DIY rod racks fitted to a boat

How To: Build A Fishing Rod Rack On A Boat

It’s amazing how many boatbuilders don’t provide adequate fishing rod storage. Follow this easy step-by-step guide on how to make your own DIY rodholder rack.



I rarely do a fishing boat review where I don’t find myself complaining about a lack of storage for rods. As a fanatical fisherman, it amazes me that an industry capable of building such brilliant boats often ignores the fact that fishermen use expensive gear, often to the tune of thousands of dollars’ worth, and we need somewhere to stow it safely. Leaving it in a heap is just asking for expensive breakages.

A fishing rod rack that keeps rods out of the way and securely stowed during the bumps and bangs inevitably encountered on fishing trips is neither expensive nor difficult to engineer. Only basic DIY skills are needed to build and install such a thing, along with a few tools that can easily be borrowed if necessary.



Here’s the list of tools that you’ll need to build a rod rack for a boat.

• Hand saw (preferably a tenon saw).

• Drill with two hole saws to cut holes around 25 and 50mm diameter.

• 10mm and 6mm drill.

• Ruler or tape measure and set square.

• Fine point permanent marker.

• Wood file (one with a rasp on one side and a file on the other is perfect).

• Some sanding paper, 80 and 240 grit to finish edges.

• Router with a suitably-sized bit fitted.

• Most importantly, you’ll need a work bench, saw horse or similar to work on, and a vice or clamp to hold the material in place while you shape your rack.


1: Figure out where to put your DIY rod rack

The basic material for our rod rack is plastic sheet, 15-19mm thick. The best material to use is marine sheeting called “Starboard” that boatbuilders use in a multitude of applications. Look around most boats, particularly large ones, and you’ll notice white plastic sheeting used for doors, hatches, shelves and a myriad of other things. The rack holding a gaff and boat hook in this Cruise Craft above, for example, is shaped from Starboard. This basic design works just as well as a rod rack.

Unfortunately, Starboard is expensive if you’re buying a full sheet from a marine wholesaler. Some big chandleries may sell smaller pieces so it’s worth phoning around to find out.

A low cost alternative is plastic cutting board. Whether you scrounge a well-used one from the kitchen or buy one specifically to build your rod rack, they’re not very expensive at all. It’s best to use a board around 15mm thick (or thicker if you can find it) rather than thinner ones because a thicker rack isn’t as likely to mark rod butts.

If using a second-hand cutting board darkened by mould and / or marked by knife cuts, first treat it with raw bleach to kill the mould, then sand it with an orbital sander to leave a regular pattern of marks on the surface.

Now comes the most difficult part: figuring out where the rack will go, how many rods it will stow, and how to fix it in place. At this point you also need to decide how far apart the rods need to be (so reels don’t damage each other) and how the rack will be fixed to the boat’s interior. Large reels obviously need more clearance from each other, while smaller estuary and freshwater ones need less.

A rack is easily mounted to an aluminium boat with ribs up each side, because it can simply be bolted or pop-riveted to the ribs. Otherwise, a rack may need to be fastened to the side of the boat, the deck or under the sidedeck with brackets. There are a lot of variables here so you’ll have to work this part out for yourself. You can do it!


2: Mark out the board

With dimensions and fastenings figured, the first job is to mark the rack out on the board using a fine point permanent marker.

If you make a mistake, marker ink erases easily with methylated spirit.


3: Use a hole saw to cut slots for the butts

Now you need a drill fitted with a hole saw to cut holes for the butts, and to form neat slots to hold your rods in place. If the butt end of your rack penetrates a bulkhead, you may have to use vertical (90°) flush deck rodholders inserted through the board. These can be anything from el cheapo plastic models to top-of-the-range stainless steel, depending on your budget. If your rack doesn’t penetrate a bulkhead, then a 50mm-diameter hole is perfect. At the other end of the rack, the slots hold rods in place thanks to their angle and a bungee cord stretched across the rack (see below).


4: Cut holes for the other end

Use a 25mm hole saw to form the basis of slots marked out. The smaller hole (10mm diameter), marked to the left of the picture, will ultimately become a smaller slot to stretch a bungee cord across the rack. Those two holes at the right will hold the other end (or ends) of the bungee, which are fed through from opposite sides and tied off with an overhand knot.

Obviously, the length of cord is adjusted so it’s stretched enough to hold rods firmly in place. Before you start drilling, note that the bungee must run in a straight line behind the rods in their slots so as to hold them firmly in place.


5: Cut the angled slots

Either type of plastic sheeting can be worked with wood working tools. I prefer a tenon saw for cutting because it leaves a finer finish, with nice straight edges. A jig saw is faster, but doesn’t cut straight edges as easily.

Using the saw, create angled slots in what has nearly become the tip end of your rod rack. And, while you’re at it, make a smaller slot to hold the bungee at the bottom of the rack. If your rack meets a curved part of the hull, now’s the time to shape the back edge to fit neatly.

Before finishing the edges, slots and holes with the router, round any sharp corners with the wood file. If necessary, sand away any scarf.


6: Get the router out

The router should be fitted with a bit that’s sized to the radius of each side of the sheeting, so as to leave a small flat on the edge in between. It’s not difficult to achieve a professionally finished rack, with a little care. However, to make it easier to clamp the sheeting in place, it may be better to do as much finishing and router work as you can, then separating the two pieces of your rod rack once everything is finished neatly.

As mentioned previously, fixing the rack in place is generally easier in tinnies (with side ribs), but can require some skill in other boats. In any case, insulate bolts and washers with a jointing compound such as Duralac.  You need to do this because stainless steel fixings will result in electrolysis with the aluminium.

In some boats it’s possible to stow rods facing both forward and aft with their tip ends in the slots in the centre of your rack. If the curve of the bow causes rods or reels to rattle against the hull, glue marine carpet over the trouble spot to prevent damage.


7: Attach the bungee cord

This is what the rod rack looks like with the bungee cord attached. As noted previously, the cord should be stretched enough to hold the rods.


8: Fit your DIY rod racks to your boat

Here’s the rack (or rather, half of it) I built for my own boat. There’s another one portside that holds a further three rods. Note that I tapered the bottom of my rack away from passing feet, and used costly but durable stainless rodholders where the butt end penetrates a bulkhead.

The rodholders forming the butt end of my rack penetrated dry stowage space, so I had to seal the ends to stop water entry. “Bearing buddy” caps provided a cheap fix here.


9: Admire your work

That’s all there is to it for a simple and effective way to preserve your precious fishing gear. Now what are you waiting for? Get out there and catch some fish!