Bomar Top Choice in Serious Offshore Hatches

We also like the cast­ frame Atkins & Hoyle. Among extruded models, Lewmar has the widest selection.

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As is widely known in this era when so many of us are buying and upgrading older boats, there’s not much gear on a sailboat that doesn’t eventually need replace­ment.

Consider foredeck hatches. Seem­ingly made to last forever, hatches fall prey to broken hinges, fractured or worn-out dogs, bent locking mecha­nisms, lost knobs and to the deteriora­tion of the adhesives, caulking and gaskets that make them waterproof. They also succumb to spinnaker poles, whisker poles and anchors, all of which behave like hatch-seeking Side­winder missiles.

We recall a popular 19′ 2″, two­berth cruising boat that in its early production versions had a hatch at­tached with two small hinges whose little machine screws sheered easily when the hatch was leaned on while handing a jib. If you had one of these boats, you know the name. The boat, now a four-berth model, still is being produced, improved by the simple elimination of the forward hatch.

If it is merely the acrylic insert in the hatch that is scratched or crazed (common) or cracked (uncommon), replacing the “lens,” as it is called in the trade, is not difficult. On most hatches, a simple, hard razor cut frees the lens. Clean the channel and lay in a bead of the adhesive supplied with the replacement lens, usually a chem­ ical adhesive called “Silpruf,” made by the Silicone Products Division of General Electric. Then, press home the new panel and clean up the edges. The principal bond takes place between the edge of the lens and the frame.

It may seem strange to have something as im­ portant as a hatch lens mere­ lyglued inplace, without me­chanical fasten­ers. However, no hatch maker to whom we talked has ever had a “lens” pop out by accident. We’ve never heard of it happening.

If you like to spend money and want even greater (but probably un­necessary) strength, get a Lexan lens with a Margard finish to hard-glaze the surface. Moby Dick can land on it, without mishap.

Finding a replacement for a hatch damaged beyond repair can be diffi­cult, especially if, as is often the case, it was custom made by a boat builder now out of business, or if you have a cambered mounting surface. The ret­rofit is much simplified if the manu­ facturer of your boat used stock hatch­ es still being produced.

The key to avoiding extra work and expense is finding a hatch that fits the original opening in the deck. Luck­ily, most hatch makers make relative­ly standard-sized hatches. If the mounting holes match, it’s a bonus, but don’t count on it. Also, the radius on the corners of the hatch base must be approximately the same. And, fi­nally, you must decide if you need a flush-deck or spigot model. The spig­ot is a flange on the base that extends down into the deck opening. The inte­rior then can be finished off easily with an optional trim ring to which a screen (if available) may be attached.

Whatever kind of hatch you choose or are forced to choose, a first-rate foredeck hatch has a lot of priority when you take solid water over the bow. An absolutely watertight hatch also avoids a serious annoyance fac­tor for those who sleep in the forward berths.

For these reasons, we selected for this evaluation top-of-the-line hatch­ es from nine major suppliers. Most manufacturers make hatches in a num­ber of sizes and shapes, including low-profile models. We arbitrarily chose a square size–for a deck open­ing of 19″ x 19″.

Hatch Manufacturers

The world’s largest producer of aluminum hatches, both cast and extruded, the Bomar Company, in New Hampshire, makes more than 90 percent of all powerboat hatches and used to have an equally lopsided share of the sailboat market. Bomar offers many models, sizes and shapes, in­ cluding round, trapezoidal and one with acurved base for cambered decks.

Lewmar, increasingly aggressive in recent years with a wide range of highly-engineered extruded hatches, has cut severely into the sailboat hatch market. Bomar is fighting back, but the big British company, well repre­sented in the United States by IM in Connecticut, means business.

Another player in this lively scrap is an old-line Canadian company, Atkins & Hoyle. It’s knowledgeable CEO, Eric Atkins, takes pride in its excellent hatches that are, like Bo­mar’s, cast in Almag 35, a light-weight aluminum-magnesium alloy with great strength.

And determined not to be left be­hind is Nicro Marine, which imports a line called Moonlight hatches, fre­quently seen with Nicro’s popular Day and Night Solar Vents mounted in the lens. The hatches are made by the respected Sophus Berendsen com­pany in Denmark.

Goiot, the French hatch manufac­turer (owned by Beneteau), is try­ing for a place in the American market, but has had no U.S. rep­resentative since Welborn Marine in Florida dropped Goiot at the “suggestion” of Ronstan, the Australian ma­rine gear maker. The Goiot hatch in this evalua­tion came direct­ly from France.

