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What are Portholes?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 16, 2024
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On a ship, a porthole is a small, usually round window in the ship’s side. Portholes are also similar windows in an airplane or spacecraft. Another type of porthole is a small opening through which a weapon is fired.

In the case of a ship, a porthole allows light and air to enter the lower, often dark, levels of the vessel. Naturally, a porthole is watertight; it is generally made of a circular piece of glass, surrounded by a metal frame that is bolted into the hull of the ship. Some portholes have hinges, allowing them to be opened and closed for air or for cleaning.

A porthole can vary in size from mere inches to a couple of feet in diameter. Some portholes are extremely heavy due to the thick glass and the metals used. Popular metals for portholes include bronze and brass, because they resist corrosion from saltwater. A porthole sometimes has a storm shutter, known as a deadlight.

Commonly used in decorating, portholes give a home interior a nautical look. To create a porthole mirror, use wood, buttons to look like rivets, and a mirror. On the exterior of a house, a faux porthole provides character or can balance out the use of, or lack of, shutters. Some portholes are functional windows, too.

Authentic porthole windows can be salvaged from a ship, which is a popular form of recycling, and then used to accent a house. An interior door can be outfitted with a porthole, also. Other portholes provide a spaceship theme, for example, in a child’s room.

Another use of a porthole window is as a candle holder. Many items, such as porthole clocks and barometers, are available commercially. Sea themed murals or paintings can be created on round backgrounds to give the visual impression of looking out of a ship’s porthole into the ocean. Other prints or artwork depicting the sea or a ship might be framed in a wooden porthole shaped frame.

A fun kids’ craft is to paint a clear plastic circle with an image from the sea. Finish the edges with twine or rope and attach a loop for hanging. Other nautical accents to include when decorating with portholes include life preservers, anchors, lighthouse replicas, divers’ helmets, ship compasses, scrimshaw – which is carved or engraved ivory, and other items.

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