Thursday, January 22, 2015

Where's The Plexiglass

I got up Monday morning, made myself some breakfast, and sat down at the computer and made a list of people I could call to find the replacement acrylic for my salon windows.  In Brunswick there are not a lot of boat-specific services, but flat plastic windows should be available from ordinary window shops and I was able to find a few of them in town.  So, around 9 AM I started calling the companies on my list.

What I was looking for was a 3/8 inch dark gray tinted acrylic from a company that could cut out the irregular shape of the window.  What I found was that no one in the area stocked material this thick. I did eventually find a couple companies that thought they could at least order it. One insisted I bring the window to their shop because they wanted to see what the material actually was and the other one wanted to see the window as well.  So, I loaded my 6' 3" long window into my little car and went for a drive.

One of the windows that needs to be replaced

I stopped at the first store, wrestled the window back out of the car, and took it in for them to have a look. The people at the store seemed to think that the window was actually Lexan (polycarbonate) and not Plexiglass (acrylic).  I told them I was pretty sure it was, or at least it was supposed to be, acrylic based on my research. They then told me that they probably couldn't cut a window of that size and shape out of acrylic without it breaking but they could do it in polycarbonate and they insisted my window has to be polycarbonate.  I started thinking that maybe they are operating under the old saying "if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail".  They gave me a price for ordering a sheet of polycarbonate and having it cut...which was around $600.  Ouch.

I loaded my window back up and took it to the other shop I had found that said they could order either polycarbonate or acrylic. They took a look at the window and seemed a bit unsure of what material it is.  They thought it might be polycarbonate but weren't quite sure.  They gave me prices for both.  Using acrylic with a medium gray tint, the cost would be about $470.  They weren't sure if they could find the darker gray tinted acrylic.  The polycarbonate option was only available in a light to medium gray tint and would cost $620.

With all the confusion over which material these plastic windows are, I went back to the boat to do a bit more research. I found several references to "Plexiglass" in the owners forum...but I know that some people probably use that term for any type of plastic window.  I then found a few sites, like this one and this one, that compare acrylic to polycarbonate.  What I found is that polycarbonate is more "unbreakable" because it is a softer material that will absorb impacts by flexing.  I also fond that polycarbonate expands and shrinks more with temperature changes and is less UV resistant.  These properties are not something I want as a boat window.  Flexing and expansion will cause sealing know...the whole reason I'm having to do this.  And since sailboats are often stored outdoors, UV is a definite issue.  Add in the price difference between acrylic and polycarbonate, and the decision is easy.  Plexiglass (acrylic) it is.

I went back to the second store I visited, Lee and Cates Glass, to see about getting the acrylic ordered. I asked them if they could get the darker gray glass.  The helpful folks at the store did some calling around and were finally able to locate the darker glass.  Unfortunately it was a long way away and shipping was going to be an issue.  If I really had to have the darker gray glass, it was going to cost over $680 to get the needed piece and it would take even longer to get it.  Ouch!  Having better places to spend the extra $210 and not wanting to go without a window for a couple weeks, I decided to go with the medium gray.  Guess I'll see if I regret this decision in a few years.

So, the glass is ordered, but it won't be here until the end of the week or early next week.  This means I'll have a big hole in my boat for a little while.  Hopefully the weather doesn't get too bad in between now and then...but knowing my luck with weather...well...  At least today was a beautiful day, wish I hadn't spent all of it just trying to find replacement window acrylic, but that seems to be the way it goes.  It is interesting that I had an easier time finding parts for my out-of-production airplane than I seem to have with my boat.


  1. Wow...that's a big hassle to go through! You're definitely doing everything the right way though.

    One question....maybe it's my 'newbie' showing through here, but what about applying tint to the windows [as you would a car window] to get the desired darkness?


    1. Hey Mike,

      Yes, always seems to be a hassle about something.

      My understanding is that the tint films that you normally apply to glass (like your car windows) doesn't stick to acrylic. I haven't done the research to determine if that is true or just what I've been told. But, if you have ever seen the bubbles in car window tint when it wasn't applied properly, I don't know that I would want to risk trying on acrylic...or polycarbonate.

      I'm debating creating semi-transparent fabric covers for the windows so the lighter tint may be the way to go in combination with that stuff. Who knows. That's what I'm telling myself anyway. :-)

  2. Hi Mike,
    Sent you an email, but thought I'd comment. Next time you need plexiglass try professionalplasticsdot com. A 12" x 72" x3/8" thick acrylic 2074 dark gray would run $162 plus shipping. I have no vested interest in company but looked at them when looking to replace plexi on a Privilege.
    Doug from VT

    1. Hey Doug,

      The windows I'm replacing are roughly 76" x 20", so for two I needed pretty much a full 4' x 8' sheet. I checked several places online including Professional Plastics ($402 for the full sheet, $464 for cut pieces) and by the time you included shipping (anything 72" and longer requires "special" handling to the tune of $200 or so most places) ordering through the local shop and settling on the lighter tint was the cheapest option by $200 or so.

      If I ever have to replace the smaller front windows, ordering through them may prove to be the better way to go as the shipping won't be the killer it is with these large windows.

      And thanks for posting the tip. If anyone else out there has smaller glass needs, it is certainly a good way to go.


  3. On my list of spring projects (among many others, such as currently making a mold to rebuild the rudders) is to replace the salon windows as well. The PO put textalene covers with snaps over the side windows. I just replaced them at $85 each. They protect the window material from UV and help shade the interior of the boat. I'm pleased they are there.

    1. Yeah, that is the type of thing I was considering to cover the glass. As big of a pain as it is to replace/rebed these windows, extending their lifetime is quite appealing.