Fitting new toerails and grabrails
Practical Boat Owner|September 2020
Fitting new toerails and grabrails
Rupert Holmes explains the techniques for removal and replacement
Rupert Holmes

Worn wooden toerails, coachroof grab handles and rubbing strakes are common problems for many owners of older boats. Most of these will originally have been teak, although lesser quality timber may subsequently have been substituted on some boats.

Fortunately, these are easy DIY repairs, providing you know a few tricks. In many cases removing the old toerail or grabrail may prove the biggest challenge. If the fastenings are bolts it’s generally a two-person job, one of whom will be inside the boat, often in confined spaces and potentially reaching behind cabinetry.

In the past, I’ve started by drilling out the teak plugs to reveal the screwheads. If the screws are made of stainless steel there’s a good chance you’ll be able to remove most of them. Brass screws can be much more difficult to remove, however, as they are softer, so the heads burr more easily and may be liable to snap off completely. I’ve tried both drilling these out in their entirety or drilling a pilot hole for a screw extractor. However, both options can be difficult to achieve using handheld drills and require a good eye.

To speed the process up I’d now look at using an oscillating multitool fitted with a saw blade to cut through just above the deck level, then clean up with a chisel. After that a small hacksaw blade, or the multitool with a metal cutting blade, could be used to cut the remains of the screws off flush with the surface.

After removing the old timber, and cleaning up the surface left behind, the new toerails can be fitted. I did a dry fit on all sections to be sure all screw holes were in the right place and to mask up to facilitate cleaning up any excess sealant.

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September 2020