You live on a boat?! How is that? Does it move all the time? How does the weather affect you? Where do you keep your stuff? Do you have electricity? How about fresh water? How’s the sleeping situation? How do you deal with waste? Are you connected to cable and WiFi? Does your dog like living on a boat? What happens when you go sailing?”
Yes, it’s true. Sleeping on a boat is like being rocked to sleep every night. We keep our stateroom hatch open a crack year-round and can hear the waves and seabirds as we drift off and awaken. When it’s stormy it can be a wild ride, but still so comfy to be cocooned in our bunk while Mother Nature and Father Neptune battle it out.
After nine years of doing the “mattress mambo” and changing out varieties of foam combinations, we made the investment in a real mattress for our bunk! This is not a “run down to the local mattress store, spend a few hours laying on samples, move a few pieces of furniture to clear a path for the delivery guys to set up” kind of situation. As everything else on a boat, it is more complicated and expensive than that.
To start with, boat beds are not like home beds. At all. Boat beds, called bunks or berths, are in staterooms (bedrooms) built into the superstructure of the boat. They are a wooden or fiberglass box frame usually built on top of drawers and/or storage space and are immobile.
There are many layouts, depending on where the bunk is placed. Most commonly, the master stateroom is in the forepeak (the bow or “pointy-end” of the boat). This makes for a triangular shape of a bunk. One has to climb up, crawl in and turn around to get into bed. Not my cup of tea, so one of our requirements when we were looking to buy a boat was for a “Pullman” style bunk. (Pullman is after the type of beds situated along the sides of sleeping cars in trains.) On a boat, the bunk is on either the port or starboard side with a walkway along the side not attached to the hull. We have a seat next to the foot that serves double duty as a step for me to climb in as well as hold our dirty laundry. (Pic on the left is the view from the foot, at the bow of the boat; right is from the door into the stateroom showing my step (with Tiki’s toy box) with the anchor locker behind the curtain.)
Other boat bunks include quarter-berths, which are usually slightly larger than a twin bed and located along the port or starboard stern, under the cockpit. These are mainly used for short-term guests, kids or for off-watch naps. Ours has a small insert that makes the bunk into a double-size. This was Harley’s room when he lived with us as a teen and now belongs to our Grands.
Walk-around bunks are common in larger sailboats (45 feet and above) and power-boats and can be located in the bow or stern, depending on the layout. These are more like home beds in terms of access, but are rarely the same size or shape. Although nice to look at and easier to make, there is the good chance of being tossed off in a storm or rolling seas. (Pic above left is a forepeak bunk on a Tayana 42; pic on right is a walk-around on an Oyster 57.)
Most boat owners don’t give mattresses much thought. They just use the custom cushion made for the bunk space that came with the boat. This is usually a three to four inch piece of dense foam covered with the same fabric used on the upholstery throughout the boat. When the boat is stripped of bedding, everything matches and makes the boat look nice for being shown to a potential owner. Even more deceiving is a bunk that is made up with a nice duvet and decorative pillows.
When you only spend weekends on your boat, it’s a bit like camping. You can live with less creature comforts than your home and “rough it.” But when your boat IS your home, adjustments need to be made for long-term quality of life. And good sleep is even more crucial when you are crossing oceans and have only a few hours between watches to get some rest.
Live-aboards generally opt for adding layers of foam to the existing custom cushion, often rotating the layers and buying new pieces every few years as the material breaks down. There is no “flipping” of layers like you would do with a standard, rectangular mattress. Our odd shapes don’t work that way. So dips and valleys are regular occurrences towards the end of the foam life and hubby and I would often battle for bunk space.
Our particular choice for the past 10 years had been a three-layer combo of the 30-year old cushion that came with the boat (complete with burnt orange fabric), a 3-inch egg-crate gel foam pad and a 3-inch dense memory foam topper, with the pieces handcut by us to fit pretty close to our odd-shaped bunk space. The extra few inches around the box edges where the pieces didn’t fit perfectly have been home to Tiki’s hidden treasures of bones and toys, an assortment of pony tail bands, random earrings and tissues, discovered every time I changed the sheets.
Depth is important. You want the mattress to stay within the frame so it doesn’t slide off when the boat is heeling. In our case, we are limited to 8.5 inches. (In order to keep from rolling off the bunk during a port tack, we will install a “lee cloth.” This is a piece of canvas stretched across the open side of the bunk. Or more likely, we’ll sleep in the aft bunk, which has the hull on one side and the cockpit sole on the other so there’s no chance of rolling out.)
Timing is crucial when deciding to buy a “real” mattress for a boat. The “showrooms” are boat shows, so unless we wanted to travel to another state we had to make our decision at the April show in Richmond. We’d been tinkering with the idea for a few years and would stretch out on the floor demo mattresses and joke that we were going to sneak in at the end of the day and sleep there to make our choice. Knowing we are going to be heading south in 2020, we decided this was the year to bite the bullet and order, so spent quite a bit of time choosing what style worked best for us.
Our mattress is not from a production line in a foreign company, which is important to us. It is from Handcraft Mattress Company a family-owned, fourth generation American manufacturer of custom boat bed mattresses. They take great pride in their work and customer satisfaction. Brian Ogle, the son of the founder, talked to us about our preferences, helping us to choose the right model for our specific needs.
Each of their mattresses is designed with the marine environment in mind. Breathable vinyl covers the bottom and side against the hull to protect from moisture seepage, common on boats and the cause of mold and mildew.
Their extensive options include a combination of foams (regular, memory, gel), latex, pocket coil and innerspring. After laying together on all of the models, we opted to splurge on the top of the line System 5 Innerspring with a hinge-fold for easier access to the storage under the bunk. Here’s the description from their website:
FIRMNESS: Medium Plush
- Premium Pocket Coil – No Motion
- Foam Encased Side Supports
- Fiber Insulator Pad
- 2″ Firm Latex Comfort Layer
- 2″ Soft Latex Comfort Layer
- Premium Tencel Fabric – Cool Touch Features – Quilted Plush Tack & Jump Style
Brian came to our boat and took measurements of our bunk box (which entailed removing all of the current foam and bedding, a feat within itself!).
Three weeks later, our mattress arrived via freight company at my daughter’s home. We packed it into our truck and then balanced it precariously on a dock cart to wheel it the quarter mile from the parking lot to the boat. Dad and Aaron pushed and pulled and finally finagled it from the dock, thru the companionway and salon and slipped it into our bunk box.
A perfect fit!!!!
In addition to the mattress, we also treated ourselves to a custom-fitted mattress pad and set of high-thread count sheets. What a joy not to have to wage a battle in tucking rectangular bedding over layers of odd-shaped foam!
It’s amazing what a difference a quality mattress makes for an exceptional night’s sleep. Here’s to many restful hours in our floating paradise!