by Des Ryan
The humble fender doesn't rate much as a news item, but the difference between the using a well-placed, right-sized fender and the wrong one can mean the difference between a damaged boat or a clean shiny hull. Here are some tips that I found invaluable in many thousands of miles of sailing
Approaching the dock - do you have your fenders in the right position?
Tip 1. Make sure that each fender you attach is attached to something more solid than a life line. Examples are a the base of the rigging or sometimes a deck cleat. If you must attach it to a stanchion, make sure it is attached to the bottom end, and not the top, where it can put too much strain on the line and the stanchion.
Tip 2. Make sure that the knot you use to attach the fender is secure, but simple to do and undo. There are a number of reasons for this. First, if the dock you are heading for turns out to be at a slightly different height than you were expecting, you might need to change the positions of the fenders quickly. Secondly, sometimes you are asked to change from docking port-to to starboard-to or vice versa at the last moment because of changing conditions.
For attaching fenders over the side of a yacht, use a slippery clove hitch. If routing the line through a padeye or similar piece of hardware, change to a slippery half hitch with a long tail. There are some clever inventions on the market for quick tying and untying, the best of which are good quality hangers, which are very fast to attach and re-attach.
Tip 3. When positioning a fender in preparation for docking, the ideal level is just scraping the water. This is important so that it can't be pushed up by the movement of the boat against the dock, exposing your topsides to unwelcome damage.
Tip 4. Fenders should be positioned to protect the widest beam of the boat. A fender up near the bow or down near the stern can be useless unless you happen to have a helmsman who can't dock correctly.
Tip 5. Once the fenders are in place, an extra 'floating' fender, preferably a large flat one, can be used for inadvertant possible collisions during docking.
Tip 6. Don't depend on fenders on the dock. While it may be of assistance while docking that there are protective fenders along a dock, the fenders of most use to your boat are those that you place in strategic positions along your boat and that will ride up and down in the tide with you.
Tip 7. Don't use Polypropylene lines on fenders - they are slippery and innately insecure.
Tip 8. When rafting with another boat, the stationary boat should be treated as the dock. It will have its fenders out, but it is up to the rafting boat to ensure a smooth arrival.
Tip 9. Fenders are prone to rapid deterioration from UV. Covers are worth their weight on gold. It takes gold to buy the professional ones, but if there's someone handy on the boat, they are easy to make with stretchy material. The cover is also the first rubbing point, and will make your fenders last longer.
Tip 10. After docking it's good idea to tie both ends of the fender in place so that the bottom end is not now touching the water.
Finally, What kind of fenders are best?
Certainly you will need several cylindrical fenders suitable to the size of your boat. These are best for general docking, as their length is the most forgiving of discrepancies between the dock and your boat level. However, in addition, flat fenders are great as 'floating' fenders, which are excellent for warding off misbehaving or dragging boats. A big round fender (they are usually red) comes in extremely handy to protect your stern(dependent on its shape) if you are med mooring to a dock.... and don't forget the greatest of them all, the fender board (pictured, and very easy to make), for when you want to keep that barnacle encrusted dock a long way from your precious topsides.