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Whenever we discuss wiper systems with boat owners, the conversation usually starts with a discussion of the owner’s boat type. Normally, boats equipped with wipers are powerboats in the mid-20-foot range or larger. Then we dive into how to choose the right system for your boat. Naturally, part of the discussion also includes the question: “What’s it going to cost?”
At Imtra, we work with boat owners and professional installers. We sell three different ranges of wiper systems for both recreational and commercial vessels: Exalto, Decca, and Roca. Although costs will vary with the type of boat, the product you choose, and the requirements of the installation, in this article, we’ll focus on the factors most likely to affect the final number on your bill. And while you may be able to obtain discounts through some installers, let’s assume that what’s available to you are retail prices only.
Let’s get started:
What Is the Minimum Cost of a Marine Windshield Wiper System?
For a single-wiper system, there are many variables to consider, including: the size of the glass, under what conditions and how often you expect to use the system, and the complexity of installation. But for those of you who want some ballpark numbers, you are likely to spend anywhere from $300 to $2,000 for a marine windshield wiper system. With installation, you are likely to be looking at a total cost ranging from $600 to $3,000, or higher. A multi-wiper system will increase costs further. Now let’s look at the key factors in summary and then in more detail.
What Are the Primary Cost Factors for Boat-Wiper Systems?
At Imtra, we’ve seen every combination and customization possible for marine windshield wiper systems. Here are a few of the variables that could contribute to a higher cost:
- Size of Glass – Longer wipers require more power to clear glass
- Number of Wipers — More motors and blades multiply product cost
- Frequency of Wiper Use — Higher frequency use demands heavier-duty systems
- Electronic Controls — Intermittent and multi-speed controls cost more
- Access to Mount Motors — Interior modification and restoration may be needed
- Labor Rates — Vary by boatyard and geographic region
Does Glass Size Matter?
In short, yes. Determining the area of glass you want to clear is an important decision. In simple terms, if you have a big piece of glass to clear, you’ll need a bigger motor to sweep the wiper blade.
Different styles of boats will have very different needs for wipers. A dual console or center console vessel usually has a smaller piece of glass compared to a cruiser or an express yacht.
It’s also important to consider line of sight. From the helm station, you may not need all of the glass cleared to see adequately. On some boats with large expanses of glass, wipers are mounted to clear only a portion of the glass. For example, you may only care about seeing clearly through the bottom 30 inches of glass. On the other hand, captains sometimes install wipers on side windows to provide extra visibility in busy harbors and when docking.
How Many Wipers Do You Need?
The type of boat is likely to dictate how many wipers are needed. Runabouts and center consoles generally have a single wiper. Aboard cruisers or larger vessels with multiple windows, it’s common to see multiple wipers. On an express with a large piece of glass, you’ll often see multiple, very long wipers. And sometimes you’ll only find a single long wiper in front of the helm station. This is a personal choice for each captain.
How Often Will You Use Your Marine Wiper System?
Generally, we find that long-range cruisers choose more robust windshield wiper systems, as do operators of commercial vessels in daily use, rain or shine. If you are boating infrequently or only on the weekends, and are less likely to venture out in the rain or rough weather, you probably don’t need a premium-level system to give you several seasons of good functionality.
How Do You Choose Your Control Systems?
In a car, most people use relatively sophisticated electronic wiper controls. On a boat, you have a choice of a simple on-off rocker switch or a complete electronic control panel offering multiple speeds and intermittent functions. These latter options are not offered on some of the simpler wiper systems, but you will often have similar options. The variation in cost of wiper controls can be significant, ranging from $200 to more than $1,000.
Wash systems can also be installed, just like on your car, and they are pretty handy at clearing salt spray, pollen and more off the glass. Washing jets can be mounted to the bulkhead or directly to the end of the wiper arm. These systems come with their own plumbing, pump, reservoir and wiring and, depending on the number of wipers and sophistication of the washer jets, can range from $200 to $2,000.
How Do You Install the Wiper Motor?
Wiper motors are mounted either above or below the glass. Express-style boats and quite a few Downeast-style boats mount the motors below the glass, but top mounts are common on other styles.
Motors are usually, but not always, mounted internally for aesthetic reasons. Wiper motors on the outside must be waterproof. They are often easier to install and are typically used on open boats such as center consoles.
Wiring is usually straightforward, but access to the area where the motor will be mounted can make a substantial difference in cost. For example, there are frequently situations in which headliners need to be removed and modified.
Will a DIY Option Save Money?
Roughly 10 percent of boat owners choose to do their own windshield wiper system installation. In our experience if you’re not doing this kind of work regularly, it can be frustrating and time consuming. But if you are particularly handy and are the type who enjoys a challenge, an installation may be no big deal.
Labor rates range from $85 to $140 per hour across the United States, and a single-wiper system could require as little as two to four hours of professional labor. We’ll call it $200-$400. However, if any modifications are required, plan on $1,000 to $1,500 for a professional installation.
For a simple DIY system, the motor might cost $160. Plus wiper arms and blades, and that totals $250 to $300. Add the labor cost and you have $500 to $600 total. So the DIY option could cut your cost to approximately $300 for this kind of system. If modification is required, you’ll save more money—if you’re up to the task.
What’s the Top-End Cost for a Wiper System?
The sky is nearly the limit if your boat is big enough, but for a double-wiper system with sophisticated electronic controls plus an integrated wash system, you’re likely looking at a range of $3,500 to $4,000.
What’s the Least Amount of Money for a New Wiper System?
For most folks whose wiper motor has stopped working, they will simply replace the system with a new one of the same model. In this case, there’s unlikely to be any modification required, and if it’s a simple system, you may spend only $160 plus the time required to install and rewire the unit.
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