Step Up Your Game: The Ultimate Boat Flooring Solution
Story by Troy Buzalsky
If you’ve fished long enough and spent adequate time in and around boats, you can appreciate aching legs and feet from a long day on the water. You can remember the time you dropped to a knee only to slam your kneecap onto the hard floorboards. When you examine your boat it’s easy to notice the hard-earned scars from crab pots, coolers, and accessories being dropped and dragged on and over the gunnels, boat flooring, and swim step. On hot days the boat’s floor and hard surfaces can scream “HOT! HOT! HOT!” as they are truly scalding. Perhaps your prized fishing reels have what’s called “boat rash” from the abuses the boat’s surfaces have dished out while rattling away with the non-stop vibration of the boat engine’s purr paired with the ever-present wind chop and waves.
It might sound a bit cliché to echo the phrase, “Necessity is the fuel that motivates innovation.” However, with the advent of a new category of non-skid marine decking, the boating and fishing industry has evolved with a uniquely creative marine-textile product in boat flooring. Enter two key players in this distinctive industry: GatorStep and UltraDeck. Each has developed a product that will make your boat more comfortable, more practical, and more custom.
Shortly after the millennium, vinyl boat wrapping and custom graphics started to be a big deal. Paint prices were high, labor prices were even higher, and computer-generated graphics became mainstream. At the time, Loren Traister was running a small, Oregon-based, vinyl-graphics shop, Canby Signs and Graphics. His bread and butter was signage, as well as vehicle-, bus-, and boat wraps. His innovations and achievements led to his shop being featured in Hot Rod magazine, complete with cover shot of a flame-endowed muscle car. Suffice it to say, Canby Signs and Graphics made a huge splash in the industry at a national level, even wrapping a 550 mph Marlo Treit Streamliner for its debut at Bonneville Salt Flats.
With these accomplishments under his belt, Traister stepped up his game when he introduced GatorStep non-skid marine decking. It all started after a conversation with a prominent boat manufacturer who described a product they were interested in utilizing. Understanding the need, Loren quickly started to research how he could create this niche request of manufacturing a non-slip marine floor made from closed-cell foam carved into custom panels. Before long, Loren dialed in his tooling and processes and GatorStep emerged from his humble location in Canby. Ten years since its inception, GatorStep has expanded to include 232 dealer/ distributors as well as three European locations. For efficiency and dealer coordination, they operate from four established operation centers covering the West Coast, California, East Coast and Florida.
GatorStep is a laminated ultraviolet (UV)-resistant, polyethylene (PE)-blended ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) closed-cell foam that comes in 24 colors in sheet format of 3 mm, 6 mm, and 12 mm thicknesses. The foam sheets can be laminated in any combination of colors and thicknesses up to 15 mm (just over ½”) and custom CNC routed for precision accuracy and unparalleled customization. GatorStep also offers special engraving processes including laser textures and patterns, routed logos, laser logos, and soft-hit logos. While visiting the Oregon GatorStep operation center, they had just completed a jet sled that included custom laser-etched, Silver Cloud Hex Camo pattern GatorStep throughout…beautiful and truly one-of-a-kind!
The GatorStep closed-cell foam is water resistant, lightweight, and easy to clean. Operations manager Heather Johnson emphasizes, “The foam stays cool when it’s hot, is comfortable to stand on, won’t absorb water or get waterlogged, and does not smell, unlike absorbent products.” Being a closed-cell product, it features natural anti-microbial qualities.
Wickedly sexy is how my wife describes the most recent boat she saw adorned in GatorStep. From sailboats, to cruisers, to wakeboard and fishing boats, there’s not an application where the GatorStep-embellished boat didn’t look great and perform even better. And the best part is, it’s 100% customizable and can be professionally installed, or ordered as a DIY kit.
GatorStep has pre-templated boats in their database and offers these kits ready for dealer or DIY install. However, if you’re one of those boat owners whose boat or application isn’t already on file, you have three choices: 1) You can contact one of the 232 US dealers who can template the boat, some using photogrammetry technology, and perform the installation 2) You can order a DIY Mylar template kit from GatorStep and follow their templating instructions 3) You can make your own templates from heavy craft paper or cardstock. GatorStep prefers their 300-gauge Mylar template kits which are available on their website, but I can assure you, they have made first-draft sketches off a napkin-and-crayon drawing. After your DIY templates are complete, you send them via mail to GatorStep for processing.
Once the design team has your draft templates in hand, they will scan these into their computer and build precisely cut paper templates that will be returned to the customer to assure an accurate fit. Once the templates are approved the design phase begins, the color combinations and design features are selected per the customer’s request. The sky is truly the limit in creativity, and this is where GatorStep shines.
For the DIY installer, the process is simple. Starting with a clean surface (detailed directions are provided), the GatorStep cutouts are trial fitted to assure proper placement, and then it’s just a peel-and-stick process. GatorStep utilizes an exclusive 3M adhesive that allows the installer to lift and move the panels for up to 24 hours, then once set, they are permanent, and will not shift or shrink.
All GatorStep topside foam is finished with a brushed surface to add texture and traction. The closed-cell nature of GatorStep makes it completely waterproof and is resistant to most stains and oils, requiring minimal maintenance. GatorStep can be easily cleaned with warm soapy water and a light scrub brush, and can be lightly pressure washed. GatorStep also offers an industry-leading warranty of five years for adhesion, shrinking, peeling, and lifting.
