Install a Rod Holder

Author: Frank Lanier

While rod holders may not be considered critical deck hardware, it’s their absence at a critical moment that will make you fully aware of their value. Fortunately, adding a flush-mounted rod holder is one boat project that can be completed with minimal cash outlay, a little planning and an hour or so of do-it-yourself time.

Flush-mounted rod holders come in a variety of angles, from 0 to 60 degrees. When planning you installation, keep in mind that the greater the angle, the more space that’s required below the gunwale to accommodate it. Vertical (0 degree) holders require the least amount of space, but if you’re looking at 15- or 30-degree units, make sure the location you’ve selected has the room to accommodate them.

Inspect the area you’ve chosen carefully for conflicts with existing equipment, such as tackle boxes, other rod holders and cable runs. Open access plates or remove equipment, if necessary, to gain access and make sure you have sufficient space.

Consider the orientation of the rod holder, as well. For example, a 30-degree holder that’s fine when orientated fore and aft may not have sufficient room if it’s installed at a 90-degree angle to the vessel’s centerline.

Flush-mounted rod holders are available in a number of different materials, from plastic to stainless steel, so choose ones that best match the existing rod holders or fittings on your boat.

Most rod holders are open at the bottom, and any water that enters into one will simply drain into the space it is mounted in. If that’s not desirable, choose a model that has a drain tube, which can be routed to the cockpit, the bilge or overboard.

Steps to a Successful Installation

Verify the location has adequate access and clearance beneath the gunwale, both to mount the holder and reach/tighten the mounting hardware.

Cover the area with a good painter’s masking tape to protect the gelcoat from scratches and help prevent chipping while drilling or cutting.

Mark the center of the rod holder position using the template provided by the holder’s manufacturer. The hole will be more or less elliptical (depending on the rod holder angle) [1].

Install a Rod Holder

Position and clamp the jig (see sidebar) onto the gunwale [2].


Using the jig as a guide, begin cutting. Start slowly, applying moderate pressure as needed [3].


Once the cut is completed, insert the holder to check the fit and alignment, then mark the bolt holes and drill. When drilling bolt holes, run the drill in reverse until the bit is through the gelcoat (to help prevent chipping), then switch to forward and continue drilling.

Bevel each hole once it’s drilled. Doing so prevents future gelcoat cracking and provides a better seal once caulk is applied. File or sand the edge of the center hole as well.

Dry fit the holder and the mounting bolts to ensure a perfect fit prior to bedding (caulking) to include installation of the backing plate or fender washers.

Seal any exposed wood coring with epoxy and let it dry. Seal non-wood coring with a suitable marine-grade caulk (such as 3M 4200).

Apply a bead of caulk to the flange of the holder and bolt holes, then insert the holder in the mounting hole.

Install mounting hardware (backing plate, washers and locknuts) and snug up until the bedding compound begins to ooze out around the edges, then leave overnight to set up, forming a gasket. Come back the next day and tighten to the proper torque.

The Jig Is Up!

The easiest way to drill the mounting hole for an angled holder is to use a jig, which guides the hole saw, ensuring a proper angle of cut. To make a jig, find a scrap piece of 1-inch-thick wood wide enough to be clamped onto the gunwale. Clamp the wood on a work bench, invert the rod holder and place it face down on center with the angle aligned lengthwise. Match the angle of the drill with the angle provided by the rod holder, then drill. Depending on the angle, you will likely need to swap out the standard hole saw guide bit with a longer one.

After drilling, insert the holder into the jig to verify it fits flush and that the angle is correct.


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