Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cabin top handrails

Cabin top handrails are a classic feature on many sailboats, including Talofa Lee. The looped rails along the cabin top allow some security when moving along the deck and onto the cabin top.  Made of teak, and through bolted through the cabin top with bronze machine bolts, they can be pretty, strong, and useful.

However, as I found out on Tensie Mae, the rails are prone to leak at many of the bolt locations where the rail loop meets the cabin top.  When leakage occurs, the bronze bolts corrode, wasting the bolt where it can't be inspected without removing the rail.  On both Tensie Mae and Talofa Lee, many of the bolts had completely wasted away, or were so thin that their strength was minimal. Reliance on these handrails under these conditions could have resulted in a fall or a man overboard.

I decided to forego the classic look of the rails on Talofa Lee. Perhaps with additional attention, the teak hand rails would provide good service for a longer time, but I decided that instead of rails, I would use lines along the cabin top. Line is easily inspected, easily replaced, and economical compared with teak...and it doesn't have to be sanded and sealed. I used five eighths inch double braided dacron because of its high strength and because its diameter makes it a comfortable hand hold.

I raised the line off the cabin top using inch and three eighths mahogany "risers." I through bolted five sixteenth inch stainless steel eyebolts with nylon insert nuts through the cabin top to retain the line. I backed the bolts with stainless steel fender washers. I used four bolts and risers on each side, and eye splices in the line to affix the line to the end bolts.

I plugged the unused handrail bolt holes with bedded machine bolts. I will likely use these holes as mounting points for internal hand holds in the main cabin.
I think this installation is strong enough that the lines can be used as jack lines, allowing me to avoid putting jack lines along the side decks for heavy weather. These lines, plus strong points in the cockpit and on the foredeck, will provide full time security in fair weather or foul.


  1. The lines look pretty good. I just took off a part of my railing so I can rebed but going to sand it while it's off. I'm going to keep the teak rail and hope to have it varnished nicely in the (near) future.

  2. I like the look of those, but they would be difficult to use as jacklines. You would have to unclip at each eyebolt, not very desirable under most circumstances...

    I use a 3" yellow webbing. You can buy it bulk and create your own ends, or buy premade ends. 3,000 lb working strenght, 20,000 lb break strength. Just make sure you replace it every year because it does degrade in sunlight.