Darla Said “Let’s Talk – Kapok” Boys

When we were at the Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival in Florida last March, we had the pleasure of helping Terry Ross with the Hagerty Youth Judging Program. The program, which is sponsored by the nice folks at Hagerty Marine Insurance, gives the kids the opportunity learn more about the antique & classic boats by following a basic judging format, asking a series of questions about a range of different boats at the shows.

During the youth judging tour of the boats in Florida, one of the kids overheard a boat owner comment about his original “Kapok” seat cushions and later asked me to explain what “Kapok” was as we were walking along the dock. I did my best to explain what “Kapok” material was and provided some of the history of the material, which answered his question generally. But I can admit that my knowledge of “Kapok” is limited, and I would be interested to learn everything I can about the subject, so in the future if a 10 year-old kid asks me the question, I can give him a long, boring, but informative answer.

I know that many of our daily viewers can provide us with an explanation on the history and applications for “Kapok” in antique & classic boating over the years. So we thought it would be fun to ask the question, and encourage our viewers to either provide a comment below, or preferably send us your explaination along with a few photos which we will then add directly to this story as we receive them. Together you can help us build the story today.

– What is Kapok material and Why was it so popular for marine applications back in the day?

– When was it developed for marine applications and what range of years was it used for antique & classic boat cushions?

– Is it still available today for antique boat restoration / preservation applications, and is it still legal to use as a flotation device?

– Why do some upholstery guys prefer not to install the Kapok certification tags in the cushions?

You can e-mail your comments and photos to Woody Boater HQ at Texx@woodyboater.com and I will post it to the story in the order it was received. You can comment anonymous or include your name with your comment which will be posted to the Woody Boater story in your own words, unedited unless you would like help with editing, which I can do if you prefer.

So let’s try to build a live-ish interactive story so by the end of the day, everyone who visits Woody Boater will become instant experts on the subject, and you can impress your family and buddies at the next boat show with your new found knowledge. Or if a 10-year old kid asks you, “What is Kapok” you can impress them too…

Anyone who submits some factiod information, history and/or photos on the “Kapok” subject will receive a special Woody Boater gift for your efforts that will recognize you for your contribution today. The Woody Boater gift (no it’s not a pack of frozen wieners) can be proudly displayed on the wall of your office, in your bathroom, or on the beer fridge in your garage…

The e-mail lines are now open and operators are standing by, waiting for your submissions.

E-mail Texx@woodyboater.com

Hi Texx, here is a picture of kapok which was used in pre war chris crafts, among others, as stuffing material for seat cushions, and in seat backs (along with horsehair). – Don Vogt

Kapok photo Courtesy of Don Vogt

Thanks Don.

An update to the “Let’s Talk Kapok” story – Congratulations go out to fellow Woody Boater and All-Around Good Guy Don Vogt for winning the Kapok Challenge with his photo / comments. Nice work Don! – Texx

11 replies
  1. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    Kapok is the silky material from the seeds of the Cieba tree from tropical America. A large tree that grows straight over 100 feet tall. A soft easily worked wood that was even used to make canoes.

  2. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    As mentioned, it is a water resistant fiber that comes from the seed pods of a large tropic tree. Kapok replaced cork in life vests and was replaced by foam.

    You can definitely still get it, Amazon.com has it as do a number of sewing supply places. It is a popular stuffing for upholstery and stuffed animals among the super green natural granola crowd.

    FWIW, we had that exact same “rules of the road” cushion when I was a kid.

  3. chad
    chad says:

    Kapok is old, fluffy crap that will cost you 2 points at an ACBS sanctioned show if you do not use it as a seat cushion filler. I know that one from experience. 😉

    Once wet, your cushions will weigh 80 lbs and forever smell like your grandmas musty basement.

    • Mike M
      Mike M says:

      Don’t forget to pass on the zippers, too, if you want to preserve all of your points!

      I agree that kapok isn’t a great “stuffing” material anymore, but you have to admit, it looks cool in our boats when well done.

  4. Frank Miklos
    Frank Miklos says:

    We use kapok… I find it much easier to work with than foam… also it gives better cushion… We bag in light weight canvas bags inside the cushion… Kapok is a natural cotton like fiber that floats… I believe it grows in the Mexico.. It is readily available… It is used in high end clothing as a replacement for down feathers.. With high oil prices Kapok is actually quite a bit cheaper than foam rubber… About 2/3 the price… The best thing about kapok is that it looks right in the boats… Foam cushions just don’t have the same look… Century used kapok cushions until 1963 as standard… and they were available through the late 60s as extras…

    I purchase it by the 10 lb bag which runs me around $110.00.. It takes around 22 oz of kapok for a normal size cushion… do the math for your boat…

    About the tags I see why some upholsters may not want to put them on for legal reasons.. They are not legal for pfd s but they will still work to save someone…

    I think Kapok can still be certified but the Coast guard must certify the manufacturer. (but these would only be good for your throwable in the boat…)

  5. Frank Miklos
    Frank Miklos says:

    What I have found in judging at shows is many of the cushions have about 2/3 the amount of Kapok that they really should have.. The cushions were packed pretty full with Kapok… Don’t skimp… At least 22 oz per cushion…

Comments are closed.