Make Your Own Lifeline Cushions

This is a quick, easy, and cheap project if you have any scraps of canvas left over from earlier canvaswork projects. Lifeline cushions are tubular foam with canvas covers that fit over the lifelines that run along the sides of the cockpit. They’re great as headrests when laying back in the cockpit seats while you check your Windex or just watch the clouds roll by. They also make sitting on top of the coamings more comfortable if you want to hike out a bit when heeled on a reach.

Lifeline cushions are such an easy project, they’re almost like getting gear for free. You can pay $90 for lifeline cushions from a popular online Catalina parts retailer or you can make these in an hour or so from two pieces of inexpensive 1/2″ diameter foam plumbing pipe insulation from your home improvement store. Besides the foam and some strips of any kind of canvas (even denim will do), the only other materials you need are a few feet of small cord for the ties at each end and thread for your sewing machine. Most typical home sewing machines can do this project easily. It’s another good first sewing project to get the hang of sewing canvas.

To make your custom lifeline cushions:

  1. Cut the foam insulation to the length you want. For a Catalina 22 with a rear pushpit, the finished cushions are 54″-57″ long. Make them long enough to cover most of the lifeline cable but short enough so that you can open and close the pelican hooks easily.
  2. Cut one strip of canvas for each cushion. I used the remnants of Sunbrella Marine Canvas that I had left over from making a mainsail cover, foredeck sail bag, bimini top, and outboard engine cover. Cut each strip 6″ longer than the foam (60″ for 54″ cushions). You will sew one 1-1/2″ cuff (unfolded equals 3″) on each end that will enclose the end of the foam and tie around the lifeline cable. Cut each strip wide enough to sew into a tube along its length and give a close but not tight fit over the foam. For the 1/2″ insulation that I bought, allowing for a 1/2″ seam made each strip 7″ wide. I recommend using a hotknife to cut the canvas and fuse the edges.
  3. Cut four 18″ pieces of small cordage for the ties on each end of both covers.
  4. Lay one piece of cord across the end of each canvas strip and fold the canvas over itself to make a 1-1/2″ cuff with the cord inside the cuff. Sew a 1/2″ seam across the width of the strip, reversing the stitching at each end.
  5. On one side only of each cuff, cut the corner off outside of the seam you just made. Don’t cut through the tie cords. Cut part way through the cuff, slide the cord out of the way and then finish the cut. You should end up with one side of the cuff tapered to the end of the cover. This taper will make it easier to tie the covers on and it will close the cover over the ends of the foam.
  6. With the cuff seams to the outside, match the long edges of each cover together and sew a 1/2″ seam between the cuff seams of each piece (wrong sides out). Be careful to not sew through the cuffs. Reverse over the stitching a couple of times at each end. Alternatively, you can sew hook and loop tape on each side and use that to fasten the covers onto the foam like shown in the Sailrite video in the link below. This also makes it possible to sew cushions that fit around your pushpit rails. You’ll need larger diameter foam insulation and wider cover strips, though.
  7. Turn the covers right side out. This might be a little difficult with stiff canvas. I fed a length of cord through the cover and tied it to the ends of the ties, then had a helper pull on the cord while I worked the cover right side out at the other end.
  8. Slide the covers over the foam insulation pieces.
  9. Slide the cushions over the ends of the lifelines. Taping the pelican hooks shut helps prevent them from snagging inside the covers.
  10. Tie the end of each cover closed around the lifelines and tuck the loose ends inside the cushions.


If you have trouble following these instructions. Watch the Sailrite video below.

Make Your Own Rail & Lifeline Cushions

If you make lifeline cushions this way, they’re so cheap that you can throw them away and make new ones if they get worn or dirty.


If you like this project, then you’ll really like my ebook Do-It-Yourself Small Sailboat Canvaswork. It contains this project and eight more canvaswork projects as well, all for only $20 USD. Click the picture at right to order your copy for immediate download and get started today!

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Neil Pilz says:

    Simple and budget friendly project to keep crew happy. The inclusion of a length of clear plastic tubing inside the foam that the lifeline is fed through may help to reduce wear and tear on the foam.

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