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Top-Notch Enclosure Panels

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Clearer Than Glass

Outfitting your boat’s enclosure with see-through acrylic may change your life.

Virtually everything can be improved—that’s the point Capt. Matt Condon was making just before the big brainstorm hit him. Condon’s the head guy at Signature Yacht Shares, a Destin, Florida-based outfit that’s into a variety of marine enterprises, fractional yacht ownership being the biggie. And, because he’s done his fair share of yacht deliveries over the years and wiled away many a delivery hour dreaming up ways to enhance onboard livability, comfort, and ease of operation, he’s got lots of savvy and specific notions concerning what constitutes real improvement, a topic he was now thinking about.

“Oh, I know!” he yelled excitedly, “I know! New acrylic windows!”

I was familiar with Condon’s bursts of enthusiasm by now—we’d been cruising together for several days, working up a story for an upcoming issue. And I’d been reasonably sure he’d have a solid, enthusiastic answer when I’d asked him: “What’s one of the best ways to make a good boat better?” But man, was the guy stoked about this acrylic-window thing!

It made sense, though. Boat enclosures with acrylic panels, after all, are hot these days. Swap out an enclosure’s old-fashioned vinyl and the result will astound you. Indeed, top-notch acrylics made from thermoplastic resins are typically clearer and less distortion-prone than high-quality window glass. “Hey,” Condon enthused, “the stuff’ll change your life!”

Good things often have quirks, of course. And the major-leaguer for acrylics is breakability. Try to bend a sheet of acrylic material around a corner or even roll it up into a loose tube for overhead stowage and you’ll crack it at the very least. However, acrylics manufacturers—the most prominent these days seems to be EZ2CY, which received a patent on acrylic-panel enclosures in the early 90s—typically circumvent the issue with tracks, zippered tracks, and zippers that facilitate a different kind of stowage solution: Instead of rolling up a panel as you would with vinyl, you simply swing up the flat panel via its hinge-like upper track and secure it to the underside of your hardtop or some other surface with a strap.

The other quirk’s cost. Let’s say you own a midrange sportfisherman and you want the folks at, say, St. Augustine’s Cooper’s Canvas—one of only 22 canvas shops in the United States licensed to work with EZ2CY acrylic material—to create a new enclosure. As with most other high-end shops, an employee will travel to your boat to make measurements using clamps and either large sheets of enclosure fabric or plastic template material. Then, in accordance with proprietary techniques, the shop will cut and sandwich-glue EZ2CY acrylic material into canvas panels for your new enclosure, complete with zippers and slide components. Sounds pretty simple, right? But how much more will this cost than vinyl?

“About forty percent,” says Cooper’s Canvas owner, Justin Cooper. “But it’ll last longer. In fact we’re just finishing up a refurbish job now where the vinyl side-panels of the enclosure are scratched and yellowed and need replacement after five years but the EZ2CY panels in the front are as good as ever—we’re simply going to buff and re-use them.”

Cooper hastens to add another point. Because of the proprietary way EZ2CY acrylics are secured within their canvas receivers, panels that are broken or damaged can be replaced for about half the cost of a new panel. “New is gonna run you between $65 and $75 a square foot,” he explains, “but replacement’s $35 a square foot, mostly because there’s no measuring and fitting involved, just glue removal and re-gluing. Exciting, huh?”

Condon would agree, I’m sure.

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This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.