Installing Our New Plexiglass Deadlights

It’s finally come, the moment you’ve all been waiting for!  Or wait, maybe it’s the moment we’ve been waiting for.  Although I’m sure you were a bit curious as well.  Either way, we’ve started installing the deadlights to Daze Off!

After all the weeks we had prepping for this, it’aces funny to think that the end step only takes one day. (For each set of windows installed, we’re doing it in 3 stages.)  All in all, the prep and application of the windows took 2 days.  The first may have been the hardest as it was dedicated to the placement of where they would be.  Since we don’t have a recessed area that they’ll slip into (as we did on Serendipity), it’s up to us to find out where they need to be so they’re level and perfectly spaced out from each other.

Before we had taken the old windows out we had at least been smart enough to measure the distance down from the top of the pilothouse to the top edge of the window and wrote that information on a notepad in our tablet so we couldn’t lose it (we lose things easily around here).  Since the new windows were traced and cut from the old ones, that distance should stay the same.  Measuring the length of the window, we placed a piece of tape where the bottom edge of each window would be and used Command strips to stick a flexible board to that spot on the boat so the windows could safely rest on it until they were installed.

Matt measuring windows

With lots of tape and work with our calipers, we double and triple checked that our new line (& the board) were level and from that point, that the distance width wide from one window to the next was the same.  Multiple times we would placed the new (but still covered in a protective paper) windows in their intended places, and then ran down next to the boat to see how it all looked visually.  Did anything seem odd about how they were placed?  Was there any sloping from one side to the next?  Did they appear to be spaced properly?

spacing new windows

Looking at placement of new deadlights

When we were 100% sure we knew where we wanted them, we did a small tape outline on each side, so in case they slid we could accurately place them back where we knew the measurements were correct.  In writing it sounds quite easy, but take my word, in reality we worked on this for a few hours.  Our board did not want to stay up initially, the tape we based it’s placement on made for a sloping line, and even when our level said it was correct, visually it just seemed off.  As our first attempt at it, this part was incredibly frustrating and time consuming, and after a few hours of it I was ready to throw up my arms and yell, “No one is going to notice if it is 1/4″ off from the front window to the back!”.  But we kept at it until we had it right.

So I was quite relieved when that process was done, and we moved onto the next step of drilling the holes.  Instead of trying to do it through the plexiglass and metal at the same time, we drilled the holes in the windows first before replacing them into their spots on the board and then drilled through the metal as well.  Placing the bolts in each corner and securing them to what would eventually be their final spot, I went through and taped an outline of each window.  This will keep the mess low(er) when we adhere them with caulk, and it was another good way to know exactly where they should sit when we went to permanently place them.

The last step of the first prep day was to prep the part of the plexi which will adhere to the newly painted surface on the boat.  While the windows were securely in place with their bolts, I went inside and with a mechanical pencil, traced the outline of the frame.  Taking them out once more, I used an Exacto knife to cut the paper down the line I had traced, and removed the protective paper from the outside.  When this was done and the newly exposed plexiglass surface had been cleaned with denatured alcohol, Matt set them up and sprayed those exposed areas with a window frit, we used Krylon Fusion for Plastics.

This step is done for a few purposes, including creating a matte surface to visually hide the tape and caulk which will be applied below it, help the tape and caulk against UV attack, and also creating a better surface for adhesion.  We placed two coats on the plexi and then left them at least 24 hours to set.

Then for the fun part…the day of installation.  Wiping down the painted surface with denatured alcohol, we lined the edges with a very strong tape. For this tape we chose 3M VHB (very high bond) 4991.  Not only is this tape strong enough that it would be able to keep the new windows on without the added strength of caulk or bolts, but one of the things we bought this specific product for is because of it’s thickness of 2.3 mm.  This allows the caulk (which of course we’ll be using, for the added bond and protection against leaks), plenty of space to expand and contract beneath the plexi.

3M VHB 4991

When this double sided tape had been attached and pressed firmly into the surface of the boat, Matt caulked the area from the VHB to the painters tape with Dow 795. When the area was covered so thickly that you could barely make out any white paint beneath it, we lined up the plexiglass window with its tape outline, and while keeping the top of the window still a few inches away from the surface of the boat, placed the bottom bolts in the holes to make sure we had everything correctly lined up and they slid into their holes.  Once they slipped in and we were confident the placement was correct (it would be almost impossible to un-adhere it from the tape once the two came in contact), pressed the rest of the window into place and firmly pushed against it to make sure it made full and strong contact with the tape.

The last step to adhesion was to place the bolts in, and all of them, as well as their holes, received a good coating of Dow 795 before they were permanently slid into place.  While I held the bolt in place from the outside, Matt went inside the boat to attach and tighten the nuts to each bolt.  Usually by doing this, excess caulk would squeeze out from the plexi, but in the areas it looked like there may be gaps, Matt went back with the caulk gun and traced an extra line around those spots.  Using a small plastic mixing stick, he neatly traced around each window to give it a clean finish.

We did this for each window before it was time for clean up.  The second most time consuming step of the whole process. Removing the tape, we found that we weren’t always left with clean lines.  It was then my job to go through with mineral spirits and acetone to wipe up any Dow 795 that had strayed onto the paint.  I found that in cleaning up some of my messes, all I did was make more.  It was also testing my temper where I’d try to smooth out a line where maybe a 1″ section had a little pucker of caulk, and when I tried to smooth that area I’d create a pucker in another section. This happened so many times that it would take me about 45 minutes to ‘clean’ each window. It was a little maddening.

At the end though, it was all worth it.  We had new windows in and they looked perfect!  Taking off the remaining protective paper we took a good look at our new accomplishment.  It was so strange to not only have new windows in, but ones that were so clear.  When I was inside the boat it looked as if there was still nothing there separating me from the outside.  It’s so exciting to have this one side installed, and not only am I over the moon to be able to step back from boat and look at them, but I finally have a sense of closure that I’ve been needing for so long on this project.

I can’t let myself get too excited though….we still have to go through this process two more times.

new windows from the inside

deadlights installed

plexiglass deadlights

deadlights

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5 thoughts on “Installing Our New Plexiglass Deadlights

  1. They look great! That board you used to line everything up is called a batten. You likely have a couple of those in your mainsail. Just saying.

  2. Hi
    Just noticed on your facebook( I’m not a fb member) that your windows are crazing! Did I read that right? What’s going on here? Not enough allowance for expansion? ( how would you do that anyway? Bolts too tight? Or in too small holes?
    Did the plexiglass supplier have any suggestions?
    Your windows and deadlights are really more like power boat windows than sailboat portholes prehaps you should think about how they do it too. Trouble is all boats are plagued with window leaks and all the trouble that the water causes as it works its way into the bilge.
    The only windows I see that hold up well are those with very strong frames so the boat attachment is moved from the glazing to the frame that can be fairly easily resealed if reqd.
    Tough problem good luck , can you live with them for now?
    Warren
    Ps did you opt for smoked plex this time……better for the heat .

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