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.
All the fenders described above are pneumatic, or air filled; they’re designed to offer a lot of cushion. Another type, the solid closed-cell foam fender, is very strong but doesn’t compress much. Such a fender tends to make a lot of noise against the hull and in extreme conditions can conceivably dent the hull.
|A large teardrop or round distress-orange fender has multiple uses: a trip line for a sea anchor (A), the center fender when rafting up or lying side to (B), an anchor marker (C), or a float on your ditch kit (D). Mark the buoy with your sailboat’s name and documentation number for easy identification. A carabiner spliced onto the end of a short tether allows the fender to be easily deployed for any of these uses.|
A softer version of the solid fender is the flat fender. I use cable ties to connect two of these to make a flat fender that’s long enough to hang from the aft rails right to the waterline. This prevents the dinghy from slipping under Roger Henry’s hard chine near the transom and doing serious damage. An added benefit is that when our overly adventurous feline falls off the boat, this fender can be easily scaled from the waterline all the way to deck level. We always throw it in the dinghy for beach parties because it makes a handy fireside seat.
When you tie fore and aft to a jetty or harbor wall, commonly known as Med mooring, any pitching motion can cause serious damage to the stem or stern. Some fenders on the market are specifically shaped to accommodate plumb stems or sugar-scoop transoms. As it’s nearly impossible to keep these fenders in place, they should never be relied upon. Adjust the spring lines to absolutely ensure that the vulnerable ends can’t come into contact with the dock at any stage of the tide. Use the lengthy fenderboard mentioned above to access shore.
If stowage space is an issue, large inflatable fenders may be the answer. They have an inner bladder protected by an outside envelope, usually made of Hypalon. Their size and light weight are assets, but beware of punctures from sharp protrusions and exerting excessive pressure against the rather fragile inner bladder. They can be inflated using a standard dinghy pump.