleep is good. Good sleep is better. Is it time to investigate bed and linen technology? Probably. It can make a difference in a crew’s night … and day.
Beds on boats come in funky shapes. V-berths, tiny crew berths and weird guest berths defy standardization. Boat beds have radiused corners and beveled sides, so they fit against angled hulls. Shannon Baldwin of Yacht Bedding in Huntington Beach, Calif., said that even “standard” marine mattresses don’t share the dimensions of residential twin, full, queen or king beds, which is why they require custom bedding.
Boat mattresses differ by thickness too. Builders don’t put household 17-inch-thick mattresses on a boat, not only due to space constraints but also because of their weight. Premium stowage space is often found under berths, so mattresses must be light enough to lift. To help with this, Handcraft Mattress Co. (HMC), which has offices on both coasts, and San Diego’s Mattress Makers offer boat beds with vertical or horizontal hinges. Not only do such features make it easier to lift a section to change the sheets, they make it possible to bend the bed to fit it through narrow doors and companionways.
Another issue with mattress thickness is overhead clearance, because boat beds are often squeezed into tight spaces. Combine a mattress, an underlayment, a topper and a pillow and soon one’s head may not fit between the bed and the cabin headliner.
Finally, “finger space” is a thing. Anyone who has had to make up a boat bed may have scraped his knuckles against the hull as he tucked in the sheets. Residential beds simply don’t have the tight tolerances of boat beds, so savvy manufacturers take that into account when crafting a custom mattress.
Boat-mattress manufacturers need a template from which to work. Some will come out to measure if the boat is nearby. Others supply kits and detailed online instructions about how to create a template to send them. Pablo Hernandez, CEO of Mattress Makers, said he asks his customers to measure all sides of the bed at least twice.
“Boat beds always seem to be just a little off,” he said.
What’s on the Inside
Most production boats have basic polyurethane foam cushions for bedding. Such bedding is fine when it’s new and if the owners mostly just spend the weekend on their boat, but owners who cruise for extended periods will want something better. Some boat manufacturers simply plan on boaters enhancing the bedding after the boat purchase, so they sell boats with inexpensive and firm foam.
Boat mattress materials and construction include polyurethane foam, gel memory foam, latex and innersprings. Each has pros and cons. Polyurethane is affordable and widely available but absorbs moisture and breaks down over time, especially under heavier sleepers. Memory foam is temperature sensitive, so it will be soft in warmer climes and harder on boats in cooler cruising grounds. Per Dave Ogle of HMC, powder-coated innersprings are an option but he thinks they’re overkill, because today’s improved materials have all but eliminated spring rust, even in tough boat environments.
Hernandez said that over the past five years, natural (vs. synthetic) latex has been trending, because it’s mold and mildew resistant and free from chemical off-gassing, which makes it healthier. However, latex is heavy and some people think it’s hot to sleep on.
Manufacturers suggest buyers visit their showroom and test the materials, because custom boat beds cost more than standard versions, and everyone wants to make the right choice. Due to the specialized labor involved, mattress manufacturers charge a premium, which can vary from a few hundred dollars to double the price for a comparably sized home mattress.
What’s on Top
Mattresses are made of layers of different kinds of materials. Boat mattress ticking — the outer covering — should be breathable and more resistant to moisture and mildew than the residential variety. Hernandez likes to avoid organic cotton that is susceptible to mold. Instead, he prefers Tencel or lyocell, which is a sustainable fabric regenerated from wood cellulose from sources such as the eucalyptus tree. Tencel is one of the most environmentally friendly fabrics, and it’s durable and sleeps cooler. He uses Tencel in his custom linens as well.
Polyester batting wrap is used on the top and bottom of mattresses to provide a breathable layer between one’s body and the foam. It also helps eliminate wrinkles in the ticking that may show through the sheets. Hernandez said trends in batting are toward wool instead of polyester, because the lanolin in wool is naturally antimicrobial.
A boat owner who chooses to add an off-the-shelf memory foam topper to an existing boat mattress should keep a couple of things in mind. It should be no more than three inches high, due to height restrictions and the weight. A topper that is unpacked aboard will emanate a smell that may take a few days to vent. A topper that is unpacked elsewhere probably can’t be compressed enough to get aboard. A topper that has no outer cover will be difficult to slide on the mattress, because the foam is sticky. A custom topper can alleviate such hassles, but it can erase some of the benefits owners might have paid extra for, including wool batting or natural latex.
