Everything You Need to Know About Boat Fenders
With their wide array of styles, sizes, shapes, colors, and materials, choosing the right boat fenders could get a bit confusing. We'll try to demystify this process for you.
Fenders at Work
Boat fenders, often referred to as boat bumpers, bumpers, or simply fenders, all have the same thing in common. They are used to protect the hull of the vessel from damage.
Most fenders are made from tough vinyls that can really take a beating, but some are made of fabric or PVC-covered foam. Fender materials resist the sun's ultraviolet rays, the effects of the saline environment, and many of the pollutants commonly found in and around harbors and marinas. Fenders that fit everything from personal watercraft to ocean-going yachts or ships are readily available.
Boat fenders work by absorbing the shock of vessels bumping into docks, pilings, and other vessels, thus protecting the boat from damage. Most boaters cushion their boats by setting their fenders just above the waterline when tying up to floating docks.
But when rafting together, fenders need to be placed at the widest point of where they are contacting the other boat. As for pilings, many folks would rather not dock next to one, as the pilings push the fenders aside, leaving little to no protection. Happily, there are special fenders available for docking next to pilings and even for rafting.
Protecting Your Boat in Your Slip
Instead of fenders, many boaters who have a slip of their own choose a more customized approach by using dock cushions, dock guards, and dock wheels placed at the corners. If you have a slip and don't want fenders perpetually hanging from your boat, using these alternatives is a good way to go. To avoid being that boater with black streaks on their hull, get white dock cushions or bumpers.
Make sure all the most likely points of impact are well covered with dock edging. You can also vertically mount dock bumpers on the pilings, or simply use a use a post bumper. And the worst of the worst for dings and scratches--the dock corner--must be decked out in a dock wheel or at least a quality dock corner.
For cylindrical fenders, figure on roughly 1" of diameter for every four-to-five feet of boat length and 2" of diameter if you're going for spherical fenders. These recommendation are not exact--they can't be, because fender size also depends on boat weight, conditions, and where you'll attach them. A boat tied to an unprotected dock end with a tidal surge or choppy water needs more protection than one docked in a serene lake.
Large diameter fenders provide the best protection, as it's the fender width that separates the boat from the dock. Before purchasing, you'll also need to decide things like what style and color you want, as well as if you'll be hanging the fenders vertically or horizontally.
So Many Fender Shapes and Types
Flat, round, cylindrical, transom-mounted fenders, and more. Let's start with the round ones which, incidentally can also be used as mooring buoys in a pinch, if they're orange. These round fenders are great for the big commercial vessels and large pleasure boats with concave bows.
There are flat fenders that can be strung together for customization, and hinged-style flat ones that wrap around the gunwales of small boats. Then there's Big B fenders by Taylor Made, with their 3/4" center rope tube for passing a line through. These can be hung vertically or horizontally, and can even be strung together.
Are there times when you prefer to dock stern-to? Transom mounted fenders are perfect for this, as they'll protect your boat's swim step or transom. No slip available at the marina? Try Freedom Fenders by Taylor Made, that are roughly V-shaped, allowing you to safely tie up to a piling.
PolyForm Hole-Through-the-Middle (HTM) Boat Fenders
There are cylindrical fenders
with an eye at each end. You can tie lines on both ends and use them horizontally, or tie to one end and hang it vertically.
If a flotilla of friends tied up for a party is on the list, rafting cushions could be your best friend. These fenders were created specifically for rafting boats together, have different mounting options, and large surface. And they don't roll or ride up, so they can even be used for tying up to a piling.
Need heavy-duty fenders? Tuff End fenders by Taylor Made come in cylindrical and round shapes, which are great for deep V, flared hulls. They’re used on many commercial vessels and large pleasure boats.
Small low freeboard fenders work well for the likes of bass and other small fishing boats, and even ski boats. The larger size will keep larger boats from riding up under high docks, as the fenders are placed high on the hull and hang inward over the gunwale. Low Freeboard fenders can also be tied over the cleat putting protection where it is needed.
There are even whimsical fenders that cater to boat owners who embrace the different, such as the mermaid fender produced by Taylor Made Products. A mermaid fender might appear as a gimmick, but their fans say that these fenders function just as well as other shapes in protecting their boats against damage.
Pontoons Need Fenders Too
But what if you have a pontoon boat? Never fear, there are special fenders for pontoon boats that will protect curves, corners, and fences. Try the Fence Saver II, Pontoon Protector 90, and the Pontoon Curve Protector.
Last but definitely not least, personal watercraft deserves some love, too. Not to worry, as there even special fenders for these fun rides.
Boat Fender Accessories
As it was with fenders, so it is with boat fender accessories. The choices seems endless, but we'll just focus on a few. One of the most basic of these are fender covers to keep your shiny new fenders clean.
Then there are almost more fender clips that, as the name suggests, simply clip onto a railing or lifeline. Some of these even come in kits, complete with fender lines. There are fender adjusters, fender straps, and many other types of rail mounts.
But all the fenders in the world, along with their covers and numerous rail mounts, will do no good without something to attach betwixt the two. Fender lines are...wait for it...numerous. Perhaps as numerous as the swim suited bodies at a free-drink tiki bar during Sprink Break.
These ubiquitous fender lines can be found in a rainbow of colors, and pre-spliced as well. Many, like Sea-Dog fender lines, are quite reasonably priced as well. And to keep your fenders from flapping in the breeze while underway or taking up space in your boat, try one of the many rail-mount fender holders.
Now that you have all those beautiful fenders, you can easily keep them clean with something like Starbrite fender cleaner, which will also clean up your inflatable dinghy. And don't forget the fender pump. No one likes a flat.
While boat fenders do a good job of protecting a boat's hull from damage, over time they can mark up the hull. To avoid this, it is good practice to move them to a different location from time to time, wash the hull regularly and apply a good wax that will give the hull a smooth, slick surface. For those boaters who have their vessel on a mooring buoy, "fender rash" is not such a concern.
It's been a bit of a whirlwind tour of the world of boat fenders and boat fender accessories, but it should be enough to give you some ideas and a starting point to jump off when you're ready to shop. Whether purchasing boat fenders for the first time, replacing boat bumpers, or simply performing routine maintenance, you'll find many of these items right here, at fair prices.