What is a Toe-Rail?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A toe-rail or toerail is a narrow strip which runs along the edges of a boat's deck. The toe-rail serves several functions, and can be made from a variety of materials, depending on the boat. Most boat yards have the ability to repair, replace, or refurbish a toe-rail which has been damaged through wear and tear. Some sailors also make their own repairs, if they enjoy the experience of working on their boats. While the toe-rail may be small, it is an important part of the boat, improving safety for everyone on deck.

Woman posing
Woman posing

The toe-rail is at roughly foot height. One important function of this rail is to prevent feet from sliding overboard when people work close to the edges of the deck. While a toe-rail will not keep someone from falling overboard, it will increase safety along the edge of the deck by catching a sailor's shoe if it starts to slide off the deck, as might happen when the deck is slippery or a sailor is focused on a particular task and is not aware of how close she or he is to the edge of the deck. This can help the sailor correct a slide off deck before it turns into a fall.

Toe-rails also save tools which might otherwise slide overboard. While leaving things loose on deck is not generally encouraged or acceptable, while someone is actively working on deck, several tools may be present and left on the deck to make them easy to reach. If the boat pitches and the tools start to slide down the deck, they will bump against the toe-rail before going overboard.

On some boats, the toe-rail is a point of attachment for various equipment. On others, the equipment is fastened to the deck. The rail is also usually perforated or designed with gaps so that water can flow freely through it. This ensures that standing water is not left on deck, where it can pose a hazard in addition to potentially damaging the deck in the long term.

Among woods used for toe-rails, teak is a popular choice because it is hard and somewhat resistant to the elements. Teak has also historically been used in decking for the same reason. Aluminum on modern boats is popular, as it is durable and requires little in the way of maintenance beyond a periodic check to make sure it's firmly attached. Fiberglass and plastics can also be used, in which case the toe-rail may be molded or extruded.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@summing - The game of ice hockey that you and your friends played on the slippery decks of your ship sounds like great fun. I wonder where the captain of the ship was when you were fooling around - maybe taking a nap!

I'm glad you all survived and that no one went overboard.

I don't know when this was, but now days, I think ship captains are pretty strict and very safety conscious.


My grandfather was a sailor from the time he was 16. He worked on ships that went out on the North Sea where there were lots of big storms.

He told stories about working on very slippery decks and how the toe rail alerted him so he wasn't swept overboard. I'll bet toe rails were added to ships that had decks soon after they were designed.

The life of a sailor could be pretty dangerous.


A friend of mine has this incredibly nice boat that he has totally tricked out. He treats that boat the way some people treat their car or their man cave. Every detail has been carefully considered.

One of the coolest features is that there is lights running around the entire boat attached to the toe rail. Not only does this provide light outside, it gives a really cool atmospheric vibe to the whole boat.

Imagine being on a big nice boat in the middle of the ocean with the wind blowing and having a nice warm glow at your feet. Its a cool spot.


I worked on a ship for a while when I was a young man and I remember me and the guys used to play this game whenever work got slow.

The deck got notoriously slippery. I have been on other ships and never encountered a deck this slippery. It must have been a huge security hazard but we made do.

We realized that we could slide back and forth across the deck and catch ourselves on the toe rails. It was kind of like ice skating. We came up with a game loosely based on hockey that we used to play on the deck.

It was a lot of fun, the kind of game that idle men end up getting really into.

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