Help: Install gunwales on MRC Explorer?

I’m resurrecting an older Mad River Canoe 16’ Royalex boat. The current wood gunwales are shot and I’d like to replace them with vinyl. I love wood gunwales, but for this boat I want to go with low-maintenance gunwales since it is (and will continue to be) stored outside and is often loaned out to friends.

So, anyway…

Can anyone point me to a good tutorial on installing vinyl gunwales? Any pitfalls I should be aware of when moving from wood to vinyl (I’ll be using OEM MRC vinyl gunwales)? I’m pretty handy, have removed/replaced wood gunwales plenty of times, but have no experience with vinyl ones.

Also, any recommendations for a shop in the Philadelphia area that does gunwale replacement, should I decide to “outsource”?

Many thanks for any help!

Doesn’t Mad River offer any advice on
vinyl gunwale replacement? Their advice on wood gunwale replacement is pretty good, so I would think they have something to say about vinyl.

I have two MR canoes with vinyl gunwales. It looks to me like one would just order a set of replacements from MR and then push them over the edges of the boat and rivet in place.

Here’s a quote from Mad River’s FAQ
"What is involved in replacing vinyl rails?"

“Vinyl rails are pretty simple to install. Like aluminum rails, you’ll need to drill out the rivets but the vinyl gunwales are flexible enough to tolerate being bent into place as you go. It’s important that you make sure the rails are completely settled in contact with top of hull before you drill and rivet new rails in place.”

It doesn’t say any more, but there’s really not more to say.

I did see that on MRC’s site, but it just sounded too easy! My main concern was any challenges or issues with switching from wood to vinyl gunwales. Sounds like it won’t be too big of a problem. Off to Jersey Paddler tomorrow to pick up my new gunwales.

I should mention that I’ve never really looked closely at vinyl gunwale systems, which is part of the problem. I’ve always had wood on my canoes,or, in the case of my first Blue Hole, aluminum (if memory serves). All my experience with r/r of gunwales has been with wood.

I’ll take a close look at boats with new vinyl gunwales when I’m at the dealer tomorrow.

Easy but:
Be sure to find center on the rails, and work from the center outwards, installing the center carry thwart to “set” the differential curves of inwale and outwale, even if they are the same piece of plastic.

Also, be sure the pop rivets are tempered, not mild Alu.

Thanks for the advice everyone!

An update…
So, drove up to Jersey Paddler this weekend to pick up my new vinyl gunwales. Kudos to the owner, John, for 1) having them in stock, and 2) taking time to help me out and give advice even on a busy Saturday.

One thing I didn’t even think of until I was there: when switching from wood to vinyl gunwales new deck plates are needed, too! Unfortunately, they needed to be ordered.

So, costs so far:

2 vinyl gunwales: $95

2 new MRC deck plates: $64

Still to buy: rivets

I figure end cost will be around $175, which isn’t too bad. The boat has seen better days, but this will definitely rejuvenate it and make it water-worthy again.

I’ll follow-up with an “after action report” when I have all the parts and have finished the task.

It’s done! Some lessons learned…
Finally finished my refit of my MRC Explorer from wood to vinyl gunwales. While it is a fairly straightforward process, there were some challenges along the way that I thought I’d add to the archives here for future reference for others.

  1. When doing a changeover, don’t forget that you’ll need new endcaps/deckplates as well, as the deckplates on your wood-railed boat won’t work. The deckplates for vinyl rails are designed to fit over the larger vinyl gunwales and form an integral part of the system. The challenge: deckplates are specific to the model of canoe you have and its bow/stern angle, and need to be ordered from your boat’s manufacturer. You might be able to use ones from other model, but likely will have to modify them. It was a real challenge to get the deckplates I needed, as MRC was completely out of stock of them and had to mold a new set for me.

    A big thanks here to my dealer, Jersey Paddler, which went far and beyond any reasonable expectation to get me the deckplates, including getting MRC to rush-mold new ones for me so I could get my boat finished in time for my trip to the Adirondacks in NY this week.

  2. You are unlikely to find vinyl gunwales in stock at your dealer, and they are very expensive to ship due to their size. It’s relatively easy to find wood gunwales in knock-down versions (for easy shipping) online, but not so with vinyl. I got very lucky that Jersey Paddler had some in stock. My suggestion: plan ahead and order your new gunwales in the winter/early spring so they can be shipped to your dealer along with their spring boat order (low-to-no cost).

  3. Rivets: most vinyl gunwales call for using 3/16 x 5/8" rivets. Home stores like Home Depot and Lowes mostly stock three sizes of 3/16" rivets: short, medium and long. The “long” length shows 1/2" working size on the package, but in fact the rivets are a bit over 5/8" long. They worked on my Royalex boat, but if I had more time I would have ordered the longer rivets from an online source. Also, it would have been nice to have black rivets instead of plain silver aluminum (black rivets are also available online).

  4. Rehanging seats and thwarts. I reused my existing wood/cane seats and wood thwart and related hardware. However, because the vinyl gunwales are thicker than the wood ones, the old bolts were not long enough to reach. I had to buy slightly longer bolts for the thwart, and cut the wooden spacers down about 1/4" for the seats in order to get enough bolt length to thread a nut on.


Were you able to utilize any of the existing gunwale screw holes in the hull for the vinyl gunwale rivets?

I’m redoing the gunwales on my Malecite in wood. I believe that the best way to do it is to mark all of the existing holes and the remeasure so as not to hit those and then re-drill new holes. I have taken the pains to lay a layer of glass on the inside to cover the old holes ahead of time.

Some of the old holes had actually been drilled so that the top was open on the f/g so another good reason to move them.