What’s under a mattress is as important as what’s on top of or inside it, because once heat from one’s body reaches the cool bed surface it will condense into moisture, which will eventually turn to stinky mildew. There are a number of ways to combat this.
First is simply the material on the bottom of the mattress. HMC adds hospital-grade vinyl to the bottom of the mattress and to the sides that come in contact with the cool fiberglass of the hull. This barrier helps keep the mattress dry.
Hernandez said Mattress Makers likes HyperVent, a spun polymer mesh that doesn’t compress and allows air to circulate and moisture to evaporate. This material adds only three-quarters of an inch to the height, can be purchased directly by boaters and can be cut with scissors. It won’t scratch surfaces but will hold up under larger sleepers. It’s lightweight, washable and will likely outlast any mattress.
Some manufacturers are now adding wooden slats to create an air space under the bedding cushion. A more elaborate mechanical system is a Froli foundation, whose interlocking springs are made of DuPont’s Hytrel material, are flexible, and can be combined to fit just about any bed shape and configuration. The modular system snaps together and prevents condensation but also cushions body parts with independent suspension to prevent uncomfortable pressure points.
Like it or not, the focal point of any sleeping cabin is the bed. Boat owners can use that to their advantage by accessorizing their way around sketchy joinery and questionable cabin décor with a neatly presented bed and interesting linen choices. That’s why Yacht Bedding offers design services and coordinated packages for buyers who may be design-challenged.
Packages include a quilted coverlet, two standard shams, a blanket, a sheet set, and a throw pillow in color and texture combinations that will make anyone look like a design pro. Such coordination can elicit admiration from onboard visitors and may help resale value too.
“We have put together our best-selling packages so it’s easy for clients to combine fabrics,” said Baldwin. “All of our items are custom made for each bed and client order. The packages just make it easy to purchase the set in a specific grouping of fabrics from our website.”
Some of the companies I spoke to have a library of production boat bed patterns, which may eliminate the need for customers to measure theirs and could make the process faster, but buyers can expect to wait about three weeks for a custom job.
Custom sheet sets can refresh a whole stateroom and cost about $250. Ogle said HMC will sew custom sets for designers and boat owners from the fabrics that they themselves supply.
“They like to find things online or they are health or eco-conscious, so we offer this sewing service,” he said.
Baldwin added that quilted coverlets and duvets are very popular. Mold- and mildew-resistant fabrics from Sunbrella and Perennials come in a great selection in fade-proof and stain- and mildew-resistant options in many colors and textures.
Everyone agrees that nautical themes are popular but neutral colors and a minimalist approach still reign.
“We find that less is more,” Hernandez said.
Practical and dual-purpose items such as pillows and throws that can be used inside but also on an enclosed flybridge do well, because onboard space is always limited. Last but not least is the overall environment. Fancy fabrics and antimicrobial surfaces only have a fighting chance if the boat is well ventilated overall.
“An inexpensive dehumidifier does wonders for a boat that’s closed up for long periods of time,” Baldwin said.
Custom mattresses and bedding usually take time to make and they aren’t inexpensive. While more high-tech materials such as Tencel are introduced, old-fashioned go-tos including wool and latex are reintroduced. One thing’s for sure: a bed isn’t just a bed. HMC is even working on an electrically adjustable bed with an actuator that can raise the head or foot sections of the bed. That’s bound to make for a challenging mattress and an upcharge, but what price can be put on sleep?
To The Web
Don’t Forget the Pillow
A bed is important but a pillow can be life-changing. Of course, pillows are very personal items, which is why Mattress Makers offers pillows with five different kinds of fill. Latex, memory foam and down pillows are popular, but people whose head tends to stay too warm may want to investigate a buckwheat hull pillow. Filled with the byproduct of milling buckwheat flour, these pillows are known for being cool and breathable. They’re durable, non-toxic and hypoallergenic; some boat owners say they even reduce noises such as hull slap. However, buckwheat hull pillows tend to be very firm.
Regardless of the type of pillow, a pillow cover is an important accessory. Covers go under a pillowcase, have zippers for easy pillow removal and can be washed. They tend to increase the life of a pillow, because they protect it against dust mites and allergens. Of course, nylon and plastic zippers will do better in a marine environment than metal. A good bed starts with a happy head.