Over the course of boat ownership, I have found few mechanisms that cause such aggravation as the zipper. Used to fasten canvas, isinglass windows, headliners, and other boat appendages, the zipper is not well-suited to the marine environment. On older boats, most zippers are comprised of an aluminum alloy which readily corrodes in the salty marine environment. When an aluminum zipper oxidizes, the powdery corrosion creates a weld between the zipping mechanism and the track which prevents proper operation. If caught soon enough, the stuck zipper may be freed with acids that dissolve corrosion like alcohol, acetone, vinegar, lemon juice, or soda. However, if left to their own devices, the zipper and track become one and little can be done except to take the article in question to a canvas shop to remove the ruined zipper track and sew a new one on. On previous boats, I have had to do this for canvas dodgers, at a cost of about $100 per zipper track. New zippers, as opposed to the OEM ones, are usually coated with plastic and therefore work much more smoothly and last much longer in the corrosive marine environment. For our current boat, a 1987 Ericson 38-200 sailboat, replacement is impossible because the zippers I had to free are for the vinyl headliner, which is zippered to allow access to wiring and hardware fastened to the cabin top. While the initial design may have been clever, after 32 years many of the zippers were welded via aluminum oxide corrosion to their track. Thus to access wiring and hardware, my only option seemed to be to cut the headliner and then cover the wound by sewing it back together clumsily by hand with an awl, or to cover it with some sort of trim. Because I would like to maintain our boat’s vintage and elegant appeal, hacking up the headliner was not an option for me, so I started digging and the solution I found must be shared with others as this is a common blight amongst boaters!
After many Google searches and countless hours spent perusing various online boating forums, I stumbled across a post by a fellow who claimed his family had invented and patented the ubiquitous zipper. Whether true or false, he nonetheless demonstrated his expertise by recommending an obscure product dubbed “Fix N’ Zip” to ameliorate fouled zippers. Although skeptical at first, I ordered the product which came in a bundle of three different sizes: small, medium, and large. Advertised as reusable and a fix all for most zipper products, I was highly dubious of the product’s hype. That was, until the product arrived and I put it to the test!
Upon arrival, I first had to remove the seized zipper. This had to be done carefully in order to not further damage the track. Fix N’ Zip replaces the zipper, but if the track is missing a multitude of teeth there is not much this product can do. After unsuccessfully trying to free the zipper by saturating it with PB Blaster penetrating oil while wiggling it back and forth, I decided to break the zipper from the track. For this task, a small flat-head screwdriver and needle-nose pliers are in order: simply hold the zipper or track still and pry underneath corroded zipper in an upwards direction. The corroded zipper will, in many cases, simply break in half and then the track may be opened and whatever hardware or wiring underneath that prompted this whole ordeal, can be accessed and dealt with.
While Fix N’ Zip comes in three sizes, I found that despite the track in question being what I would consider “small,” the medium sized mechanism was easier to work with. Fix N’ Zip is in essence a two-piece zipper held together by a spring locked locking screw. As such, it can be placed anywhere on an existing zipper track by pulling the track together and tightening the screw. I however, used it as a replacement zipper for the original and utilized the original track beginning and termination points. My method was as follows: unscrew the Fix N’ Zip, place it on the beginning of the track, pull the track together ensuring that the teeth are both in line and under slight tension, and then tighten the screw on the Fix N’ Zip and zip it up. If tension on the track is maintained and proper alignment is ensured, the replacement zipper should zip effortlessly. Once zipped, the mechanism can be unscrewed and gently pulled off. The track termination may either be left as-is or sewed to prevent it from re-opening. The mechanism may now be used on other pesky zipper tracks! Perhaps now, boaters across the world have finally triumphed over the tyranny of the fickle and pesky zipper, which really is not well-suited to the briny marine environment.