transparent boat

I am interested in learning more about what I will call a transparent boat. Not sure if a kayak or canoe or even some type of inflatable dingy like boat. I have experience with kayaks and SUPs and normally use a Greenland paddle. Most of my kayaking is in NW Florida in the clear spring fed rivers or in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas, again in very clear water.

It is easy to use google to find examples of boats of this type. What I am trying to determine is if they are realistic options for me to take on my 42 foot catamaran to the Bahamas or to the rivers in Florida.

Anyone have experience with this type of boat.

Not sure
if that is a really great idea. One of the key safety issues for kayaks is visibility. I’ve seen these types of boats in shops, and they are pretty cool looking, but I’ve never actually seen one being paddled.

I have a concern about how visible they would be to boaters, who generally have trouble seeing kayaks in the first place. Since you are planning to take this as an adjunct to a larger boat, it seems likely that you may well find yourself around other powerboats when paddling.

If you wish to have underwater visibility, there are such boats out there.

The first may be a barge, but it is pretty clear. The 2nd will have thwarts obscuring the view and the last set have a clear bottom (which might be better for above water visibility).

I can see the appeal, and you’ll pay a lot for something like this.


any personal experience
I have seen all those boats in addition to an inflatable with a transom that can support an outboard motor.

I do understand the visibility concern but most of the rivers I paddle on have very few motor boats and often cruising in the Keys or the Bahamas it is common for me to not see other boats for days at a time. When I was in the Dry Tortugas google streetview was there and the pix in streetview show my boat as the only boat in the harbor. If you have a facebook account there are pix here

As you can see there is lots of sea life and the water is clear enough to provide great views.

What I am trying to figure out is how durable these boats are and how good a view they would really provide, hopefully from someone who has had personal experience with one.

Keep one thing in mind.

– Last Updated: May-13-14 10:57 AM EST –

All boats get scratched. I'm just about the most careful person I know when it comes to preventing "avoidable" scratches, yet my boats have lots of scratches. Simply setting any plastic boat down on a hard surface, though for all practical purposes doing "no damage", on close inspection can be seen to cause scuffing. Boats don't just get scratched and scuffed on the outside, they get scuffed on the inside because there will always be dirt that gets tracked in and rubbed into the hull underfoot. Therefore, even though the inside surface may not look to be damaged like the outside, the glossy surface goes away pretty quickly, and on a transparent hull that would translate to a foggy view when looking through.

you can see the appeal?
You must not be a fish.


That is true.
However, if the surface is fiberglass and epoxy all it would take when things start getting too foggy is to sand and apply another coat of clear epoxy.

Just a couple of thinking out of the boat ideas.

In fact a clear fiberglass window could be installed in any fiberglass boat.

Another option would be a glass bottom bucket like my Dad used to watch fish while fishing in South FL. Perhaps a homemade clear pontoon attached to the side/sides of a boat.

Can fiberglass be window-clear?

– Last Updated: May-13-14 12:11 PM EST –

I can imagine fiberglass being translucent, but being suitable for looking through is hard for me to imagine. There's going to be a lot of refraction as light passes through the curved or angular surfaces of all those fibers (many layers thick of fibers too), making it impossible for light to travel through in a straight line. To eliminate the micro-distortion associated with every single fiber would require that the filler material have the same refractive index as the glass, and what's the likelihood of that? I'm betting "none".

It is remarkably clear over the wood
Of thr kayak I built. I also made some glas/epoxy tie downs that are very clear. As far as refractive index being different it did not seem to matter. I think the surface finish may be more important, but would do a test run first. A replaceable plastic widow might be easier.

Camera on bottom, Google Glass on head
If not feasible now, will be soon.

They sell them.
If it is your own boat and you never let the hull bottom touch the sand or any other bottom, then they are great for undersea viewing, but…

they had a rental fleet of them at Rainbow Springs back a few years ago, and in no time the bottom was so scratched up that you couldn’t see through it and they were useless.

A few other outfitters tried renting them with the same results.

This past winter I saw one place in the Keys that had a couple of new ones for sale, and all I could think of was I hope the prospective buyers new what would happen to them.

Jack L

skin on frame with clear vinyl
I’ve seen skin on frame kayaks built using clear plastic skin. Look on the gallery of home-built boats and you will see a few. Sometimes people just temporarily skin the frame with cheap clear vinyl to test paddle it before committing to the final skin, but a few are left with the clear skin.

The problem with all “window” boats is that you really can’t get that clear of a view of what is below and around you unless you are laying on the bottom with your nose against the window. Too much reflection and distortion.

Aren’t wood coverings extremely thin?

