A Captain’s Chair

One of the things we always wished was better on our boat was the view from the helm when sitting on the helm seat. We like the mounting position of our Chartplotter on the binnacle and don’t want to change it, so we need to be able to see “over” it. This works great when you’re standing behind the wheel. However, if you wish to sit, the helm seat is so low that not only does the Chartplotter get in the way, but the dodger and cabin top impede the view as well. Here’s what it looks like when sitting on the bare helm seat.

You can still see out the side windows of the dodger, but the front view is blocked. Even if the chartplotter wasn’t there, you can’t see what’s immediately in front of the boat – the angle is too low. This isn’t too much of a problem out on the ocean, but on crowded rivers or in the ICW it’s not good.

The boat came with a stiff factory made helm seat cushion that, when snapped to the helm seat, will boost you up by about six inches. It still wasn’t adequate. The cover on our seat cushion was starting to look raggedy so as Paula undertook to make a new cover, she also added another two inches of foam to make the seat even higher. Here is what that looked like:

This was the arrangement we had while on our Bahamas cruise last year. It was improved, but still not high enough.
The view is now better being perched on that tall cushion, but still not ideal. This might’ve worked if the chartplotter wasn’t there, but we really liked it where it was. We thought we might be able to get the best of both worlds by having the seat just a few inches higher.

It helped some, but was still not quite enough. It wasn’t practical to extend the cushion any higher because it started to become unbalanced (the height would be bigger than its width/depth) and it was beginning to make the backrest less useful. We thought about just permanently mounting a real captain’s chair to the helm seat, but there were two big problems with doing that:

  1. It would completely block the passageway to get onto the swim platform.
  2. It would cover up (or at least impede) access to the rudder post where the emergency tiller attaches.

So if we were to go with a real captain’s chair, it had to be easily removable and able to be stowed below. We also had just varnished the teak on top of the helm seat, and wanted whatever solution we came up with to be “friendly” to the nice finish.

The new varnish job on the helm seat teak. Underneath the little cut-out in the middle is where the emergency tiller goes if it would ever be needed.

We thought if we could mount a chair on top of a platform that could itself be easily secured and removed from the helm seat, that might work. To start with, we chose starboard as the material for the platform since it is weatherproof and wouldn’t scratch the varnish finish on the seat. We special-ordered a 1 inch thick piece from Boat Outfitters cut to the largest dimensions of the existing teak seat (21”x17 ¾”). The starboard color choice “seafoam” closely matches the light ivory Island Packet gelcoat color. Here is the piece as it came:

The 1″ thick piece of starboard we ordered.

Next, we cut the starboard to match the profile of the existing seat, and then used five stainless latches to secure it to the original helm seat.

I traced a line underneath the square-ish piece of starboard to match the contour of the seat and then cut-off the excess with a jigsaw. Five stainless latches secure it to the helm seat and make it easily removable.
These are standard marine hold-down latches that can be additionally secured by putting a “pin” through the hole in the part of the clasp that sticks out when in the closed position.

By stacking up a bunch of books on the existing seat, we determined that the optimal height for the new seat would be 14” – 16” off the teak surface of the existing seat. Since we already made up 1” with the thickness of the starboard platform, we now had to find a pedestal/seat combo that fell into the 13” – 15” range. We went with the shortest version of the Springfield heavy-duty Mainstay Pedestal (hydraulic adjustable from 10” – 12”) and the Springfield Newport molded seat. The molded plastic seat plus its cushion added about 3” to the overall height when mounted on the pedestal. This setup gave us the ability to adjust the seat from 14” (me) to 16” (Paula). The first step to mounting the pedestal on the starboard was to drill the mounting holes and recess the underside of each hole to accommodate a fender washer for the nut and bolt.

Since we wanted the pedestal thru-bolted to the starboard, it was necessary to recess bigger holes so both fender washers and the nuts would sit “inside” and not touch the teak.
The pedestal is mounted on the other side and the nuts and washers are in place.

The version of the pedestal we got has a sliding seat mount allowing the seat to be moved fore and aft. It also swivels and can be locked in place at any position. The chair can be removed by pulling up the chair from the pedestal (once the interlock is released) for storage or if chair replacement is desired.

This model pedestal has a fore/aft slide adjustment (left lever), swivel lock (center lever and knob), and height adjustment (right lever).

When in port or at anchor, the latches are released and the entire package is stored below in the aft cabin opening up easy access to the swim platform. Should we ever need to use the emergency tiller, the platform can be quickly unlatched for access.

The happy Admiral with a comfortable, secure and commanding view. The platform, pedestal and seat combo is easy to remove and stow below and is not as heavy as I thought it would be. The seat can be pulled off the pedestal if need be for storage.
Seated in the chair, we can now see fully out over the front of the boat and glance down at the chartplotter. This is about the same view we have when standing at the helm.

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Well done! A neat piece of marine engineering! Does it take up much room when you store it below?

mom & dad Lyons

there is nothing so satisfying as a well thought out and completed project on a boat.

Thomas W Corby

Tom & Paula:
What a great makeover to your Boat’s Helm Seat. A commanding 360 Degree View to be certain of all your surroundings. Patentable? Love, M & D .