Vetus, a Dutch manufacturer with an ex­cellent U.S. rep­resentative (Vetus-Denoudenin Baltimore, Mary­land), continues to have difficul­ty in its effort to carveoutaniche. (Another Dutch company, Ran­dal, represented by Norseman Marine in Flori­da, makes only custom hatches.) Better known for its portlights, BecksonMarine, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, makes a limited range of plastic hatches, and Nelson Taylor Company (“Taylor-Made”). in Gloversville, New York, offers but one hatch (in five sizes).

(The California firm, Forespar, known primarily for its poles, life­ saving gear and Marelon® plumbing fittings, said it is getting out of the hatchbusiness. Because its Marelon®­ framed hatch, still shown in its 1994 catalog, will be dropped next year, we did not include it in our evaluation.)

Finally, pretty much in a special category, is the heavyweight stainless steel hatch sold by Hood Yacht Sys­tems in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. (Hood was purchased by Bomar in late March.)

Specs: Deck Hatches

Price List/ Manufacturer Model Discount*Weight (lbs.)MaterialLensOpeningHingeDogsScreensInside TrimComments
Alkins & Hoyle XR Double Frame $745/N.A.16Cast aluminumAcrylic150°Part of casting, spring-assistedSpring-loaded, adjustableNoNoIn basic black without options: $450. Optional friction hinges.
Beckson H-1 $225/N.A.8.25ABS PlasticNone80°Small rivetedPart of support armsNoNoDomed top is fairly strong. Base lacks screw holes. Light duty.
Bomar 139LO (lever operated) 605/$40020Cast aluminumLexan120°Part of castingSpring-loaded, adjustableNoNoHas most extensive line of hatches, many sizes and options.
Goiot Cristal $757/N.A.18Cast lid, extruded baseAcrylic180°Friction, spring-assistedAdjustable tensionYesYesOffers many options and finishes, but is difficult to install.
Hood $837/N.A.21Extruded stainless steelAcrylic180°WeldedSpring-loaded, adjustableNoN.A.Welding is crude, very heavy to open and lock in place.
Lewmar Ocean $512/$40012.5ExtrudedAcrylic180°Friction, spring-assistedInside-outside opening, adjustableYesYesLike Bomar, offers many models, finishes and many options.
Nicro Offshore $664/$52914.5ExtrudedAcrylic180°Mechanically fastened, frictionInside-outside opening, adjustableYesYesExcellent tubular gasket and the best friction hinges.
Taylor $338/N.A.15ExtrudedAcrylic100°WeldedPart of support armsYesYesCleverly engineered for low price, but not a heavy-duty hatch.
Vetus Libero $530/N.A.18ExtrudedAcrylicgooMechanically fastenedHeld in stopsYesYesGood Dutch engineering, soundly manufactured, many options.

The Evaluation

Several general observations ap­ply to hatches. They’re not simple devices. The choice is made even more difficult by the bewildering variety offered by the manufacturers.

Cast aluminum hatches, although heavier and more expensive, general­ ly are considered better than those made of extruded aluminum. Cast hatches provide the rigidity needed to get a good mating between the deck and the hatch base and also between the base and the hatch lid. Cast hatch­ es also have integral hinge “ears” and good dog mounts, all part of the cast­ing (which makes unnecessary any holes in the lens).

On hatches made of extruded alu­minum, hydraulically bent to shape, the hinges and other fittings must be attached with rivets or other fasteners to the extruded frame or the lens. All such holes are potential leak points. Extruded hatch bases, unless made of very heavy structural shapes, can flex at the deck, break the seal and result in leaks, especially on offshore boats that take aboard solid water. Unlike cast hatches, extruded hatches have butt seams that must be welded or sealed with tape (usually secured under a hinge). The frame finish is impor­tant. Unless very carefully maintained, stainless steel will deteriorate in time, especially at the weldments. Although initially very handsome, powder-coat­ed aluminum (black or white) tends, sooner or later, to flake off. Black anodizing often discolors in saltwater. The longest-lasting finish is clear anodized aluminum (about a 10-per­cent premium, but worth it). Extrud­ed aluminum is easy to anodize. The cheapest is “strip anodized,” which means the long extrusions are formed and anodized in one continuous op­eration. As long as the extrusion die (a two- or sometimes three-piece, hand­ made assembly that can cost upwards of $5,000) is very well made, strip anodizing can be very handsome. As used on hatches, “piece anodizing,” which coats the end cuts against cor­rosion, is somewhat more expensive. Most expensive is anodized cast alu­minum, because the castings must be laboriously polished before anodizing.

The all-important waterproof seal strip (called the gasket) can be closed­ cell foam, which tends to compress in time; an extruded lip-type seal insert­ ed in the aluminum extrusion, which is better but can be difficult to replace; or, best of all, a round- or box-shaped tube, with an air space that “rests” the tube when the hatch is open. Whatev­er elastomer is used, it should have minimal shrink. If the gasket shrinks where the ends butt, the resulting tiny crack may produce that not serious but annoying leak.

