Handrails, Grab rails and Toe
handrails / grab rails and a good stout toe-rail are essential safety
on any boat.
The old saying “One hand for yourself and one for the boat” is just
as relevant today as it was in the old days of the sailing ship.
On a wooden boat they can also enhance her looks.
A well made grab rail or toe rail can also be a decorative
providing some of those all important
which, can turn
even the plainest of boats into a thing of beauty.
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As I have already said a
plentiful supply of
convenient hand holds is an essential feature on any boat.
And that goes for
below decks as well as above.
They are not only to
help keep you and your crew
from going overboard but to prevent falls and generally to keep you
from sliding around.
They can also be handy
places to secure items of
gear, providing that doesn’t interfere with their primary
And on deck, a good
stout toe rail is as
important as a non-slip surface to prevent feet from slipping off the
placed where they are easy to grab, especially for anyone using the
Below decks there is
especial need for good
handholds near the galley but it should be possible to reach one from
anywhere within the cabin.
However, they are best
placed away for the
centreline of the deck-head as this could interfere with
As for those so called
which nearly all modern pleasure boats are fitted with, most are more
of a hazard than an asset.
If you have small
children or pets on board then
the guard rail is and ideal place to hand netting to keep those
precious little ones on board.
However, for adults,
with that wire at knee
height they are surely more of a problem than a help.
If someone were to propose
building a public foot bridge
over a river with similar ‘guard rails’ they wouldn’t be
allowed, it would contravene health and safety rules, and quite rightly
So why disfigure your lovely
Much better to have plenty of
handrails grab rails a toe
rail and jackstays where you can clip on your harness.
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When I was rebuilding
Mignonne I was constantly looking at other boats
for ideas that were
not only useful but would be simple to make.
The toe rail I made was based
on one I saw on a lovely
little clinker cruiser.
Not only did it look right, it
did the job it was meant
to, seemed simple to build and didn’t interfere with deck
When I was fiddling with off
cuts to determine the
dimensions I realized that the same basic construction and size would
perfect for the handrails.
And using the same sizes and
style has helped give her a
more harmonious, finished look.
I used ash because of its
strength to weight ratio and
because it was available in nice straight grained lengths.
The toe rails and
grab rails were all made
from 1inch/25mm square lumber.
The spacers used to raise the
rail were short lengths cut
from the same stock.
The intermediate spacers I cut
1.5inch/40mm long and the
end spacers 6inch/150mm.
I also found that 1inch/25mm
square section was
relatively easy to cold bend to follow the curvature of the deck and
The two long lengths run from
just abaft the forward
fairleads to just forward of the center cleat.
Then there is a short length
from just abaft of the
center cleat to the taffrail.
The open nature
of the rail
means deck water is allowed to drain quickly away.
And the dimensions are perfect
as grab rails even when
The distance between the
spacers on the toe rail is a
matter of judgment, depending on the amount of curvature as well as
the toe-rail was fastened down onto
the quite substantial sheer clamp.
The spacers for the grab rails
on the cabin tops were
positioned so that they could be fastened to the underlying beams.
Below decks the handrails were
fastened directly to the
deck beams without the need for spacers.
The below decks handrails on
the deck-head of the main
cabin were positioned directly below the handrail on the deck above.
That way the through fastening
bolts were able to go
through both rails with the deck and beam sandwiched between.
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While a grab rail and toe rail can be
decorative features they are
essentially there for your and your crew’s safety and should be
It is surprising how much
force falling person can exert
on a quickly grabbed handrail.
Use as many through bolts as
is practical especially at
Where the bolt
go through a deck beam, use a backing plate to help spread the
Beveling the corners of the
rail will give it a more
professional look as well as making it more comfortable to hold.
And a little bit of shaping on
the corners of the spacers
with a round rasp as well as improving the look will give a more
friendly surface. Varnish doesn’t like sharp corners.
Those longer spacers at the
ends will allow plenty of
room to finish off the rail with a
While handrails, grab rails
and toe rails can have more
than one role such as a convenient place to tie fenders to, so other
boat furniture can double up as grab rails.
The fiddles around the edge of
tables and work surfaces
which, are designed to stop items rolling off, can if made strong
securely fastened be very convenient handrails.
Equally any vertical post such
as a mast support should
be designed the need for and holds in mind.
convenient grab rails
you can incorporate the safer you and your crew will
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