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How to Install a Rub Rail?

Knowing how to install a rub rail is essential to improving the look of your boat, as well as maintaining the strength and protection of your fiberglass. Fortunately, it’s a relatively simple DIY project that can be done in just a few hours. Performing this project on your own will save you quite a bit of money, as installers tend to charge quite a bit. So, we've created this step-by-step guide to ensure that you know how to install a rub rail properly and get the best results, but first we must touch on rub

rail selection.


Where to Get A Rub Rail for Your Boat?

Choosing a rub rail requires careful consideration of the many supplies to ensure that you get the right parts. OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts are the best option, as they are designed specifically for your boat's hull-to-deck joint. Quality marine suppliers such as Integrity Marine Corp offer a wide selection of OEM parts that will fit your boat perfectly and last for years. Not only do you get assurance in their quality, you also get assurance of competitive pricing, as they’re the largest aftermarket supplier in the industry. Their “Shop By Boat” database makes it easy to find just what you need for your installation.


Step 1 : Sourcing The Correct Part

In order to choose the correct profile, it is important to save a piece of the previous rub rail before discarding it. This will allow a rub rail supplier to see the shape, dimensions, and lip length that your boat can accept. When looking for these parts, it is vital to choose an option with the same lip configuration as the prior rub rail and the same height on the flat hull-to-deck joint. Doing so will guarantee excellent results, making sure your boat looks perfect in no time.

  • What if My Existing Rub Rail Is Discontinued?

Rub rails used to be made with aluminum and teak, but most are now made with PVC vinyl. So, identifying the measurements of the existing material on your boat will allow you to seamlessly change over to the improved PVC vinyl. Calling a supplier with the height, width, and photos of the old rail will allow them to suggest profiles that match your criteria and save you a lot of time. Once you’ve got everything needed for the job, let's get to the next question at hand! How to prepare the surface under the rub rail?


Step 2: Preparing Your Boat

Proper preparation will help prevent issues down the road. Do it once and do it right!


Remove The Old

Before installing the new, we need to make sure that we have removed the old. Most rub rails are either screwed or pop-riveted, while few are through-bolted. Find the heads of the hardware by removing the insert. Inserts are easily removed by taking the end cap off and prying the insert out of the channel, once there is enough slack to grab, you can simply pull the rest out by hand. In the event of a stainless steel insert, you will simply have two sets of screws to remove.

Patch Holes

Now that the rail is off, you must clean up the debris underneath. If there is any rust or corrosion present, it is important to clean it off before moving on. Once clean, we recommend patching the old holes so that your new screws don’t seat themselves into a hole-and-a-half and become loose. The easiest product in our opinion is Sika 295UV. Other good options are the 3M 4200UV or 5200, but these tend to run messier. Other Silicone Caulk might be your preferred material, and that is perfectly fine, but we have found that it runs thick and messy.


Paint

The last recommendation, although not necessary if in good shape, is to paint the surface underneath the rub rail. This can be helpful if the replacement rub rail is going to be slightly smaller than the previous rail. It is generally better to go slightly larger on the new rail to avoid an eye sore, but again, it isn’t always possible. If you do find yourself having to use a slightly smaller rub rail and the gelcoat is not repainted, you could end up with a discolored streak right above or below the rub rail.


Step 2: Installation Strategy

Some rub rails come in continuous coils, while others are delivered in sections that must be pieced together. Each of these requires a different strategy.


Continuous Coil

If you are dealing with one continuous coil, we recommend starting at the “end point” towards the stern or on the transom. This allows the installer to keep the rest of the coil neat on a rolling table, or in the hands of their assistant. The assistant should slowly unravel the coil and pull it tight, while the lead member is lining up the lip of the rub rail and drilling screws every 6 inches. Once you reach the other side of the stern, you can chop off the excess length and finish the seam with an end cap.


Sectioned

If you are dealing with sectioned lengths, we generally recommend starting at the tip of the bow. Take the center point of a length, so the 10’ mark on a 20’ stick, and bend it over the bow. This gives you leverage to make the curve. Then, continue splicing in sections and cut off the excess on the final pieces at the stern. There is no need to connect each seam with adhesive, as the rail will look match perfectly and the insert will cover most of the surface area of the seam.

When installing rub rail on your boats, accuracy is vital! Always double-check measurements before making cuts to avoid any potential errors and to ensure a correct fit on the end of the rail each time.


Step 3: Hardware

Width

The thickness of your hardware will be adjusted depending on the height of rub rail that you are working with. Generally speaking, if your rub rail is 1.5” or smaller, #8 screws are recommended. Also, if you are using ¾” stainless steel, the hole fits a #8 head.


