Getting plenty of daylight can be good for your health, but in a canal boat it can be harder than you think. The combination of only having side windows and the fact that they are relatively low down can mean even the brightest days can be a little muted. A narrowboat Skylight might be the answer. But there is more to it than you think. In the article we are going to look at some considerations with regards to skylights for canal boats.
First and foremost, you are on a boat now, so the correct name for any upward facing window is in fact called a ‘hatch’.
Installing a hatch can be a great way to get more light into your cabin. Often the topography of the bank can mean that even if you have large side windows, not a lot of light can make its way in. By adding a roof mounted window, when the sun is overhead you can brighten your cabin significantly.
It is possible to fit a hatch yourself. But it is a tricky job. Most canal boats have a slightly curved roof, and most hatches are in fact flat. Bearing in mind that the hatch is going to be pointing upwards and exposed to the heavens you are going to want to make sure that you do a good job, not a bodge job.
Generally, you will need to create a flat section for the hatch to be mounted on. And by flat, we mean perfectly flat. Otherwise you won’t get consistent contact. Basically, this would be a leak waiting to happen. If you aren’t sure how to do this, then you are going to want to avoid taking a chance and need to speak to a professional.
To get a flat surface the best way is create a slightly raised flat section of roof plating. There are people who will make these for you to fit yourself. Some are even able to make them with self sent paper templates and mail order. But be warned they aren’t cheap and will set you back around £120 as a minimum.
There are various hatches on the market that can be purchased. Popular choices seem to be the ‘Houdini’ hatch. So named, as it opens fully to allow you to escape (in the event of fire, or in-laws). A single glazed version will set you back around £270, a double-glazed Houdini hatch will go for almost double that. If you have even a basic knowledge of maths you will probably have gathered that fitting a narrowboat skylight isn’t a cheap job.
There are some suggestions as to ways to ensure a good seal with the roof of your cabin. Nearly all of them are bad. If you hear of any talk of using vast amounts of sealant or resins to build a frame our advice is this.
Sealants and resins (even car filler) are good in normal temperatures. However, when they are subjected to constant water and vast changes in temperature, they tend to degrade extremely quickly.
Resin in particular can be a nightmare. It is almost impossible to remove once applied. Further to this it is extremely brittle, especially in cold temperatures, and is highly prone to cracking.
Where to Fit a Narrowboat Skylight?
Location is something that you are going to want to have a really good think about. You may have romanticized images of you laying on your back in bed and gazing at the heavens. However, there is a common flaw with canalboat skylights which we haven’t yet talked about…
One word. Condensation.
Narrowboat hatches are not insulated. What this means is that they get cold. When the relatively warm air of your cabin comes into contact with this cold surface, the moisture within the air condenses. This will produce a steamy window at best, and more likely a steady and substantial drip, which due to the nature of skylights will fall onto whatever is underneath.
This can be substantial and if it particularly humid (hint the UK average is always around 80%) then it is going to happen constantly.
If this is over the sink in your galley, it isn’t too much of a problem. If it is over your mattress then you should be able to see the obvious implication. Does it still sound quite as appealing?
Other Considerations with a Narrowboat Skylight
There is something that is rather important when it comes to skylights for boats. Due to their positioning, they can sometimes have the sun directly overhead. Ever held a piece of paper under a focused spot under a magnifying glass?
There is a chance that depending on which skylight you choose; it could present a fire risk. The way around this is to apply a tint or alternatively ensure that sunlight can’t be focused anywhere that it might present a risk. Bearing in mind that the whole reason you want a skylight is to get a bit of sunlight streaming in, this seems counterproductive.
Generally, flat skylights are relatively safe. Angled ‘prism’ windows can sometimes cause trouble.
A lot of canal boats have skylights… But a lot don’t, and there is a reason that they don’t come fitted as standard. If you absolutely crave a little more light, then it is something to consider. But as will all things involving this lifestyle, there may be a compromise to make when deciding on if you really need a narrowboat skylight. The end often doesn’t justify the means.
How has your experience been with your own narrowboat skylight? Why not let us know in the comments below?