New Age of Boat Helm Seats

Today’s chairs offer a new level of comfort and support

helm chairs on boats
The custom Llebroc high-back helm seats on this Invincible 42 Center Cabin fishing boat offer far greater comfort than the simple padded leaning posts of yesteryear.Jim Hendricks / Sport Fishing

Not so long ago, a leaning post, perhaps with a backrest, represented the height of luxury in helm seating on a center console boat, despite minimal padding and no lumbar or lateral support.

Thankfully, helm seats are changing for the better. While on Fish Trials aboard a wide range of new center consoles, I’ve been able to enjoy helm seating that comforts, cradles and supports my aging frame. Yes, some boat models still include leaning posts as standard equipment, yet an increasing number feature more-luxurious seating as an option — one that is worth the extra cost.

helm seats on boats
Helm seats, like the ones on the Barker 26 Open, are changing for the better.Jim Hendricks / Sport Fishing

Quality Seating Now a Priority

"Just because you're on a fishing boat doesn't mean you have to suffer," says Alex Leva of HydraSports Custom Boats in Islamorada, Florida. HydraSports builds each of its boats — including the vaunted 53-foot Sueños center console — to customer specifications, and this invariably includes high-end helm seats. Yet HydraSports is not alone: Even smaller center console boats such as the Barker 26 Open now offer posh perches for captains at the wheel.

“The leaning post just isn’t flying anymore,” says Bryan Corbell, president and CEO of the Llebroc Industries, based in Fort Worth, Texas. “Customers are insisting on better helm seats.”

Spurring demand is the advent of high-horsepower center consoles that can reach speeds in the 60 or even 70 mph range. “The duty rating is higher, and it’s just plain hard on your back,” Corbell points out.

Macroeconomics are in play as well. “An aging population is also driving the market for better seats,” says Mike Kushner, vice president of sales for Taco Marine. Brands such as Llebroc and Taco are leading the development of state-of-the-art systems to soften the ride. These companies equip many new boats but also supply the aftermarket — boat owners who want to upgrade the seats on existing craft.

helm chairs on boats
This custom Taco Marine Capri Deluxe chair features marine vinyl with a fabriclike texture that helps it stay cool in hot weather.Courtesy Taco Marine

Helm Seats Raising Bar for Durability

The comfort level and styling of helm seats today often match that found in luxury automobiles, except these boat seats are even better because they’re built with greater durability for life at sea, Corbell contends.

“Our proprietary-design profile, selection of special foams, and our construction system build in supportive comfort for the lumbar, upper back, seat and legs,” he says. Llebroc also works closely with each boatbuilder to ensure proper spatial planning and ergonomics when it comes to reaching the controls, grab handles and footrests.

You might think that a deluxe seat is built to match the boat design, but it’s the other way around, Corbell reveals. “We provide CAD (computer-aided design) files for each helm-chair model so related elements in the boat can be designed around the seating,” he says.

helm chairs on boats
Each helm seat on the Pursuit S408 center console features its own set of fold-down armrests, as well as flip-up bolsters.Jim Hendricks / Sport Fishing

One of those elements is often a fiberglass module to serve as the base for helm seats. The module allows builders to incorporate features such as livewells, tackle-prep stations, mini galleys, and coolers below and behind the seats. But first and foremost, the module must be designed at the optimum height, width and distance from the helm. Depending on the boat size, seats might number two or three across. Luxury bench seats for two are also available.

The styling of the seats is often ­specified by the builder to complement the vessel. Miami-based Taco Marine, for example, offers builders a wide choice of colors in its top-of-the-line Capri series. Llebroc also offers an array of vinyl colors, textures, accents, quilting and double-stitching to suit both builders and individuals ordering seats for existing boats. Llebroc’s premier lines include its Mako, Billfish, Stingray and Odyssey series.

Regardless of the style, deluxe helm seats all feature UV-resistant marine vinyl, high-density ­polyethylene substrates, and mildew-resistant ­multilayered foam padding. Moisture barriers help ensure durability in the life aquatic.

Regulator 42 helm seats
The Regulator 41 offers padded arm rests as one comfort.Courtesy Regulator

Customizing the Comfort of Seating

Two features found in nearly all high‑end helm seats today include flip-up bolsters and armrests. Cushioned flip-up bolsters let you convert the seat bottom into a leaning post in case you want to stand at the helm with some backside support. Or you can perch atop the bolster for a bit of extra height. Individual bolsters — available with some deluxe bench seats as well as single chairs — allow each crew member to choose how he or she wants the seat configured.

Padded armrests add to the comfort factor, and they can also serve as a place to hold on in rough seas. Some armrests are fixed; others fold up or down.

Helm seating requires robust hardware for the G-forces routinely experienced in a boat. On the Taco Capri helm chairs and bench seats, for example, the pivot mechanisms and arms for the flip-up bolsters and armrests are built from heavy-duty, polished stainless steel. The armrests tuck completely out of the way when flipped up for quickly tending lines when there’s a hookup.

Contender 39 Fisharoundhelm chair
The Contender 39 Fisharound has three helm chairs, each with an adjustable base.Jim Hendricks / Sport Fishing

Adjusting Seat's Base to Fit

Many seats feature adjustable bases that allow you to slide them fore and aft. Taco’s low-profile slide for its 23-inch-wide seats (about $350) features a Delrin roller and a double-locking slide actuator that allows 3½ inches of movement. With Llebroc’s surface-mount low-profile towel-bar bench slider ($190), you lift the bar below the seat base, then release to lock it in position. Springfield offers the same system for its helm seats.

An increasing number of center ­console fishing boats feature motorized systems such as Llebroc’s low-profile, power bench-mount slider ($405), which allows individual fore/aft seat adjustments at the press of a switch.

A joint venture between Springfield and Grammer Nautic has resulted in a seat base that cushions jolts in rough seas. The low-profile Sport Suspension seat base (about $625) offers more than 3 inches of shock-mitigating travel.

Grady-White 271
The Grady-White 271 Fisherman's helm seating is another showing how comfort and versatility has improved in the latest boat models.Jim Hendricks / Sport Fishing

Cost of New Helm Seating

One of the best ways to judge the cost of deluxe helm seats is to price them on the aftermarket. To set a baseline, the Taco Neptune III 35½-inch-wide leaning post sells for about $1,000 (with mounting frame and backrest) and can seat two. Llebroc’s Billfish series double seat (48 inches wide) has a base price of $2,430 (excluding mounting system and custom colors). Taco’s 40-inch-wide Capri bench sells for about $2,300 (excluding mounting system).

So comfort doesn’t come cheap. Yet when you consider the beatings you might avoid thanks to such an investment, some might consider these sweet seats truly priceless.

For more boat content, click on the image below to see the new bay boats more designs at this year's Miami International Boat Show.