Small sailboats don’t offer a lot of seating options in the cockpit. Four adults are about the maximum that will leave room for the skipper to work the helm. For casual cruising, that means everyone is in the cockpit, not hiking out on the coamings or side decks. Most sailboats will accommodate six in the cockpit while moored with the tiller out of the way but that can be crowded. You can give your guests more room or yourself more seating options with seats mounted on the stern pushpit.
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Stern perch seats make sitting on the pushpit railing more comfortable. Back when I used to do all my docking maneuvers with the outboard tiller, I often sat on the railing for better forward visibility and for room to steer the outboard. Now I leave the outboard motor locked in the centered position and steer with the rudder exclusively. But I still like to sit on the pushpit occasionally for a change of view or to see over the bimini.
You can spend hundreds of dollars for factory-built seats like those from Zarcor shown below or you can make your own with simple tools and materials and a little imagination. You can make them out of any material that you want, for example, Starboard by King Plastics or teak plywood—in my case, recycled old crib boards.
Custom Stern Perch Seats Step-by-Step
To make your own custom stern perch seats:
- Use cardboard to make a template that fits the shape of the corners of your pushpit. Overlap the railing enough for three clamps underneath the seat. The shape and size of the seat should be comfortable but compact. Avoid shapes that get in the way of the main sheet when on a reach, bimini attachments, or the lazarette lids. Make the size easy to stow when you’re not using the seats.
- Transfer the shape to your seat material and cut out the seat with a jigsaw or bandsaw.
- Smooth the edges until the curves are fair.
- Round over the edges with a router and/or sandpaper.
- If you are using wood for the seat material, apply your favorite finish. Mine is teak oil and a clear varnish to let the beauty of the wood shine through.
- Temporarily attach three pole clips to your pushpit similar to the picture below. You want the clips to form a triangle to support the weight of a person sitting on the seat without the seat folding down.
- Position the seat board on the clips and mark the locations of the mounting holes on the bottom of the seat.
- Remove the seat and drill pilot holes for the mounting screws. Remember to not drill all the way through the seat!
- Remove the clips from the railing and screw them to the seat with stainless steel pan head sheet metal screws that are shorter than the seat board is thick.
- Snap the seat onto the pushpit whenever you want to sit high and dry. Unsnap it whenever you want to stow it or so that it doesn’t become a perch for messy birds.
Attachment and Other Options
I used three 1″ Sea-Dog Line Pole Storage Clips for each seat to make them easy to remove.
If you would prefer a more permanent mounting, use something like these Ancor Marine Grade Electrical Stainless Steel Cushion Clamps.
Most small sailboat pushpits are made with a single rail so a stern perch seat works more like a stool than a chair. Larger sailboats have taller pushpits with two rails, which makes a more comfortable seat. The seat attaches to the lower rail (possibly with a center support leg) and the upper rail serves as a backrest, especially if it’s cushioned.
Depending on how you attach your seats to the pushpit (permanent vs. removable), you might be able to make your seats more comfortable by shaping them more like an ellipse. I found that an elliptical shape didn’t work well with the rubber pole clips that I used. Weight on the front of the seat board unsnapped the middle clip at the rear of the seat. That’s why I made them shaped like a fat boomerang. They’re not as comfy as on a bigger boat but they’re not bad. Permanent clamps can hold more weight on the front edge of the seat.If you want to start with my design to make your own, there is
If you want to base your design off mine, there is a free, dimensioned drawing on the Downloads page that’s available to subscribers.
Experiment with different shapes to find what works best for you. Make prototypes out of wood scraps. Also, consider making your seats multi-purpose with built-in cup holders, fishing rod holders, a flag staff, or as a grilling prep table.
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5 Comments Add yours
At lastâ¦An article that addresses a topic that actually interests me!
Seriously, I was beginning to consider unsubscribing.
Whoa, we can’t have that! I’m always open to what folks are most interested in. Use the Contact page to send me your suggestions. You’re opinion counts!
I was having trouble finding the starboard or teak locally, and the quantities online were more than we needed (and expensive). Solution? I went to Walmart and bought a large cutting board! Cut it according to plan, and it worked perfectly. Additional advantage, it’s made to get wet. Total cost of stern perch seat: $35 🙂
Great article. Love your site.
2 Questions regarding a Catalina 22:
Have you ever seen a good design of a DIY Stern rail?
Have you ever seen a good design of a solar panel mounted on the stern rail?
I have not seen an entirely DIY stern rail before but I have seen a few modified ones. If you have something unique in mind and access to the right tools or a good stainless steel fabricator, it shouldn’t be too hard.
I’ve seen two basic designs for stern rail mounted solar panels. The first is simple clamps like shown in the pictures in Installing a Solar Panel by the Numbers. The other design is basically two triangular brackets that raise the panel a little and move it aft outside the stern rail, which is a little more convenient.
If I were going to add a solar panel, I wouldn’t put it on the stern rail, though, because it would be constantly in the way of operating the outboard, the rudder/tiller, the backstay adjuster, fishing poles, swim ladder, and so on. I would probably get a flexible, roll-up panel that I could keep below while under sail and unroll on the cabin roof or foredeck while at anchor or docked. But honestly, I truly prefer recharging with the outboard motor like I describe in Upgrade Your Outboard Motor to Charge Your Battery. I don’t even have to think about my battery, it’s just always fully charged and ready to go with no extra gear in the way.
Hope that helps,