Hullside windows are a new trend in yacht design—or are they?
Think today’s large, hullside windows are a new trend? Far from it. In fact, ship captains have been enjoying them for centuries.
Hullside windows are all the rage on any contemporary powerboat big enough to have Dolby 7.1 and LED tape lighting. The temptation for a builder to distinguish its otherwise repetitious 60-foot floating tennis shoe express coupe with a standout hullside window design can be overwhelming, market forces being what they are. This phenomenon— like a lot of passing styling affectations—began in Europe. Sometimes I wonder if the pivotal interview question asked of prospective designers at a typical Italian boatyard is “Can you draw a goofy-looking shape that does not exist in nature and turn it into a window we’ll locate awkwardly close to the waterline?” If the eager young designer nods in the affirmative, the job is his!
But the hullside window idea took off and it has spread to the USA. It’s gotten to the point where even some of the bigger sportfishing boats are adorned with hullside windows, 30 years after builders did away with simple portlights because half the time they leaked.
As novel as today’s crop of hullside windows may seem, they are far from original. I watched the replica HMS Bounty pull into my homeport several years ago, before she was lost at sea in 2012. I was immediately reminded that this wheel had already turned.
The captain’s quarters on the old sailing ships were almost always located in the stern, and were the only remotely luxurious spaces on board. (Crew and rats were relegated to a space the size of a Seakeeper gyro stabilizer on a modern yacht.) And many of them were adorned with exactly what you see on the Bounty: hullside windows.
Given the typical motions of a boat at sea (at least before the days of said Seakeepers), a case could be made that the aft cabin arrangement on the sailing ships from the bad old days and the “bay window” design of the Bounty’s daylight openings were superior to what we often see today. The Bounty’s windows were much farther aft and proportionately higher, virtually free of bow spray and less likely to see green water rolling by at eye level. Someone’s gotta clean the salt off those windows if they’re going to be any good to see out of, remember.
Because hull fenestrations have proliferated so rapidly in yachts of all sizes, I was asked to give a presentation to address their safety, and it got me thinking. While big windows can certainly transform the feeling of a stuffed-in-the-bilges master stateroom, they also quite literally open up the possibility of a sinking should they leak, crack, break or otherwise fail to keep the sea on the outside.
Be wary of hullside windows that are close to the bow, as they will be exposed to higher slamming loads from head seas than windows amidships. Hopefully the Sparklethruster’s windows are bulletproof and properly attached to a well-engineered surround.
Take a hard look at very large and/or low opening windows, for obvious reasons. It’s a bad day at sea when your teenager leaves a low window open, the indicator light at the helm is burned out (if you had one to begin with), and you find your carpeted cabin soaked in 3 inches of salt water after crossing to the Bahamas.
Finally, relish the thought of your boat tied up to a sea wall, the one with the rusty ladder positioned just so. The wind shifted violently sometime while you were at the office, and that ladder had several good shots at your window. Friday came and nobody inspected it from inside or out, so now you’re underway with a hole in your boat.
Design trends come and go, but this one seems to have legs. Where is this headed? Will we soon have boats with topsides that are 90 percent glass? Will we be cruising and fishing in glass-hulled boats that don’t need paint because the “smart glass” can change its color and opacity at the owner’s whim? What would Capt. Bligh think?