GatorStep obviously does floors and walking surfaces, but they also offer a plethora of custom applications that include cooler covers, swim steps, gunnel trays, bow covers, floor mats, and even covering the inboard jet doghouse. Customers can spec out fish-tape rulers to measure their daily catch, and there’s even been a client that requested a custom 3D foam hook-keeper cut out in the shape of a fish, where the angler can stick lures in the stand-by mode for safe keeping while enhancing the boat’s fishy look. Custom logos are also very popular, and a custom fillet mat is an easy request. If you can think it, chances are GatorStep can create it.
For those of you with an oldie-and-moldy boat ready for updating, GatorStep is an easy way to update the interior while hiding stains and scratches, making the boat look OEM new again. I’ve currently embarked on replacing the steps and skirting in my RV with GatorStep following the DIY procedures and I can confirm the product is not only easy for the do-it-yourselfer; it’s versatile in its application. There’s a reason boat makers use GatorStep in their custom fishing boats. For more information go to: gatorstep.com.
When it comes to fishing boats, UltraDeck might just be the big dog on the block. Hailing from Vernon, British Columbia, UltraDeck has been satisfying the marine-textile industry for over 20 years while being the first company in Canada to perfect the art of closed-cell foam flooring. Although UltraDeck has an extensive gallery of boats on their website including sailboats, cruisers, dinghies, and yachts, they clearly have a focus on the fishing industry. In fact, they have charter boats that have used their UltraDeck PE-EVA closed-cell foam product with over 3,600 hours of use…And in the charter fishing world; that’s hard use!
UltraDeck is well grounded in Canada, with a network of 32 certified dealer/installers with a growing number of American dealers and installers including in Alaska. UltraDeck also specializes in the DIY arena, with full-detail instructions on the website to guide the ambitious DIYer through the process, step-by-step.
Andrew Spelchan is the owner and mastermind behind UltraDeck, while still providing oversight to his sister company, Distinctive Upholstery and Marine. “We have built a name for ourselves in the industry as we only offer the best quality products on the market at a reasonable and competitive price,” explains Spelchan. “This is very much a ‘You get what you pay for’ business, but by cutting out inferior products and only offering the best, we are confident you will be happy with your purchase for many years.” This mindset allows UltraDeck products to be covered with a five-year “No B.S,” non-pro-rated warranty.
“UltraDeck’s closed-cell foam is unique in many ways,” explains Spelchan, describing it as a “Chemically cross-linked, closed-cell, orthopedic-grade foam, denser and more durable than other materials on the market.” UltraDeck is available in 30 color combinations, and all their colors are selected with longevity in mind. “All colors do not perform equally,” shares Spelchan. “We only select colors that will meet our warranty program, and we know some colors will fade and underperform. Those colors are not offered by UltraDeck.”
UltraDeck is available as a two-ply, two-color, 6 mm product. They also offer a 21 mm product line that is utilized as a gunwale bolster, an added safety feature that also provides increased comfort when fishing on the rail. The UltraDeck product line can be installed on a host of surfaces including gelcoat, painted or raw aluminum, metal, and even over heavily textured finishes like diamond plate.
Petr Afonin owns and operates FineLine Jetboats and serves as an Alaska dealer and installer for UltraDeck, operating out of Homer, AK. Petr was initially exposed to UltraDeck while building his first mini jet boat and has been hooked ever since.
Durability and custom good looks were what FineLine was after; comfort became an added benefit. “I have used and abused my personal boat, fishing, hunting, and hauling anything and everything for several years, and I can’t believe how durable it is,” shares Petr.
UltraDeck is certified with USMCA, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which makes for an easy, timely, and duty-free shipping process. For the DIY UltraDeck customer this process works in both directions when ordering and returning templates. “We pride ourselves on fast turn-around times,” shares Spelchan. Let’s face it, as a customer, when you are motivated on a project, timeliness is priceless.
Currently, UltraDeck products are designed and built exclusively utilizing physical templates for the DIY market and optical-encoder, digital-scanning units in-house at the facility as well as with the advanced dealers. “These templating options gives us the most reliable outcomes,” stresses Spelchan, who so far has not transitioned to photo-model templating.
Being an angling-friendly product is hallmark for UltraDeck. Its closed-cell construction makes it watertight, doesn’t retain smells or bacteria, while also making it easy to clean after a long day of slimy and bloody decks. Reel West Coast spokesman Brendan Morrison operates a 30-foot Kingfisher GFX Offshore decked out in UltraDeck and happily shares, “Our UltraDeck has been one of the most talked-about features on our Kingfisher 3025 and we love it! Easy to clean, soft on the feet, durable, plus it looks awesome!” With exponential growth and expanded dealer options, it’s easy to see how UltraDeck’s tag line, “You’ll be glad to have UltraDeck on board,” is changing the boating and fishing industry, one customer at a time. For more information go to: ultradeck.ca.
Troy Buzalsky is the Boats columnist for Fish Alaska magazine, and when not writing about boats he can likely be found chasing fish in the Pacific Northwest and the 49th state and writing about those adventures. Troy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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