– Last Updated: May-13-14 2:31 PM EST –

The fiberglass coatings I've seen over wood have always been many times thinner than any fiberglass hull that I've ever seen. Also, the extreme closeness of the object being viewed (wood that is in direct contact with the covering layer) is a very different situation, in terms what's optically adequate for seeing through, than looking at distant objects through the same material. You can illustrate that principle for yourself by laying any kind of lens on a piece of paper that's printed with words/pictures, noting that the lens has virtually no effect on the image you see in that case, but move the lens two or three inches away from the paper and the effect of the refraction becomes enormously greater. That example, of course, deals with controlled refraction, and in proper focus a lens will alter the nature of the image but not the clarity. The same principle applied to uncontrolled refraction through thousands of fibers would simply result in blurriness of the image. I need to see an example of fiberglass that's similar to an actual pane of glass in its image-transmission clarity, or an explanation of how the problem of multi-surface refraction is eliminated before changing my idea about this. On a mega scale, looking through thousands of glass fibers would be analogous to looking through a bundle of cylindrical glass rods, where even though light is transmitted through the bundle almost perfectly, no image can be seen of what's on the other side (submerge the whole bundle in oil that has the same refractive index as glass, and eliminate the effect of the curved surfaces on the front and back of the bundle by enclosing that oil in a larger glass container with flat sides, and NOW you'd have perfect image transmission).

Oh yeah, that too

– Last Updated: May-13-14 2:47 PM EST –

If you look through a clear material in contact with water on the other side, and that surface of the clear material is not flat, the result will be distortion due to refraction (on a curved surface that has the same material on both sides, the refraction on opposite sides cancels out, which is why you can look through a curved-surface windshield on your car with no trouble, but when the material on one side is air and the material on the other side is water, the amount of refraction occurring on opposite surfaces is no longer the same so it doesn't cancel out, and you end up with distortion). Your example of putting your nose up against the material to minimize that distortion is an illustration of the same principle I mentioned above, about what you see through a lens that's in direct contact with what you look at on the other side as compared to when the lens is not in direct contact.

When I was a kid, I kept quite a variety of critters in aquariums made from wash tubs. To see more clearly into the water (these tubs were outside, so surface reflection and disturbance by the wind made it hard to see into the water), I cut the bottom out of a coffee can and stretched plastic food wrap across the opening, thinking it would work like a glass-bottomed bucket. Nope. The slightest pressure exerted by the water when the end was submerged would impart curvature to the plastic surface and turn the thing into a magnifying glass. That was okay at a distance of a few inches, but we all know what happens when you look through a magnifying glass at objects that are more than a few inches away. Shortening the height of the can and putting my eyes right up to the plastic would have helped, but I wasn't smart enough to know that when I was 12, but I did figure out that submerging the end of the can just an eighth of an inch or so kept the curvature from becoming pronounced enough to distort things very much.

No experience with them but
Search Clear Blue Hawaii, they have an open top boat, and inflatable and a skin on frame. They do look fun for the outstanding places you go to. If you have concerns about being seen use one of the orange flags that bicyclists use.



please no
I don’t want to listen to people complain about google glass sofware upgrades and how they just don’t think about kayakers.

there must be a way
The first transparent car body was made around 1940. I believe that was plexiglass. Now we have transparency in all sorts of structural materials. Windows, headlight covers, solar panels, etc. Fiberglass may not be the material but there is a way.

anecdote vs. reality:
Yes, there is some distortion. However, it’s still usefully transparent:

If you’ve got the $$$$$$$
Maybe Eddyline could build you boat out of Lexan.

actually the Napali looks nice

– Last Updated: May-14-14 10:10 AM EST –

Narrow, closed deck, and foldable @ 26 pounds.

Then I noticed the cost was that of a good used car.

I love it when the doubters surface. They help drive innovation almost as much as the innovators!

Fish-eye lens versus reality

– Last Updated: May-14-14 12:31 PM EST –

There's a difference between an anecdotal observation and an example that illustrates a principle of physics. My post was only to point out that there's a reason behind what Willowleaf observed when she used a boat like that, and I posted an additional example. I thought some might find the reasons for such distortion interesting rather than claiming her observations or mine weren't "reality".

Anyway, I looked at that first clip and there was no way to see how much distortion there was, so I didn't think it would be worth sitting through the second clip. In the clip I saw, the only views down through the boat were extremely brief and accidental moments while the camera was randomly (and rapidly) panning around, not views where the perspective might be intended to show what could be seen through the hull. It wouldn't have mattered though, because that camera had a fish-eye lens so everything was already extremely distorted. You can't illustrate a lack of distortion of a view through the hull using a lens that warps everything it "sees" as it is.