Hinges are interesting. Some open to about 90 degrees; others open 180 degrees, flat on the deck (which may be desirable if there ‘s room or if you often rig a fabric wind scoop). The trend is to spring-loaded  hinges, to make the hatch easier to lift open. Lewmar, Goiot and Nicro hatches (and one Atkins & Hoyle model) have adjust­able friction hinges that hold the hatch in position, dispensing with support arms that can be clumsy to secure with little tightening knobs. The new friction hinges, usually adjusted with Allen wrenches, do require occasional maintenance to avoid the problem with earlier versions that simply wore loose and left you with a flopping hatch lid.

Bomar and Atkins & Hoyle offer excellent hatches, with two sets of “gudgeons” to reverse the “pintles,” to make the hatch open either forward (in the customary manner) or aft. They are very desirable on boats in tropical weather. Goiot also has a two-way hatch with a patented system that dispenses with conventional hinges and opens either way without reposi­tioning a hinge pin.

For the ultimate refinements, Goi­ot offers on its hatches an optional “opening detector,” an electrical con­nection wired to a panel light to indicate that the hatch is locked, and Lewmar, in addition to a choice of clear, white, smoke gray, bronze, slip-resistant or light-weight honeycomb lens­es (for the weight-conscious ocean racer), offers an op­tional key lock to secure any of its hatches.

Locking dogs, another trouble spot (they can break when somebody on deck slams the hatch with the dogs in the wrong position), also have been greatly improved. The dogs, usually glass-filled ny­lon, have larger handles, usu­ally tensioned with spacers and tightening bolts to keep them snug. Another recent innovation on some models by Bomar, Lewmar, Goiotand Vetus are dogs that can be operated from on deck. It’s handy to be able to open the hatch from on deck. Howev­er, this innovation required the development of an interi­or locking system and exterior “breakaway” handles to thwart would-be burglars.

Whereas older hatches rarely had screens, some (but not all) hatches now come with well-engineered screens that fasten neatly and posi­tively to a trim ring. A trim ring and screen usually is an option costing about $100 to $150. The screens still must be removed to open and close the hatch and are just as prone to being torn or bent when you forget the screen is in place when you stuff a jib down the hatch.

To reduce the possibility, when coming about, of snagging the hatch with a foresail sheet (a common prob­lem with hatches mounted on raised boxes), all hatch manufacturers have, in recent years, given close attention to designing hatches with rounded corners and smooth hardware.

The Bottom Line

In your choice of a replacement hatch, the  choice  may  be  dictated by the need for a good fit. All the hatch manufacturers have good “spec sheets” that, together with your care­ful measurements, will nominate the “possibilities.” Your choice also should take into account the kind of sailing you do. Nobody would cross the ocean with a plastic Beckson fore­ hatch; we don’t think Beckson would recommend that you do so. By the same token, having a top-of-the-line cast hatch on a small inland lake week­ender might be considered overkill.

Therefore, the following assess­ments are to help winnow down the choices as you study each company’s catalogs.

For the ultimate hatch, Bomar’s top-of-the-line all-cast hatch with a Lexanlens stands out. It’s a no-nonsense power house, very desirable if you intend to do ocean work in heavy weather.

If you want a very strong con­ ventional hatch, the Atkins & Hoyle Model XR hatch, also all­ cast aluminum, with double­ opening hinges, anoptional extra­ thick acrylic lens and a clear anod­ized finish, also is an excellent choice. Because Atkins & Hoyle hatches are not offered at discount, they are ex­ pensive.

If you want the convenience of standard adjustable tension hinges and inside-outside dogs with locks and optional fitted screens that snap into trim rings, consider Nicro’s very fine Offshore hatch or the very sleek and modern Lewmar Ocean line.

For less money and easy replace­ment, Lewmar’s Coastline models or Bomar’s new “CRX” models and “Nibo” line (either high or low profile), both with  trim  rings  and fitted screens, would be good choices. The Nibo line comes in 15 sizes.

A decent hatch with reasonable quality and an excellent price, the Taylor hatch makes sense, if you can obtain a “fit” from the company’s limited number of sizes.

 

Darrell Nicholson
Darrell Nicholson is Director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division and the editor of Practical Sailor. A lifelong thalassophile, he grew up sailing everything from El Toro dinghies to classic Morgans on Miami's Biscayne Bay. In the early 90s, he left a newspaper job to sail an old gaff-rigged ketch across the Pacific and has been writing about boats and the sea ever since. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida.