How to Make Your Own Stern Pulpit Rail Seat

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Build Your Own Stern Rail Seat From Starboard

Stern Rail Seat
Tom Lochhaas

Stern rail seats have become so popular over the last decade or so that most new sailboats large enough to support a stern pulpit now have them built in. Rail seats are perfect for a crew or guest who wants a clearer view ahead than you can get from the cockpit benches or for someone who simply wants to keep out of the way of winches, sheets and lines, and the crews' sailing or racing activities. Plus it's just plain fun to sit high up on the stern.

Several companies make stock or custom-sized rail seats that can be retrofitted to older boats. You can expect to pay $200 or more for a commercial seat, or you can build your own for a fraction of that. It's probably easier than you think.

Starboard is the best material for crafting your own seat. Starboard is a plastic with many marine uses, available in planks or sheets of different sizes and colors. The half-inch size, used in the seat shown here, is plenty strong for a rail seat. Starboard is strong and waterproof and will last practically forever. You can saw, drill, and sand it just like wood. The only disadvantage is that it cannot be glued, which doesn't matter for this project. Starboard can be ordered online and from the big marine chandleries.

The most important step in this project is the first: designing the size and shape of the seat itself to fit on your boat's railing. You could go with a straightforward boxy design that fits the space, or you can go for a more artistic or finished look that simulates the commercial seats. Be sure to consider where the sitting person's feet will go, and arrange the seat's position so that the sitter can lean against the upper rail. For the design of the seat shown in this photo, I simply walked around the docks looking at different seats until I found one I liked and that would fit my rail well. I asked the boat owner for permission to trace the seat, which he freely granted, admitting what he'd paid for the seat (about five times what the materials for my own cost). I liked the shape of this seat in part because of the space for the built-in cup holder, always a handy thing near the cockpit.

I then transferred the pattern to a sheet of starboard, cut out the shape with a jigsaw, and rounded and smoothed the edges with a belt sander. Then it was time to mount it.

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Mounting the Stern Rail Seat

Stern Rail Seat Installation
Tom Lochhaas

Typically a stern rail seat needs three points of attachment to be stable and feel solid. If the corner bend in the rail is close enough to 90 degrees, it may work to attach the seat on the rail only, but with a wider angle, as on the boat shown here, a leg is likely needed along with two or more rail mounts.

As you can see in this photo, the mounting hardware is very simple, and you can fashion your own design or use fittings like those shown here. For a little more money you can use stainless steel to match your rails, but these under-seat fixtures are seldom seen anyway, so there's nothing wrong with galvanized steel for the leg (hardware plumbing department) and nylon rail clamps. Cup holders are cheap; simply cut out the right size hole and fit it in, held in place with an epoxy intended for plastics.

The entire construction and installation process takes only about an hour, and your new stern seat will likely become one of the most often used parts of your boat.

Other Do-It-Yourself Boat Projects

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Easy Boat Galley Improvements
How to Install a Bilge Pump Alarm on Your Boat