If your rub rail is 2” to 2.5” tall, you would move up to #10 screws. Also, 1” stainless steel holes fit the #10 screw-head. If your rail is larger than 2.5”, you could move to a #12 screw.


Length

The length of the screw will depend on the width of the vinyl profile’s flat “wall” (referring to the back of the rub rail that the screw drives through). Think about driving each screw into the fiberglass about 1”-1.5” deep. So, profiles with a thin wall will only need 1”-1.5” screws while profiles with a thick wall could need 2”-2.5” screws. Stainless steel is generally only fastened to the vinyl, not into the fiberglass, so those screws only have to be ¼” to ½” long.


¾” Stainless Steel

#8 screw

¼” - ½” long

1” Stainless Steel

#10 screw

¼” - ½” long

Rub Rail Height 1 ½” or less

#8 screw

1” - 1 ½ long

Rub Rail Height 2” - 2 ½”

#10 screw

Thickness of Wall + 1 ½”

Rub Rail Height 2 ½” or more

#12 screw

Thickness of Wall + 1 ½”


Material

Find the highest grade of stainless that you can to prevent rusting. Generally speaking, type 316 stainless protects the best from rusting in salt water. Using cheap screws can create hard to remove rust stains on your rub rail and gelcoat.


Step 4: Securing the Rub Rail Base

Some rub rails come pre-punched and have the markers easily visible, while others will have to be manually measured every 6 inches. WARNING - Do not secure the rub rail every few feet and come back to fill in the holes afterwards, this will cause the rail to be wavy. Every new hole should be drilled while the slack is pulled straight along the path the rail will travel.


Pre-Drill

Before driving your screw, you want to pre drill the hole to ensure precision and strength. We recommend drilling the holes as you go, instead of all at once. Flexible material can stretch as you work in the heat and it would be a bad day if the holes no longer lined up. Running two drills will expedite this process.


Run Screws

Once your hole is drilled, you will fasten the screw down to the vinyl, but do not overtighten! Overtightening can cause some profiles to dimple and wave which could close the track for the insert.


Tight Corners

Wrapping corners such as your bow, stern, or lateral “S-curve” bend can be very intimidating, as rigid rub rail feels like steel in cold weather. Luckily, the traditional bend on the bow and stern is quite easy with both force and heat.


When using a heat gun, we recommend heating the back of the rub rail instead of the face, and you must keep the gun moving. The plastic will become much more malleable as you apply heat, but it will melt if you use too much heat. So, heat is your friend, but don’t overdo it! You’d rather use more force and fasten the screw as soon as it is in the location that you need it to be. Clamps may also help this process.


The “S-curve” bend is certainly more challenging, as the rail doesn’t like to leave its shape laterally. Do your best with the same technique as the stern corners, and use the leverage from the end of the coil to help make the turns. If you have a really difficult time, you can try cutting the rail at angles, although this is less aesthetically pleasing. If you still have trouble, talk to a rub rail supplier about a flexible or uniflex rub rail that can make that curve much easier.


Step 5: Securing the Rub Rail Insert

Rub rail inserts come in many shapes and sizes but they are generally installed with a similar technique. The warmer that this material is, the more easily it will pop into the track, so leaving it on the driveway or in a warm bath could help its flexibility. You shouldn’t use a heat gun on the insert.


Line up the end of the insert with the end of the base. Put the bottom lip of the insert into the track and pinch the top lip into the track using a putty knife. Work your way around the boat and cut the insert when you meet the other side of the base. You will want to put a screw in the insert to make sure that it does not pull back, as there is nothing stopping the insert from expanding and contracting in different temperatures.


If the insert gives you trouble, you can try using a spray bottle full of soapy water as WD40 to reduce friction. Also, if the insert isn’t fully seated while in the track, put a cloth over the insert and bang it in with a mallet.


Step 6: Finishing Touches & Maintenance

Now that the labor of installing your new rub rail system is completed, check to see how the end of the rail looks. If it needs an end cap, be sure to run the screw through all three components: the cap, the insert, and the base.

Additionally, always ensure regular maintenance checks on the rub rail. If you don’t know how that is done, learn from a professional service provider, and catch potential issues early. This will prevent further damage down the line!


Conclusion

If you follow these steps carefully, you'll have properly installed your new rub rail! Congratulations, you have officially improved your vessel's aesthetics and increased its value. Be sure to check back regularly for more updates about boating maintenance tips at Integrity Marine Corp.

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