Cabin Top Handrails: New Life for Your Old Boat

Adding new or replacing old cabin top handrails on your boat is a great upgrade that will give you confidence when moving about your boat.  If your boat does have old worn-out wooden handrails, I’ll tell you the easiest way to remove them and also give you some suggestions on installing new rails that are sturdy, cost effective, maintenance-free, and look great.

Old fire trucks are the best source for metal handrails for your boat. Notice the back of this truck which has longer handles than near the cab, making customizing for your project easy

Most wooden rails are attached by screws from the inside of the cabin, and the screw heads are typically covered by a liner.  Unless the liner is a removable soft liner, removing the liner is not usually an option, so the easiest way to remove old handrails behind a solid liner is to cut them off as close to the cabin top as possible using a Sawsall.  You’ll have to push out or drill out the remaining screw heads, making a hole in the inner liner, but the liner should be easy to patch.  If you decide to replace the rail with the same type you can use these same holes to mount the new rail.

My suggestion for new or replacement rails may surprise you: repurpose them from an old fire truck. The proprietor at my local heavy vehicle salvage yard (where I get rails) is always interested in my boat improvement projects and so sells used fire truck rails to me at very reasonable prices.  The last pair of 2-foot nickel plated bronze rails cost me a 30-pack of beer.  I had to remove them myself, but still it was a bargain.  And they had already been polished to a fair thee well.

Chrome or nickel plated bronze fire truck rails are ideal; they won’t rust or rot, come in myriad sizes, are strong and great looking.  They are bolted on so they should be stronger than screwed on rails. Just remember to use some large washers or even better G-10 backing plates to spread the load.

Good luck with your boat improvement projects, and don’t forget to keep one hand for you and one hand for the boat.


f you’re getting your boat ready to sell, a moderate amount of time and effort will add genuine value and help justify your asking price.
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