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Guide to Replacing your Boat's Rub Rail Insert

Replacing your boat’s rub rail insert – where do you start? What do you need? What are the steps? These are all familiar questions people have when replacing seals. In this post, we will talk about what you need to know to make sure your rub rail insert install is a success.


As the name implies, rub-rails experience significant wear and tear in effort to prevent hull damage in harsh marine environments. Additionally, rub-rail inserts, the part of the rub-rail that adds an extra layer of protection and accent to your boat, are often the first point of contact when you bump against pilings and docks. Because of this, rub-rail inserts are designed to be replaced with normal boat maintenance.

Most rub rail inserts on the market are made of vinyl or metal. The rub rail inserts manufactured here at Steele are made from durable, EPDM rubber. EPDM rubber has outstanding wear properties including excellent abrasion, impact, ozone, UV and extreme weather resistance- all factors which cause cracks, shrinkage and failure commonly seen with other materials including vinyl.


Where do I Start?

Start with your boat! Finding the right rub rail insert is key to ensuring a durable and long-lasting fit. Knowing the make and model of your boat doesn’t necessarily determine what seals you need for your project, as most marine seals are universal – meaning that the seals can be used on many different boats for many different applications.


To determine the right rub rail insert for your boat, you can refer to your owner’s manual. Another easy way is to simply examine and measure the profile of the insert you already have. What you’re looking for is the shape of the seal which acts as a unique identifier when browsing catalogs.


How do I know What Part I Need?

Now that you have a sample of your seal, whether that’s a photo or a small snippet, you can use that (along with the dimensions) to compare to some catalogs.

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To estimate the length of the insert you’ll need – take a measurement of the length and width (beam) of your boat. Multiply the length of your boat by 2 and add the beam width for the total.

It’s important to have the dimensions of your seal available during the research phase of your project so you know how much you will need to buy.

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Currently we offer our marine catalog as a free download on our website. This catalog can be downloaded to any of your devices for convenient access to the seals we have available! **Starting in January our free marine catalog will be available as a hard copy!

Another option is to view these parts online. If you’re looking for pricing this will be your best option as pricing by the foot is available on our website. When you’re shopping online for your insert, keep in mind that some manufacturers only offer their seals at a minimum amount or pre-cut lengths. This doesn’t work for every project. Depending on your project you will want to make sure that the manufacturer you purchase from offers by the foot options so you can have flexibility in price and length.


How do I Replace the Insert?

Okay, great! You’ve found your insert, purchased it, and now you have a hunk of rubber laying around the shop. Now what?

If you purchase a rub rail insert from Steele, our inserts are made of 100% EPDM rubber which is designed to last. Unlike vinyl or plastic, EPDM rubber rub rail inserts don’t require any pre-heating and they will not fade, shrink or crack. That’s something we guarantee.

For simple installation follow these steps:

  1. Remove the old, worn or damaged rub rail insert keeping any necessary hardware associated with holding the insert in place such as end caps or screws
  2. Clean out the rub rail track. You will want to remove any dirt and debris that might have been previously trapped. If caulk was used to keep the old insert in place, take the time to remove that too
  3. Start your install at one end of the boat where there was an end cap
  4. Pinch and push the insert into the rail. This can be done by hand or you can use a tuck tool or wooden spatula to assist pushing it in
  5. Work your way around the boat, pushing the insert into the rail
  6. When you have finished installing the insert, you can trim the excess flush with the edge of the track
  7. Install any necessary or remaining hardware

**Note: We recommend not using a screwdriver or other sharp object to assist pushing in the insert. There is a potential of damaging the insert or the rail. **


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What if you don’t need to replace the whole insert? No problem! We recently introduced the addition of marine grade EPDM rubber rub rail insert repair kits. Unlike vinyl, small repairs can be made without replacing the entire insert – saving you time and money! The replacements that come in these kits are made of the same compound as our regular inserts and are just as durable and easy to install. And remember there is no pre-heating of the insert required! Our kits even come with a handy instruction sheet to guide you through the repair process.


Final Thoughts

To maintain your rub rail insert we recommend just washing with soap and water. Cleaners, treatments and coatings aren’t necessary and don’t extend the life of your seals. They have the potential to be damaging.

Now that you know how to replace your boat’s rub rail insert, you’re ready to hit the water when boating season starts!


If you need help finding the right rub rail insert for your project, or need help installing your rub rail insert, assistance is available with one of our Product Specialists over the phone (800-230-6752) and on Live Chat.

*For additional help check out our How To series on YouTube!

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