D on’t judge a book by its cover, but do judge a boat by its hatches.
Hatches are a very interesting part of a boat, because they offer a ton of insight into how a builder thinks. You can tell at a glance whether they’re most interested in keeping cost down, or whether they spend a lot of time on fit and finish. You can tell how advanced their construction techniques are. You can sometimes spot major flaws—or majorly smart touches—that speak volumes about a boat-builder’s experience level.
The next time you go to look at a boat, will you know what to look for when you swing up that hatch? A few paragraphs from now, the answer will be an unqualified “yes.”
Cost cutting measures begin with the pull-rings and latches. Obviously, if it’s plastic you’ve just spotted a dead give-away that the builder is trying to shave off a few bucks. Latches that dog-down are better and more expensive than those that don’t. Latches that lock will boost cost even more.
Now swing the hatch up. Is the underside fully finished with molded gel coat, or is it merely painted? There’s a huge difference in cost. While the hatch is open, check out the hinges. Full-length piano hinges are best, followed by quality stainless-steel hinges that are properly sized, followed by anything else. But on top of that, do the hinges stick up, or did the builder mold in a recess specifically for them, so they’re flush with the deck? And, are the nuts and bolts securing all of this hardware counter-sunk?
Before we go any further, we need to point out the fact that cost-cutting measures are not always a bad thing. That’s particularly true in this day and age, when a 23-foot center console might cost as much as your house. Does it make sense to accept some or all of the above-mentioned cost-cutting measures, if the boat costs half as much as some the same size?
Not everyone drives a Lamborghini, not everyone can afford one, and not everyone wants one in the first place. So it’s a bit foolish to consider cost-cutting measures a disqualifier unless money truly is no object.
Construction quality, on the other hand, is not where we advise trying to save a buck. Test number one is to close the hatch, stand right in the middle of it, and bounce up and down a bit. If you feel it flexing underfoot, that’s bad news. Also listen for creaks and grinds. Creaks are usually just an annoyance, but grinding often means the part doesn’t mate up well with the liner and can lead to problems down the road. Gaps in the seams are another indication that the pieces-parts aren’t necessarily fitting together all that well.
In the best case scenario, you’ll see one of the fit-and-finish items we talked about earlier: a molded gel coat underside. This isn’t only an indication of cost and detail work, but counts towards construction quality, too.
Many builders use either a two-part mold, vacuum-infusion, or vacuum bagging, with vacuum-drawn molding usually being the best. These parts are not only lighter and stronger than hatches molded in an open, one-piece female mold; they’re also more consistent from one to the next. As a result, they usually fit better.
TIP: to test just how well a hatch fits, simply open one and then drop it closed without slowing it down or lowering it at all. A poorly-fitted hatch will swing down and close with a slam, while a hatch with an excellent fit will close with a quiet “whoosh” as escaping air brakes its fall.
Smart Touches you’ll find in hatches vary quite a bit depending on just what it is they’re covering. Well-designed deck hatches, for example, usually have some way of preventing water intrusion in the form of gaskets, gutters, or the combination of the two. Better yet, they’ll have a molded channel that carries water to a deck drain or scupper. Live well hatches, on the other hand, need to seal the water in. Since they often sit flush on a lip, and they’re smaller than a deck hatch, these can depend on compressing a gasket with the latch.
Another important thing to look for is how the hatch stays open (or does not). Gas-assist struts are generally best for this job, although they do need to be sized properly or issues will quickly arise.
Another common thing you’ll see is the use of a strap, which the hatch leans back against. These work okay, but only until the boat rocks and the hatch slams shut on your arm. Or until someone leans on the hatch while it’s open and breaks the strap.
In the worst-case scenario the hatch rests back against another fiberglass part (sooner or later someone will swing it open without thinking and chip the fiberglass) or on its own hinges (which will likely bend or break if someone steps on the open hatch).
Note: in the case of relatively small, light hatches, modern “friction hinges” which hold the hatch open work well and are quite convenient.
In a way, hatches tell you so much about how a boat is built that they’re a window into the boat-builder’s soul. They’re a window that, if well designed and constructed, will open and close, open and close, for the lifetime of your boat, without ever causing you a moment’s grief.
Email Lenny Rudow at
Email Lenny Rudow at [email protected]