Looking through your boat’s bridge enclosure is much like looking through a pair of sunglasses. Even the slightest scratch or smudge will drive you nuts. The enclosure on my boat gets far more attention than the windshield of my truck, although I spend much more time in my truck. Why all the attention to the enclosure? Well, not only do you have to look through it all day, but the pressure is equally on to spot fish and avoid collisions, so if you can’t see clearly, you are severely limited—in both respects.
The cost of a modern-day enclosure is extremely expensive, so keeping it in top condition to ensure that you get a few extra years of use out of it is worth it. Whether you paid for it yourself or have diligently spent your boss’s hard-earned money, with a little extra consideration of its value, your enclosure warrants devotion to its management.
Eisenglass? Uh, No
Changes in the industry have brought us from clear-vinyl roll-up enclosures to almost exclusively hard acrylic ones. Acrylic enclosures are known for amazing clarity and visibility, and unlike their predecessors, are able to be lightly buffed free of minor scratches and imperfections. The clear-vinyl materials have improved tremendously and are still used in applications where a roll-up installation is the only option, and polycarbonates are also used occasionally for hard enclosures, but most sportboats have slowly moved away from them because of the rainbow effect they sometimes produce while wearing polarized sunglasses. They are also unable to be repaired as easily, if at all, as their acrylic counterpart.
First and foremost: Less is always more. When considering a new enclosure, choose the smallest possible—but choose one that makes sense for your boat and your program. On one hand, the enclosure is protecting the entire bridge from salt intrusion, not just keeping the passengers riding up there dry, so in areas where the weather norms are sporty, a full enclosure is probably worth it. But on the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for having just a modest old-school windscreen or phone-booth-style enclosure, especially in tranquil, tropical climates where it’s not typically rough offshore.
Clean and Protect
It’s important to note that anything that touches your enclosure should touch only your enclosure: No brushes or harsh chemicals ever, period. It amazes me how many people I see using a deck brush on their enclosure. And using a hand chamois that has been around the boat is not good either; even a water blade will scratch it. A dedicated wash mitt and chamois will keep it looking and performing its best, and usually, a good freshwater rinse and chamois is all you need after a fishing day. And in areas where air quality is an issue—or after long runs—a mild soap-and-water solution applied with your designated microfiber mitt will get it clean.
Depending on use, occasionally you will need to thoroughly clean the enclosure and prep it for polishing using a cleaner that has been specifically formulated for enclosures. After washing the surface with soap and drying it completely, I recommend reaching for cleaning products that are safe to use on all clear enclosures—soft vinyl and hard acrylic—such as Plexus, 210, Costa Clear, Imar and Aquatech. These products—applied sparingly and buffed off with clean microfiber towels—ensure that no microscopic debris is left by way of antistatic formulations that repel dirt from the surface and will remove stubborn fingerprints. Always use cleaners that are specifically designed for enclosures, and use only clean microfiber to apply them.
Once the enclosure is completely clean, it is ready for protection. Insulator wax is, and has been, the go-to for protection. Wax or polish is necessary to provide a beading barrier to the elements so that spray and debris slide off easily. Most waxes are safe as long as they have no compound or cutting material in them, but safer options contain polymers that create a barrier on a molecular level. It is rumored that some silica-based and ceramic hybrid products are being developed to achieve that same goal, but we prefer to err on the side of caution until the products are tested and brought to the marketplace.
Those dreaded zippers: The things everyone seems to forget about on their enclosures are the zippers. While the thought of unzipping and rezipping your enclosure might give you serious anxiety, you should know that if zippers are left closed for too long, salt builds up, and eventually the zippers will lock up, forcing you to either break them or cut material to get the enclosure off. Or worse, you’ll have a blowout while underway, which potentially can cause even more damage to the enclosure. Exercising the zippers will help to ward off any issues, and several companies make a snap and zipper lubricant that is worth its weight in gold for long-term maintenance. Whether you prefer the lip-balm-like wax tube or lube laced with PTEF, a light coat will do the trick to keep your zippers corrosive-free and sliding nicely. Just be sure to contain the product to the zipper and off the enclosure itself.
The mold and mildew battle: In tropical climates, mold and mildew seem to be a constant issue in the zipper tape and Stamoid around the enclosure. Bleach damages the stitching if used too often, but sometimes a diluted solution of outdoor cleaning bleach is the only option, making sure to keep it well clear of the window material. Usually, a quick spot-cleaning and thorough rinse does the trick.
Storage: Removing enclosures for winter storage or during hurricanes is a judgment call, but it’s also a great time to restore the surfaces. Either hang individual panels with plenty of space in between, or lay them flat at room temperature with clean fleece blankets between them to avoid scratching. Removing the panels carefully one at a time requires at least two people to keep them from touching each other or gliding across the outriggers or bellyband; you don’t want the enclosure damaged because it was mishandled.
Whatever you can do keep your enclosure in tiptop shape is worth it, even if you get one extra year out of it. Providing that approved products and best practices are used, a clean and crystal-clear enclosure makes for one happy captain. And you can take that to the bank.