What Is The Gunwale On A Boat? | LakeWizard

Key Takeaways

  • Gunwale provides structural support and attachment points for accessories.
  • Gunwales serve various purposes, offering protection, depending on the boat's design.
  • Many materials are used to construct gunwales to suit specific boat types and features.

Enhance your boating expertise by unraveling the intriguing role of the gunwale – your ticket to a more enjoyable voyage.

The gunwale on a boat is the upper edge of the boat's sides, running horizontally along its length. It serves as a crucial structural component, providing stability and support. Understanding its role is paramount for safe and enjoyable boating experiences.

As an avid boater, I've come to intimately understand the significance of the gunwale on a boat. My expertise has been honed through countless adventures, and I'm excited to share my insights with you. Let’s explore the ins and outs of this essential component for an enhanced and safer boating journey.

Table of contents


What Is The Gunwale On A Boat?

The gunwale is a crucial structural component of a boat, which serves several purposes to ensure the vessel's functionality and safety. It refers to the top edge of a boat's hull, found on both sides of the boat.

This upper edge plays an important role in maintaining the boat's overall structural integrity and providing support and attachment points for various accessories. Gunwales can be made from different materials, including wood, metal, or plastic.

Different Parts of the Gunwale

The gunwale (pronounced "gunnel") is an essential part of a boat, and understanding its components can enhance your knowledge of boating terms and boat maintenance.

Upper Edge

The upper edge is the topmost part of the gunwale that runs along the boat's hull. It provides strength and rigidity to the vessel's body, making it crucial for stability and safety. The upper edge can be made of wood, metal, or synthetic materials, depending on the type of boat and its intended use.


The side of the gunwale refers to the area between the upper edge and the deck. It acts as a protective barrier, preventing water from entering the boat and providing support for passengers.

In canoes and other small vessels, the side is often equipped with handrails or grab handles to assist with boarding and maneuvering the boat.


The wale is a horizontal reinforcing band added to the structure of a ship. Dating back to the middle of the 15th century, the term "gunwale" originated from the "gunwale" on warships, which was crucial for offsetting the stresses created by firing artillery.


The hull is the main body of the boat, including the sides and bottom, giving the vessel its shape and buoyancy. The gunwale is located at the top edge of the hull, playing a crucial role in ensuring your safety and freedom while out on the water.


The deck is the boat's floor, covering the hull and providing a surface for passengers and crew. The gunwale and deck meet to form a strong, watertight seal that ensures the integrity and safety of the vessel.


Gunnel is an alternative spelling for gunwale, though they refer to the same structure: the upper edge of a boat's hull where the hull and deck meet. Regardless of which term is used, the gunwale plays a pivotal role in the boat's construction, safety, and stability.

This table summarizes parts of the gunwale and their purposes.

Parts of the Gunwale Function
Upper Edge Provides strength and rigidity to the vessel's body
Side Acts as a protective barrier and supports passengers
Wale Horizontal reinforcing band in ship's structure
Hull The main body of the boat, including the sides and bottom
Deck The boat's floor, covering the hull
Gunnel (alternative spelling) Pronounced the same as gunwale, refers to the same structure

Purpose and Function of the Gunwale

The gunwale is an essential part of a boat, providing a variety of functions such as support, safety, storage, and boarding assistance.


The primary function of the gunwale is to provide structural support for the boat's hull and deck. Due to its location at the top edge of the boat, it helps maintain the shape and rigidity of the vessel.

Traditionally, gunwales were made of wood, such as white ash, but nowadays, synthetic materials like fiberglass and aluminum are more commonly found on most boats. This structural support is necessary to maintain the boat's stability and integrity.


Safety is another critical role of the gunwale. Acting as a barrier between the water and the boat, it prevents falling overboard, making it safer for passengers on board. Additionally, the gunwale serves as a handrail for those boarding or moving about the boat, offering support and stability.


Gunwales can also serve as mounting points for storage options on a boat, such as rod holders and cleats. These attachments can help keep the boat organized and easily accessible for fishing or other activities.


The gunwale can also assist in boarding by offering a grip point for passengers stepping onto the boat. It can be especially helpful when the boat is not docked, or passengers are boarding from another vessel.


One of the vital roles of the gunwale is protecting the boat's edge. It shields the boat from potential damage when it is in contact with another vessel or dock, which can lead to costly repairs.

Rod Holders

For fishing enthusiasts, the gunwale is also commonly used as an attachment point for rod holders. These devices securely hold fishing rods while the boat is in use, allowing the angler to focus on other tasks or enjoy the fishing experience without constantly having to hold the rod.

Materials Used in Gunwale Construction

The construction of a boat's gunwale is crucial to its functionality and performance. Various materials are used to create a gunwale that serves its purpose, providing strength and durability.


Historically, wood has been a popular material for gunwale construction due to its availability, natural strength, and appealing appearance. Different types of wood are used in building gunwales, such as oak, mahogany, and teak.

Wooden gunwales offer boats a classic look and feel, providing warmth and a sense of tradition. However, wooden gunwales require regular maintenance to prevent rot and damage caused by water exposure.


Aluminum gunwales have become increasingly common, especially in the construction of modern boats. This material is lightweight, strong, and corrosion-resistant, making it an ideal choice for boats that will be used in saltwater environments or subjected to rough conditions.

Aluminum gunwales provide a sleek and contemporary appearance while offering the durability and low maintenance that most boat owners seek. Like wood, aluminum gunwales can be used for various boat types, including canoes, sea vessels, and more.


Fiberglass is a popular material used in gunwale construction due to its unique properties. Made from a blend of glass fibers and resin, fiberglass offers a strong and lightweight option for boat gunwales.

One key advantage of fiberglass gunwales is their resistance to water damage and rot which can affect wooden gunwales over time. They are also low maintenance compared to their wooden counterparts.

Synthetic Materials

Advancements in material sciences have led to the development of synthetic materials for gunwale construction. These materials can offer a number of benefits compared to traditional options, such as increased strength, flexibility, and resistance to environmental factors.

Synthetic materials like composites and plastics can deliver a strong and durable gunwale without the weight of wood or aluminum. They can also be designed to imitate the appearance of traditional materials.

Types of Gunwales and Their Features

When it comes to different types of boats, the gunwales serve various purposes and are made up of distinct materials.

Canoe Gunwales

Canoe gunwales are typically made from natural materials like wood or synthetic materials like aluminum or plastic, which provide stability and support to the canoe. White ash is a popular choice for wooden gunwales due to its lightweight and durability.

Fishing Boat Gunwales

Fishing boat gunwales are designed with anglers in mind, providing easy access to essential gear and equipment. They often feature built-in rod holders, storage compartments, and attachment points for fishing accessories.

Bay Boat Gunwales

Bay boats are versatile vessels used in shallow waters, featuring gunwales that serve dual purposes. They house rod holders and storage compartments and provide a walkway for passengers to move from the forward section to the aft of the boat without stepping on the deck.

Console Boat Gunwales

Center console boats have gunwales that provide additional support to the overall vessel structure. These gunwales serve as the upper edge of the boat's hull and offer space for mounting important accessories and equipment.

The height of console boat gunwales varies depending on the size of the boat and the type of water it is designed to navigate. Materials used for console boat gunwales usually include aluminum, fiberglass, or wood.

Skiff Gunwales

Skiffs are small, shallow-draft boats primarily used for inshore fishing. Skiff gunwales are designed to provide stability and support for passengers and their gear. The materials used for skiff gunwales usually include aluminum, fiberglass, or wood, depending on the boat's design and manufacturer's preference.