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How to Install a New DIY Rub Rail on Your Boat

Complete your Boatox boat makeover by learning how to install a new rub rail

How to Install a New DIY Rub Rail on Your Boat

If you can bend stainless for points like this your boat shouldn't be a problem.

One of the crowning touches of a boat restoration is a new rub rail. Much like an eyebrow, which is pretty insignificant in the makeover world, the thin line makes a big difference. Rub rails have become easier to repair and in some cases replace, especially if you have a friend or two to help.


First decision is what style of rub rail you want. Two basic choices are rigid vinyl and flexible vinyl. Pros and cons?

Flexible vinyl is easier for a one-man install, with the majority of styles using some sort of an insert. Keeping a straight line down the hull can be somewhat of a challenge.

Rigid vinyl is just that, rigid. You can take a 30-inch piece of rigid rub rail and hit a baseball into the cheap seats. It's easier to hold a straight line, but turning a corner you'll need an extra set of hands. Some styles of rigid rub rail also don't require an insert. For our subject boat, we chose a rigid rub rail with a stainless steel insert, an updated look.


The design of your hull and cap will dictate whether you use tapping or machine screws. Our original rub rail was held in place using tapping screws since the hull has a full inner liner and there's no access to the backside of the screws. The size of the screw head will depend on the rub rail. Our rigid vinyl called for No. 10 Phillips head screws so they would not interfere with the stainless insert that covers them.


Typically, rigid vinyl rub rail comes in 20-foot lengths. The insert is available in 12-, 16- and 20-foot lengths. Be sure to lay out the vinyl rail and stainless insert so that none of the joints line up on top of each other. For that reason we started with a 20-foot piece of vinyl and a 16-foot piece of insert.

Find the center of the bow of the boat and the center of the vinyl rub rail; that's where you set your first fastener. Don't go to the next hole, on either side, to set your second screw. Skip several holes, almost to the forward corner, for the next screw and then do the same on the opposite side. This will allow you to line up the rub rail using a straight edge or even just eyeing it. Hint: Don't count on the edge of the cap for a straight line.


Accessorizing is everything. And now choosing a color for a rub rail has become an issue. One manufacturer suggested matching the engines.

When all of the screws are set across the bow and you get to the corner, you'll have to apply heat to get the vinyl malleable enough to bend. Have your helper hold the rail out straight and apply light pressure to start the bend. A heat gun works best to soften up the vinyl rail. Apply the heat evenly on the front and backsides of the rail, taking care not to get too close or overheat the vinyl. Once the rail starts to conform to the radius, discontinue the heat and only re-apply if necessary. With the turn complete, set a screw a few holes down from the corner and allow the vinyl to cool before putting any screws through the part that was heated.


Work your way down the side of the hull installing screws in the same way you did at the bow. When you get to the end of the first section of rail, stop inserting screws about a foot short of the end. Hold the next piece of rub rail in place but purposely overlap the joint on the first piece by 1/8 inch. Start about a foot away from the joint and install several screws down the length of the rail. Now go back to the joint and pull both rub rail ends away from the hull, line the two ends up and push toward the hull. The rail will snap into place with a tight fit at the joint. Install screws in those sections of rail.



The stainless steel insert installs in pretty much the same manner as the vinyl rail beneath it. Again, be sure to stagger the joints of the vinyl and stainless. Turning the corners is where the similarities stop. To make the stainless insert bend around the corner it takes soft, blunt, force. A rubber mallet works best.

Starting from the center point, install the proper size stainless steel screws, working your way to the first corner. Have your buddy hold the insert and while they apply slight bending pressure, start hitting the insert with the mallet in the same fashion as a blacksmith forming metal. Apply most of the force at the point of the bend and work your way around the corner slowly. I've found it better to set each screw along the way as the insert conforms to the vinyl rail, instead of waiting until the full radius has been bent.

To adjoin the second piece of insert, simply butt the two pieces together. There's no need to overlap and snap, like the vinyl pieces.

A hacksaw is all that's needed to cut both materials and a pair of end caps terminates the ends. To keep water from getting beneath the rub rail, run a bead of silicone sealer on the top and bottom of the rub rail, where it meets the hull and cap. FS

Published Florida Sportsman Magazine June 2019

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