Tinted windows are a contentious issue among boat owners; some people swear by them for their glare reduction and the enhanced visual appeal they give to their boat, while others see them as at best unnecessary, and at worst a dangerous visibility inhibitor, particularly at night.
Tinted windows can indeed be a benefit in every way, you just have to make sure you pick the right level of tinting, and the right color to both cut down daytime glare, and keep night time visibility as clear as possible.
The Benefits of Tinted Windows
There are a whole bunch of advantages to having tinted windows; on a functional level they reduce the penetration of both light and heat from the sun through to the interior of your vessel.
This is most noticeable and beneficial if you have a fully enclosed cabin rather than an open cockpit. Within an enclosed space you’ll find the environment to be a cooler, less oppressive place to be. Let’s face it, most of us would rather be spending our time at sea than on land, so the experience should be as comfortable as we can make it.
Let’s also not forget how reducing UV is beneficial to your health. If you’re a regular out on the water sunscreen is a must, but having all the help you can get to avoid dangerous overexposure to the sun is always going to be welcome.
It won’t just be you as passengers who benefit from tinting of course, we’ve all seen items left on windowsills degrade and/or fade with time. The same is true of your boat’s interior furnishings, so having a high quality UV barrier window film can be enough to extend the life of everything onboard that you hold dear, from leather seating, to electrical/navigational kit.
And from a skipper’s point of view the right level of tinting will reduce glare immeasurably.
The Drawbacks of Tinted Windows
Too dark a tint will be a hindrance in all light levels, especially at night. Even during the day it can be a problem if you’re unable to distinguish between items within your field of view.
Heavily tinted glass can in effect do the same job as a good pair of sunglasses, but of course unlike sunglasses it can’t be removed to get a better look. This is why it’s so important to choose a tint that is actually functionally beneficial as well as a great addition to the aesthetic of your boat.
When it comes to retrofitting a window ‘film’ to tint your glass rather than glass that comes supplied tinted, you might find you have issues with peeling after a season or two, particularly if the film hasn’t been applied correctly. This is why it’s best to have a window film specialist carry out the work if you’re not certain about what you’re doing.
Are There Any Safety and Legislative Concerns Around Tinting Obstructing Field of View etc?
As window tinting has the potential to obstruct your field of view whilst boating, it probably won’t come as any surprise to learn that their are some pretty strict laws around what you can and can’t fit to your boat as far as tinting is concerned. In the US the rules vary from state to state, but the general premise is much the same across the country.
There are two primary areas of concern as far as what you need to adhere to with your window tinting; ensuring a sufficient amount of light is allowed to pass through the windows, and that the tint doesn’t generate too much reflection that could confuse you or other water users.
The amount of light that is able to pass through a window is measured as a percentage of the outside light known as visible light transmission percentage (VLT). The front windscreen or front windows must allow 28% of natural light to enter the vessel, while side and rear windows must allow 15%.
Window tints can generate more reflection, partly by design as light as reflected to try and reduce glare. However too much reflection (25% of the light passing through the glass to be precise) is illegal.
So any film or ceramic coating you choose needs to conform to these standards, and using a professional installer is the best way to guarantee this.
Whilst adhering to the legal requirements is a good baseline, by no means does it guarantee safety in all circumstances.
It’s also important to check if there are any warranty issues as far as your boat manufacturer goes. If they deem that tinting the windows is a safety hazard that might ultimately damage the boat, it might be grounds to void the warranty on the boat, at least partially.
Which Tint Transparency and Color is Best?
There’s no legal restrictions on what color window tinting can be, but some people swear by certain colors over others. Bronze tints are known for being good at reducing glare at night and, according to some, actually enhancing night time vision.
Whichever color you choose from (dark blues and black are most common) most crucial of all is to opt for a reasonable level of visible light transmission (VLT). As I mentioned above, 25% is typically the minimum amount of light you are legally allowed to leave unblocked by the tint, but as a rule I would go with a minimum of 35% and ideally more if you can stomach it.
Which Type of Window Tint Film?
There are a number of different tinting options available to you, but it’s important to choose one that is suitable for a marine environment, particularly if you are planning on doing the job yourself.
Metalized window films contain tiny metal particles that are invisible to the naked eye on their own, but metalized film is unmistakable for its shine. It’s a great choice because it blocks a high level of glare and UV, lasts a long time before fading, and as an added bonus adds strength to the window, improving the window’s shatter resistance.
On the downside the metallic particles in the tint film can in some cases cause electrical interference, preventing marine electronics equipment from functioning correctly.
This is a good option if you want the benefits of reduced glare and UV exposure, but you don’t want the tint to darken the glass and make the inside of your boat gloomy. With crystalline tinting you won’t even notice that there is a tint present on the glass.
Carbon films are distinguishable by their matt finish. They also do a fine job of insulating heat from both entering and escaping. This helps keep conditions inside the boat cool in summer and warm in winter.
Ceramic Tints are widely regarded as the most effective of all the window tinting options available. They’re expensive, but do a supreme job of blocking out heat and UV, as well as offering many of the same benefits as metalized window tints, without the drawbacks of electrical interference.
Can I retrofit Tinting Film on My Existing Windows?
You certainly can, and in many ways this is the best option, as ‘untinting’ a set of windows is a fair bit of work if you buy a boat with a tint you later decide you’re not happy with.
If you can it’s probably worth experimenting with a few different tints (ie just some sample strips you can hold up to the glass) to get a feeling for how they respond to the light, and indeed darkness, so that you can choose the tint you are most comfortable with before getting it properly applied to all your windows.
In the past I’ve had customers request an anti glare ‘strip’ rather than a full tint across the windscreen. This is the type of thing you commonly see on cars, sometimes with a graduated blend from tint to no tint.
This is also a good solution as it cuts down on a fair amount of the glare, whilst not being a full commitment to darkened windows. This in particular is a quick and simple retrofit job.
Applying Tinting Yourself
If you’re feeling brave you might want to try fitting tint films yourself, but bear in mind you’ll need the right tools for the job, and a fair bit of patience if you’re going to a good job of it. At the very least you’ll need; a large cutting surface, sharp knife or scalpel, a long straight edge (the length of the longest window ideally), the correct adhesive and cleaning solvents.
Personally I wouldn’t attempt the job myself as there’s a lot to get right, and you’d need to research the materials involved to make sure they are suitable for the glass (or plastic) on your boat, and the particular demands of the environment you use your boat in.
What Alternatives Are There to Window Tinting?
If you’re still not sold on the idea of tinting your windows but you’ve got a glare problem, then there are alternatives.
Firstly of course, a good old fashioned pair of sunglasses work wonders, and have the distinct advantage of being removable when dusk breaks or any other time when a tint might be a hindrance rather than an asset. On the downside you need to make sure you bring your shades when you go boating, you can’t accidentally forget to bring your tinted windows! A dedicated pair of boating shades that never leave the boat are the solution to that.
Very often it isn’t just daylight itself that’s a problem, but also the way light reflects off other parts of the boat and into your eyes. More often than not the offending area is the top of the dashboard, especially if it’s white, you’ll get everything the sun is kicking out reflected right back at you.
Cutting some rubber non slip matting or interior lining carpet to the right shape and fitting it to the top surface of the dash can work very well to solve this problem. I know it doesn’t sound as though it will look good, but there’s no reason why not if you do a neat job. Plus if it saves your eyes then it’s well worth it anyway.