Portlight Lens Replacement / Rennovation

I’ve been on hundreds of older boats and a common problem is the portlights (windows to landlubbers) have fogged up from many years of wear and sunlight damage.

Zia, our Morgan 38 (built in 1983) also had this problem.  All of our portlights are opening (versus fixed in place), none of them were leaking, but you couldn’t really see out of them.  The window material is a kind of plastic (Lexan), not glass.

Having clear (not clouded) portlights makes a huge difference with the amount of light that gets into the interior, and also makes the boat seem a lot less ‘worn out’.

The view from portlights before they were rehabilitated.  Good for privacy, but bad for viewing.
The view from portlights before they were rehabilitated. Good for privacy, but bad for viewing.

If they were leaky or had major issues, I would have considered replacing the entire portlight with something like Newfound Metals very nice stainless steel & glass portlights.  I have fondled them at boat shows and know some folks who installed them and love them.

In my case that probably would have been overkill and there were plenty of other places I needed to spend my limited boat refit funds (like new sails & radar).  So Zia will need to wait a few years for the nice stainless portlights.

I tried a couple of products which claimed to clear up cloudy Lexan windows, but wasn’t happy with the end results.  So I opted to replace the lens.

The same portlight after the lens had been replaced. BIG difference, and it looked pretty much new.
The same portlight after the lens had been replaced. BIG difference, and it looked pretty much new.

Zia has:

  • Two larger cast aluminum portlights (about 24-3/4″ wide) made by Bomar
  • Five smaller plastic portlights (about 14-7/8″ wide) made by Beckson

It was nice that even though they were 30 years old, both of these manufacturers still exist.  Had they not, I could have fabricated/cut the lenses from Lexan but this was easier.

The Bomar Portlights

I ordered replacements, and they were shipped with these instructions:

TOOLS:      replacement lens         
                        tube of silicone (GE Ultra Glaze)
                        old spoon
                        old butter knife or hanger
                        masking tape
                        blunt tool        

  1.  Cut away old silicone and remove old lens.
  2.  Place a two inch strip of masking tape around the top/outside of hatch lid in order to make the removal of excess silicone less difficult.If you have a cast hatch disregard this step.
  3. If you have an extruded hatch and wish to replace your gasket, do so now, making sure to place lip of the gasket on top of the flange (the underside of the lens will sit on this portion of the gasket).
  4. Peel off the paper on the underside of the lens.
  5. Place a moderate bead of silicone on the flange and any crossbars where the lens will set.
  6. Float the lens into the silicone bead.  If your replacement lens has holes in it for your latch dogs, place the holes away from the hinge.  Allow a 1/8” space between the front edge of lens and the frame so your handles will be properly aligned.  If  your replacement lens does not have holes in it simply center the lens in the silicone.)
  7. After the lens is floated, apply a generous bead of silicone in the gap between the edge of the lens and the frame.
  8. Using the back side of an old spoon, place the tip in the silicone at 45 degrees and trowel off any excess silicone.
  9. Check for air bubbles (swelling in the silicone).  To remove air bubbles; drag an old butter knife through the swollen area three inches before and after the swollen area.  Apply a new bead of silicone to the disturbed area and trowel off excess silicone with your spoon.
  10. Allow the hatch to sit for two days.
  11. Peel off the masking tape and lens paper carefully use a blunt tool to remove any silicone, being careful not to scratch the lens or the hatch frame.
  12. The silicone will be totally cured in 7 days.
To get the portlights off of the frame, I used a Bostitch 1/8" (3mm) punch to drive the hinge pin out.
To get the portlights off of the frame, I used a Bostitch 1/8″ (3mm) punch to drive the hinge pin out.

I took the portlights home and did most of the work there.  Getting the old gasket material out of the frame was probably the most time consuming part, and it only took about 30 minutes per portlight.

I used Goo Gone caulk remover and this scrapper to get all of the gasket material removed from the grooves you see here facing up.
I used Goo Gone caulk remover and this scrapper to get all of the gasket material removed from the grooves you see here facing up.
This is the frame all taped up with painter's tape and ready for the GE Ultra Glaze
This is the frame all taped up with blue painter’s tape and ready for the GE Ultra Glaze

GE Ultra Glaze is a silicon that comes in a caulking tube.  It’s specialized for window glazing, and while there are cheaper general-use silicon caulks available, I would not use those in this application.

GE Ultra Glaze (black stuff) in place and then the Lexan window material is smooshed into place. This all cleans up well for a tidy finish.
GE Ultra Glaze (black stuff) in place and then the Lexan window is smooshed into place. There is also a protective plastic sheet on the Lexan. This all cleans up well for a tidy finish.

 

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