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.
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.