Boat hatches can make or break a boat. But when considering boat maintenance and appearance, we tend to overlook their functionality. When really, they should be top of any old salt or new boat owner‘s mind to upgrade or repair.
Why? Well, for several reasons, both practical and cosmetic. A cracked boat hatch with a faded tint cramps your boat’s curb appeal. A boat hatch that opens in a bad direction, limiting your deck space. A boat hatch with degraded or poorly applied sealant, which caused water damage. With any of these hatch issues, you might need an upgrade.
That’s why it’s time to consider your boat hatches. Here’s what you need to know.
Reasons to Rotate or Replace a Boat Hatch
You don’t have to live with the features you’re given. There are options for customizing to your needs that are still in the realm of DIY.
However, don’t just ditch the hatch because you’re scared to replace it. The process is easy for any handy boater and you’ll reap all the benefits of the ventilation that hatches offer.
Broken Boat Hatches Invite Leaks
Serious damage occurs when boat hatches become damaged. When sealant between the hatch and the boat is no longer watertight, water leaks through, sometimes within a solid radius of the hatch itself inside the cabin. Imagine blasting through waves and having water crash over a deck hatch that isn’t watertight. What kind of damage could that do to your boat?
One sign a boat hatch needs replacement or repair is a drip in the boat. If you see this, investigate further so the problem doesn’t snowball. Liveaboards are around enough to witness a drip, but for casual cruisers, you’ll need more proactive testing.
On our boat, we test all hatches and ports—at the beginning and end of each season—by spraying them with a hose. This method’s great for testing specific joints in the hardware, though it’s a two-person job: One person points the hose at a joint and slowly works their way around the hatch, while another person inside the cabin inspects for leakage. This simple inspection takes minimal time and could avoid damage in the long run if your hatch does have a problem.
Make hatch inspection a part of your preventative boat maintenance each season! If you do come across leakage, get it done sooner rather than later if you find any water leakage.
The Boat Hatch Encounters Obstacles
Did you know boat hatches open in more than one direction? In fact, do you know what direction your boat hatches open? Take notice the next time you’re on your boat. When it opens, does it get in the way of objects on deck like solar panels or sail bags?
Just because the hardware setup worked for the boat’s previous owner doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. And the best thing is, you don’t have to live with it. You can move, rotate, or replace your hatch so it isn’t in your way anymore. These annoying obstacles can really add up when boating so don’t be afraid to customize your boat to your workflow, especially if you are restoring a boat and replacing parts anyways.
The Boat Hatch Blocks Wind and Ventilation
Do you find yourself battling against the wind to get the hatches open for a bit of fresh air?
If you find your hatches annoying, the best option is double-opening boat hatches, which change directions. Double-opening boat hatches offer many advantages like minimizing the water splashing into the cabin, but are excellent at optimizing air ventilation.
When we first got the boat, we had no idea these magical double-opening boat hatches existed until we started looking into replacements. Now, they’re certainly on my sailor’s wish list!
If you’re avoiding spending time and money to find or order custom double-opening hatches to fit your boat, there’s another solution to optimize ventilation. Check out this Windscoop Ventilator (check price on Amazon) and West Marine’s Down-the-Hatch Ventilating Sail as wind-harnessing alternatives.
How to Replace Boat Hatches
When both arms on the hatch above my v-berth cracked, I immediately went into “avoid the big expensive project” mode. I kept it shut and wrote it off for another season. But upon speaking to other boaters about the issue, they assured me replacing a boat hatch was easy as pie!
Today, I’m glad to add hatch replacement to the list of surprisingly easy boat DIYs.
The Tools and Parts You’ll Need
As long as you plan ahead and order correct tools and parts (which may be custom depending on your boat’s build), replacing a boat hatch is a simple process. Here are some of the tools and parts you should order and have on hand:
- Replacement hatch parts
- Screwdriver and the proper screws for your boat
- Wide painters tape (check price on Amazon) to catch excess sealant (you’ll be thankful to have this, cleanup will be easier!)
- Garbage bag and tape (or similar) to protect cabin below the hatch from debris
- Dry rag
- Paint stirrer, plastic knife, or anything to scrape off excess sealant
Once you have these tools set aside and ready, get ready to install your boat hatch and roll up your sleeves!
Steps for Installing a Boat Hatch
Installing the hatch itself is surprisingly easy. Once you’ve measured your boat hatch and ordered an exact replacement (or custom hatch), here’s whatcha gotta do:
1. Cover the hatch from the cabin interior. This ensures no debris falls into the cabin. You can use something as simple as a garbage bag taped up to the cabin ceiling.
2. Remove hatch arms so that the hatch opens and lays flat on the deck.
3. Unscrew and remove the hatch from the deck. You might have to pry it up with a flat screwdriver, depending on the strength of the caulking.
4. Scrape off old caulking using a chisel or paint scraper.
5. Sand down the surface lightly to completely remove all old caulking.
6. Wipe away all dust or particles and get the frame clean.
7. Inspect for wood rot in wooden decks or frames. Check out this video for visual reference. If you discover rot, further repairs may be necessary. You might need to do some re-framing before you can install a new hatch.
8. Install the boat hatch. Depending on the hatch style, the final installation process will vary (marking screw holes, making new holes, etc.), but here are the basic steps. First, apply the sealant. Next, lay down the hatch and screw into place. Finally, allow for it to dry the recommended drying time (check the sealant).
Remember the hose trick I mentioned above? Use it! As a last precaution, test the seal with a water hose and make sure nothing’s leaking to the cabin below and all is dry.
Installing a boat hatch might seem like an intimidating project, but you could realistically replace several hatches in a day minus repairs of major wood rot or framing. And with two people, the project goes even faster!
Go Beyond the Boat Hatch
Getting rid of boat hatch entirely and patching a hole takes a bit more effort. However, if you have a boat hatch that hinders you from standing or stretching out on deck and need to rid yourself of it, there are a few solutions.
You could opt for a boat hatch deck plate lid similar to this Amarine-made Marine BoatAccess Hatch & Lid (check price on Amazon), which covers and secures the glass.
Alternatively, you could install a low profile boat hatch like this West Marine Lewmar Low-Profile Hatch.
Boat hatches are often overlooked and, in some cases, even neglected. Whether you’ve purchased a fixer-upper boat like me or have been annoyed with a hatches direction, replacing and rotating a boat hatch is more simple than it appears.
The next time you begin to hear a steady drip inside your cabin, take notice. Your hatch might be trying to tell you something.
Danielle Strandson is a writer in Portland, Maine who enjoys cruising around Casco Bay with her partner in their Hunter 27 sailboat. After living inland for most of her life, there’s no place she’d rather be than on the ocean. Danielle is currently working on training the ultimate boating companion—a Goldendoodle named Nori!