Marine Maintenance – Gunwale screws

Loose screw underneath gunwale strip insert

Vibration within a trailer boat is unavoidable, whether it’s vibration from being towed on the road behind a vehicle or from the vibration of your engine whilst underway on the water.  These small vibrations are renowned for loosening fasteners on your boat.

On my boat it is definitely something I keep an eye on as I have had to tighten up several screws over the 18 months I have owned this particular boat as well as having to do it on every boat I have owned prior.  One of the worst areas for this to occur is the gunwale screws on fibreglass boats.  Not only are these important in securing the top deck to the bottom half of your hull but they are generally covered by a gunwale strip and not visible.  I had planned to inspect these screws in the coming months but upon return from a recent outing I realised that I needed to make it a priority.  I had noticed that on the starboard side of the boat, a screw had worked itself loose and was actually pushing the gunwale strip away from the hull.

Screw forcing gunwale strip away from hull

Left unattended, this would more than likely lead to damage to the top deck or hull by means of cracking of the gel coat, ingress of water into the hull or even cracking of the hull itself.

Now most boat hulls have the same principle for gunwale fasteners and strips, although there are some variations.  Usually the top and bottom half of the hull is screwed together with the main gunwale strip attached over the joint and gunwale screws and then an insert is used to cover the gunwale strip screws.

To rectify the issue on my boat, the process I used was quite simple (though I recommend that you seek advice of a Marine Professional, before attempting this).  Starting from the transom

  1. Remove the gunwale strip capping.
  2. Remove the gunwale strip insert.
  3. Unscrew the gunwale strip.
  4. Remove and replace all the gunwale screws with some adhesive (I use a marine grade silicone as it acts as an adhesive and sealant) to stop the screws working loose.
  5. Reattach the gunwale strip, again using some adhesive on these screws as well.
  6. Reinsert the gunwale strip insert using a heat gun to soften the plastic and make the task easier.
  7. Reattach the gunwale strip capping.

For the sake of a couple of hour’s work, whether the checks and repairs are carried out by yourself or a professional, this could save you spending significant amounts of money in fibreglass hull repairs.

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