Easy Rubrail Replacement

Article & Photos By Dan Armitage

Inserting a new rubrail on your boat can protect your investment and enhance its appearance.

Rubrail replacementA rubrail protects your boat's hull from bumps. An insert strip can be easily replaced when it starts to look worn.

Rubrails are to boats what bumpers are to automobiles: protective barriers designed to absorb the shock of minor impacts to protect the chassis — or, in the case of watercraft, the hull. With many boat designs, the rubrail also serves as a cosmetic cover to the joint and helps seal the seam between the hull and deck cap.

Because boats bump things like docks and pilings on a regular basis, two-piece rubrails are offered on most boats, and include a sacrificial insert strip intended to take the brunt of the bumps and abrasion. The strip can be replaced if and when it's worn or damaged to the point that it can't do its job or starts to show its age. Usually the insert is made of a forgiving vinyl PVC material that is more flexible than the rubrail that secures it around the boat's perimeter, and it's designed to slide into a channel along the center of the rubrail.

Rubrail manufacturers offer replacement inserts in sizes and shapes to fit their various rubrail designs and colors, and aftermarket inserts are available in popular dimensions and colors as well. The vinyl inserts are sold in rolls and priced by the foot. Although some designs allow splicing-in short lengths of material to replace a damaged section of insert, most boaters replace the entire length of the rubrail insert when tackling the task. It's not particularly expensive or difficult to do, especially if you have a helping hand, and you'd be surprised how much a new insert can improve a boat's appearance.

Tackle the job on a warm day, because the insert material is much more flexible and forgiving when it's warm. In fact, we keep our insert roll soaking in a tub of hot water until it's time to thread it into the rail slot — and even then we find that warming it and the rubber rail with a heat gun makes the job easier.

Because of the curves involved, you'll need more insert than just double your boat's overall length. We recommend adding the boat's length to its beam and then doubling the sum to ensure you order enough rubrail to complete the job.

Taco Marine is a popular OEM supplier of rubrails for many boat manufacturers and offers an extensive line of replacement rubrails and inserts in kit form. Here are the basic steps in the replacement of an insert on a 20-foot center-console boat using a standard Taco Marine PVC vinyl insert priced at $70 for a 50-foot roll.

Soaking new insert

1. Soak the insert roll in hot water while you work on removing the old insert. This will ensure that the replacement insert will remain flexible until it's time to thread it into the rubrail channel.

Prying out old insert

2. Remove the rubrail end caps and pry out the old insert. A wide spade standard screwdriver may come in handy with the latter. Just be sure not to damage the rubrail itself.

Using a heat gun to soften old insert

3. If the old insert is stiff with age, you may need a heat gun to help soften and loosen it and the rubber rail to separate the two.

Cleaning debris from rubrail

4. Clean any debris from the rubrail channel, noting any loose screws or places where the rail may have pulled away from the cap. If necessary, rebed and tighten any loose screws securing the rail to the cap.

Forcing insert into channel

5. Retrieve the roll from the warm water and while it remains flexible, starting at one end of the rubrail at the transom, force the insert into the channel near one end, leaving a tag end of the insert extended from the end of the rubrail and the balance coiled ahead of you.

Using heat gun to keep new insert flexible

6. Work your way forward slipping the insert into the channel, uncoiling as you go, using a screwdriver as needed to leverage the slot open enough to accept the new insert. This is where a helper comes in handy to feed the coil and direct the heat gun at the rail to keep it flexible enough to easily accept the new insert. The tightest turns come at the bow and transom corners, where it's important to have the insert flexible to make sure it fits tight inside the channel. Take time in these vulnerable, angled areas to make sure the insert stays in place before moving forward.

Seal with silicone adhesive

7. If you measured correctly, you'll have several inches of insert to spare once you reach the bitter end of the rubrail across the transom from where you began. Trim both ends of the insert flush with the rubrail, then seal with silicone adhesive. You may need to drill a pilot hole in the insert if the end cap requires a screw in that location.

Reinstall rubrail caps

8. Reinstall the rubrail caps.

Do a final inspection of the rubrail to make sure the insert is fully seated in place along its entire length and to admire the results of the completed project.  

Dan Armitage is BoatUS Magazine's Great Lakes contributing editor.

— Published: August/September 2017


Tech Support

Degree Of Difficulty
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Tools and Materials:

  • Heat gun
  • Power drill
  • Large flat-blade screwdriver
  • Silicone adhesive sealant

Time:

Around 4 to 5 hours.

Cost:

Depends on the material and length of boat. PVC insert starts at around $100 for a 24-foot boat.

 

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