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Acrylic or polycarbonate for boat windows? Plus how to care for them.

When it comes to boats, every component takes a beating from sun, wind, salt, water and mechanical wear-and-tear. Discover how to fix scratched screens, choose a replacement material and take care of your portlights so they keep looking good.


Damaged boat screens and portlights


Boat windows are no exception to component wear-and-tear. They can be damaged in a variety of ways, including cracking and what we, in the plastics industry, call 'crazing.' While cracking refers to external fractures of the material, crazing describes internal fractures.


Crazing makes the material look like it's been shattered from the inside. In bad cases, the material becomes almost opaque. It may continue to repel water and act as a windshield, but seeing through it may become difficult.


Crazing is not isolated to acrylic and polycarbonate. It can occur in all plastics. The extent of fracturing, or a material's susceptibility to cracking and crazing, will vary with material stiffness, chemical composition and environmental conditions.

 
 

What are boat windows made from?


When it comes to boat windows, they are usually made from polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or polycarbonate (PC). PMMA is more commonly known as acrylic or by brand names, such as Perspex and Plexiglas.


In plastic fabrication, crazing in acrylic and polycarbonate can be due to poor heat treatment by inexperienced fabricators. But with marine windows, the more likely cause is environmental exposure to wide temperature ranges over a long period of time.


Can boat windows and screens be repaired?


Do your boat windows have light scratches, hard water marks (mineral deposits) or discolouring? This is very common. Believe it or not, even sunscreen can interact with plastics.


In the case of light surface damage to your boat windows, we may be able to restore the surface and help you avoid the cost of replacement. In fact, very light scratches may be polished out of acrylic or polycarbonate with a soft cloth and polishing paste. Please talk with our team about choosing a suitable plastic polish for your needs.


Deeper scratches will require deeper abrasion. If attempting this yourself, start with very fine grit sandpaper before applying polish. Keep in mind that with deeper scratches, you may need to polish the entire screen surface, rather than just the scratches. Using a mechanical polisher can vastly improve the result and save time, but do take care. As with polishing a car, use minimal pressure, low speed and let the machine do the work.


Replacement boat windows


If material degradation has gone too far, polishing is not an option. In such cases, we may be able to manufacture replacement windows for your boat. We can cut to shape, profile, form and drill almost all sizes of boat windows in a wide range of colours and thicknesses. We can also use thermoforming and moulding methods, as required (see photo below).

 

We custom made this replacement boat screen using thermoformed acrylic.

 

Comparing acrylic and polycarbonate for marine applications


In terms of material choice, acrylic and polycarbonate are both excellent options for replacement boat windows. Let's compare them:


Acrylic boat windows


Cast acrylic sheet can be ordered in a wide variety of thicknesses, colours and tints. Acrylic's strength and workability make it a good-looking, long-lasting material for lots of different applications, especially those exposed to the elements. Acrylic's performance characteristics include:

  • Strong and stiff

  • Optically clear

  • Easy to fabricate, machine and thermoform

  • Easy to solvent bond

  • Good dimensional stability

  • Good weatherability


Polycarbonate boat windows


Like acrylic, polycarbonate is strong, light weight, and has very high UV resistance, making it high performing in tough weather conditions. In fact, polycarbonate is up to 250 times stronger than glass against high-impact forces. (It's what bulletproof glass is made from.)


These properties make polycarbonate an ideal material for marine screens, portlights and skylights. For even more longevity and maximum clarity of your polycarbonate boat screens, we can treat the surface with a scratch and UV-resistant coating. Polycarbonate can also be tinted, adding to its versatility.

 

Custom boat screen and custom Seaboard (HDPE) board racks

 

Caring for your boat screens and windows


When it comes to care and maintenance, the good news is that you can keep your replacement boat windows looking brand new for many years to come with minimal time and effort.


Covering your boat when it's not in use is a simple but often overlooked strategy to protect your boat's plastic surfaces. For ski boats or small cruisers, a fitted boat cover with quick release clasps can make it easy to quickly cover your boat after a day on the water.


In terms of washing your boat screens and portlights, avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners that may damage them. Regularly wash acrylic or polycarbonate windows with warm soapy water using a soft cloth, and then rinse with plenty of fresh water. Remember, your boat windows and screens are made from plastic, not glass, which is why you should avoid using supermarket glass cleaners, such as Windex.


When it comes to fastening acrylic or polycarbonate screens:

  • Do not over tighten screws or bolts

  • When drilling, use a slightly blunt drill bit to reduce the chances of snatching

  • Where possible, do not use countersunk screws as they can create extra stress in the material, leading to cracks

 

Thermoformed acrylic boat screen.

 

Get a quote for replacement boat windows


The price of custom made boat windows will depend on the size and complexity of your project. When preparing your quote, we will take into account the material, fabrication requirements and any extras, such as protective coatings.


In terms of material costs, polycarbonate may initially be more expensive than acrylic, but a little extra investment could save you money in the long run via better wear-and-tear and less frequent replacement.


In many cases, we can prepare a quote based on photos and/or drawings, however, we would prefer to see your boat (or the component) in person, so that we can properly evaluate the project. We have ample room for parking if you would like to bring your boat to our Gold Coast factory. We are conveniently located in Arundel, central to the Gold Coast and close to the M1 Motorway, within easy driving distance of Brisbane and Northern New South Wales.


Drop-ins are always welcome, but it's better to phone ahead 07 5502 0034 or email us info@expplastics.com.au to book a time, so that we can make sure a fabricator is available.

 

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