Then there are rigid panels like those from EZ2CY, crafted of high-grade acrylic, which a company rep claims is the clearest material on the market for marine enclosures. EZ2CY panels swing up instead of roll up, which means less contortion and abrasion—and not being able to roll up small panels for ventilation, a real disadvantage on some boats. And acrylic is more fragile than some of the softer materials on the market like polycarbonate and will break if bent beyond a certain point. On the other hand, you can reportedly buff out scratches in it (not always true of vinyl and polycarbonate). According to Jeff Smith, vice president of sales and product development at EZ2CY, even after 12 years of use, an EZ2CY panel still “looks like new.” Of course, that level of durability comes with a price: EZ2CY enclosures are two to three times more costly than traditional vinyl enclosures.
Then there are nontransparent materials like Sunbrella and Stamoid, which are sometimes used in conjunction with the enclosure applications outlined above. Breathable, fade- and mildew-resistant, and machine-washable, these fabrics are often used for biminis and covers. However, the stitching, snaps, and/or zippers used to secure them can be difficult to work with and loosen and/or come apart over time, which will cause leaks. To prevent such maladies, make sure that all stitching is secure and has no loose ends and that zippers are on the inside of the enclosure and out of contact with the sun, which can lead to UV degradation. EZ2CY uses Profilen thread that’s guaranteed for life and recommends using zippers manufactured by Riri or YKK, saying they’re crafted of a special self-lubricating plastic that reportedly wears better.
Smith says, “A good enclosure is one that you don’t even realize is there, one that’s practically transparent.” And to keep it transparent, you’ll need to keep it clean and properly maintained, no matter what type of material is involved. Start by washing it every time you wash your boat. First, thoroughly rinse the transparent panels with fresh water to remove any salt and dirt; otherwise you risk grinding them in. Next, wash the area with a mild boat soap and soft cleaning mitt; if you use an extendable handle, make sure it’s fitted with a soft-bristle brush. Finally, rinse the area well, and then dry it with a chamois, mop, or squeegee to eliminate water spots, making sure whatever you use is free of dirt and grit that could scratch the panel.
Strataglass president Edison Irvine recommends a deep cleaning to prevent soap buildup every few weeks, depending on how often you use your boat. Most enclosure manufacturers make cleaners and polishes designed for this job. Also know what’s not recommended; for example, Strataglass discourages the use of Rain-X and citrus-based cleaners on its enclosures, and Smith says to avoid any cleaner containing alcohol, as it may attack and degrade the plastic.
Last, if you roll up vinyl panels while you’re using your boat, Irvine recommends rolling the panels down and fitting them in place when you’re done to prevent distortion that will make it difficult to reinstall the enclosure. Moreover, when the enclosure is new, he recommends removing the panels as infrequently as possible—ideally, not at all—so that they’ll be able to develop/establish a “memory” of their own, which will help make putting them back in place easier. If and when you do remove the vinyl panels, Smith recommends putting a piece of white flannel or other soft fabric between them to absorb moisture and prevent scratching. And since the transparent portions of the enclosure are susceptible to cracking in cold weather, Irvine recommends removing them and stowing them in a warm place over the winter.
You already know how important maintenance is in owning a boat, and that includes taking care of your enclosure. Knowing what to do will not only make boating safe and more enjoyable by maximizing visibility, it’ll also extend the life of the enclosure, which will save you money. And that should be clear to everyone.
This article originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.