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Windshield Wipers for Boats: FAQs

Choosing the proper windshield wiper system will help you boat safer in inclement weather.

Boat windshield wiper
A windshield wiper system can help you navigate more safely. Imtra

The editors at Boating have teamed up with the experts at Imtra to bring you advice on how to keep your boat in Bristol condition and get the most from your hours spent out on the water. For more great tips, see Better Boating with Imtra »

What is the difference between a pendulum and a pantograph wiper?

pendulum wiper system consists of a single arm and blade working in parallel to create an arced sweep pattern, with the wiper motor shaft as the only pivot point, clearing glass in the shape of a slice of pie or pizza. Most cars have a pendulum style wiper system. A pantograph system has a double-arm for each wiper blade, and the blade pivots at the end of the wiper arm while the arm pivots on the motor shaft, creating a sweep pattern in which the blade stays parallel to the edge of the glass. A visual representation of the sweep patterns below shows the difference between the two. For tall, narrow windshields, the pantograph system is better, where a pendulum system may be preferred for wider, shorter windshields.

Pantograph vs Pendulum
Choosing the right wiper system depends on windshield size and shape. Imtra

How do I determine the length of arm and blade I need for my windshield?

The first thing to consider when determining the length of your wiper arm and blade is to decide how much of the glass you want to be cleared. On most boats there is a section of glass that the captain never looks out of, whether it’s down low by the deck or up high overhead, so considering the captain’s line of sight when sitting or standing and driving the boat will determine what area of the windshield needs to be cleared. The next consideration is where the motor is going to be mounted, and how far that is from the are that needs to be cleared by the wiper. With those two measurements in mind, you can lay lengths of string or cardboard or something along those lines to estimate the lengths of arm and blade your windshield would need. You can also use tools from manufacturers and distributors of wiper products to help size the right system. With Imtra you can fill out our wiper questionnaire and we can use that information to recommend a system specifically for your boat.

How do I determine how big of a wiper motor I need?

The power of any wiper motor is entirely dependent on the length of wiper arm and blade that it is driving, so longer arms and blades require more powerful motors. Once you’ve determined the length of arm and blade required for your windshield you can select a compatible wiper motor with the necessary power.

Where do I mount the wiper motor?

Wiper motors can be mounted either above or below the window. The main determining factor in whether it is mounted above or below the window is the space on the interior of the boat to physically fit the motor where it can be accessed to wire it up and do any required maintenance or service. If you can’t fin the motor anywhere inside the boat, there are some options for externally-mounted wiper motors. If there is plenty of space both above and below, then the choice is yours based on preference or where the captain’s line of sight falls on the window.

Pilothouse boat with wipers
Wipers can even be mounted on forward-raked windshields. Imtra

Do windshield wiper systems work on forward-raked glass?

Yes they do, you just need to make sure the wiper arm you select has enough spring tension to keep blade on the glass, as gravity will naturally be pulling it off the glass.

How often do I need to replace my wiper blades?

The exact amount of time will vary widely based on where the boat is kept and how much the blades are exposed to the elements but it’s typically a good idea to replace them at least once per season. The rubber that makes contact with the glass wears down over time, and can also crack from sun exposure. If they are leaving streaks behind or not clearing the glass fully, then it is definitely time to replace them. Some wiper manufacturers offer replacement rubber inserts for their blades, while others require you to replace the whole blade.

What options do I have to control the wiper system?

The majority of wiper motors are simple electric motors, and therefore can be controlled in a wide variety of ways. If you want to run the wipers at one constant speed every time you use them, you can operate a system on a simple on/off switch. If you want to operate the wipers in multiple speeds and intermittent you’ll need a more sophisticated switch like a rotary switch or a rocker switch with a control box wired in. If you have multiple wipers and you want to operate them individually as well as synchronized together, you will need a multi-wiper control panel. Keep in mind that the more sophisticated the control system is, the more likely it is to be brand-specific to the wiper motor, so always be sure to check with the manufacturer or distributor that the control you choose is compatible with the brand of wiper motors you’re installing.

Can I install a wiper system myself?

Whether installing a wiper system is a DIY project or not is entirely dependent on your level of expertise. If you’re comfortable and experienced with DC electrical installations as well as some fiberglass or aluminum work it is certainly doable. However, wiper systems vary in complexity and space limitations for mounting the motor inside the boat can make them tricky, so if you’re not sure or uncomfortable, it is always best to consult a reputable boatyard or marine technician.

For more information, visit imtra.com »

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