How to Use Fenders: Between a Dock and a Hard Place
A cruiser offers a guide to the enlightened art of fendering, along with useful tips to prevent wear-and-tear to your sailboat’s topsides. Hands-On Sailor "Seamanship" from our September 2012 issue.
|When pulling up to a dock with pilings, place a fenderboard between the vertical piling and two fenders tied to your sailboat’s lower lifeline (top). This spreads the load and protects the hull if the boat rocks back and forth in waves. Avoid using a single fender tied horizontally (bottom), as it can become dislodged.|
The rules for sailing in Japan are simple: Do as you’re told. So when the Aburatsu harbormaster indicated that my wife, Diana, and I should raft up next to a run-down fishing scow, I turned in Roger Henry, our 36-foot Damien IV steel cutter, without hesitation. As we approached it, I saw jagged shards of wood and rusty bolts jutting out from the splintered rubrail, poised to wreak unspeakable havoc upon our boat’s topsides. I yelled forward to Diana to drop our 32-inch-diameter polystyrene fender over the starboard side. We named this disposable orange monstrosity Freddy Fender because its job was to “be there before the next teardrop falls.” We barged in boldly and tied up, lying a safe distance off.
Throughout our three months in Japan, we anchored only once. Every other night we either rafted up to rough fishing boats or tied to industrial wharfs. And yet, thanks to an arsenal of fenders, stout fenderboards, and some well-honed tactics, we escaped without so much as a flesh wound.
The following fender types and tips should help you keep your boat’s topsides in tip-top condition.
Always deploy the fenders from the boat, not the dock. This allows the fenders to follow the hull in tidal conditions and to be adjusted from the deck, and you can make a quick escape, if necessary, without leaving them behind.
Use the right knot. When attaching fenders over a lifeline or rail, I use the slippery clove hitch because it’s easy to tie, quick to release, and holds well. If I’m routing the line through a padeye or similar piece of hardware, I change to a slippery half hitch with a long tail. (To tie the slippery version of these two popular knots, fold the bitter end over on itself to form a bow that can be easily untied.)
To secure fenders, I use 5/16- to 3/8th-inch-diameter lines, which are strong, chafe resistant, and easy to tie and untie. Don’t use polypropylene, as its innate slipperiness makes it unreliable. Note: The market is full of catchy little gizmos—hangers, portable cleats, stow straps—that we’ve found are mostly unnecessary.
When you’re rafting up or lying alongside, safety lies in size more than numbers. A battery of undersized fenders isn’t as effective as two to three fenders of the right size, style, and placement.