Advice: replacing gunwales on Mad River Quest

Howdy all, I just picked up an older Royalex Mad River Quest 14’7" boat. The hull is in perfect condition and looks like it was never actually used in water or dragged on to a beach. However, it was stored outside and the wood gunwales are in rough shape. They’re dried out and one has a break where the front seat bolts to it. I pulled the gunwales off to see about restoring them, the wood is okay overall but heavily stained as it was sitting in dirt. I am considering replacing the gunwales and wanted some advice. I can get vinyl gunwales from a nearby Wenonah dealer for about $90, plus probably $60 for bow and stern decks, plus rivets ($?) and new seat hangers ($40). I am having trouble finding wood ones, as local Mad River dealers are sparse but was quoted about $250 from the Wenonah dealer for their wood gunwales. So the question I have is for an older boat like this, is it worth it to go for the wood, or does it make more sense to just make it a utilitarian boat with vinyl and save a few (but not really that many) bucks. For reference, the boat cost me $100 and all the rigging (cane seats, skid plates, etc) is in perfect condition as they were never exposed to the elements. I plan to store the boat inside in my basement so the gunwales are unlikely to see too much weather in the future.

Personally, I like wood gunwales. If you do, too, why not. If wood seems to you like extra bother & expense for nothing, go with the vinyl. There’s no wrong answer here.

I like the beauty and warmth of wood even though it requires more care than vinyl. If you have basic tools and skills, make your own gunnels from wood as their construction is basic. Plus you have some existing sections as dimensional guide. I know there are many on this board who can offer first hand advice and photos of a job well finished to inspire you.

I’d definitely love to make my own wood gunwales. However, clear wood is really difficult to find here in Wyoming. The lumber store here basically said “no chance” even though I mentioned I bought 16’ ash strips from them 5 years ago for another boat. New owners…

I once replaced wooden gunwales on a bell canoe with vinyl gunwales from a local Old Town dealer. The gunwales went on OK but in order to get decks that matched the angles in the end of the boat I had to order them from Bell. I think you will find the same problem here. The end angles in the Mad River are most likely wider than any decks you can buy from Wenonah. You may need to do a bit of deck fitting because the decks you will get will be molded to fit over Mad River gunwales. A bit of carefully applied heat from a heat gun will make them pliable. In the end I was happy enough with my results and I did not have to pay heavy shipping charges for gunwales from Bell or wait a long time for them. When done the canoe could be stored outside. I have since sold the canoe and it is still in service living out its days in Maine.


If you can find 8’ long ash segments you could construct inwales and outwales with a single scarf joint each. Offset the scarfs on the inwales and outwales by about a foot. I use epoxy to bond the wood joints rather than wood glue.

Once you get the rails on, you can pretty easily make some on-lay deck plates out of whatever nice wood you would like.

I have a Mad River Quest so I thought I would ask this question. Are you aware that the Quest is asymmetric? I would think that feature would make your hunt for gunwales even harder.