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Seven top fender tips to protect your sailing boat

by John Jamieson on 30 Sep 2011
Fenders fenders fenders - how many? What size? What will I need? .. .
Imagine that you enter a new marina to take on some fuel, when all of a sudden--out of nowhere your engine coughs, spits, burps, and dies. You push the starter button, but get no response! Have you prepared your sailing partner or short-handed crew with the skills they need to cushion the impact with another boat, pier, seawall, or piling? John Jamieson (Captain John) shares these little-known 'fendering' secrets.

Fenders protect your cruising boat when you tie up to or leave from a dock or slip. And they protect other boats or structures from costly damage. Put these vital tools into play the right way with these seven seamanship tips…

1. Determine the Right Size Fender Diameter:

In his delightful book 'Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Started Sailing', John Vigor recommends one inch of fender diameter for every five feet of boat length. If you find this diameter too large for practical storage, consider building a fender-board (see tip five) to give your hull the ultimate in fendering protection.

2. Carry Six to Eight Fenders:

Enter a marina and you need at least three fenders on each side of the boat plus one for roving. Lose your engine and you might need to drift over to a pier or slip to port or starboard. Always be prepared to change sides in an instant. Make this standard procedure aboard your boat when setting up docking lines and fenders.

If you raft up alongside another sailboat (tie up to a boat while they are anchored), or need to be 'towed-on-the-hip', you will need clusters of fenders at the bow, beam, and stern to hold you tight alongside the other boat. Carry more fenders than you think you may need and you will be prepared for unexpected events.

3. Assign a Roving Fender:

Tie a six foot piece of nylon line to a large fender. Make a loop by tying a bowline knot through the eye on each side of the fender. This allows the fender to be held in a vertical or horizontal position. Watch all sides of the boat. Move (rove) to any point that needs to be fended.

When coming alongside a protruding structure like a piling, hold the fender in the horizontal position to spread the area of protection and prevent the fender from 'rolling' off the structure. When coming alongside a flat structure like a seawall, hold the fender in a vertical position.

4. Position Fenders for Docking Alongside:

When you dock alongside a flat face pier or dock, hang vertical fenders near the beam and stern of the boat. These two areas will receive the maximum amount of wear and tear once you are alongside.

When docking alongside a pier with pilings that protrude out from the pier, use horizontal fenders adjacent to the pilings. You may need to use vertical fenders or fender clusters (two or more fenders bunched together) to cushion contact with the flat part of the pier or structure.

5. Make a Fender-board:

For the ultimate protection for your costly boat hull, make a fender-board. It will spread the amount of protection across a wide expanse of your boat hull. Drill holes on the top of each end of a three to four foot piece of lumber. Tie or splice a four foot piece of line to each hole.

Hang the board on the outside of two or more fenders. That way, the board contacts the pier; the fenders protect your hull. Attach the line to cleats or robust deck fittings (not lifelines!).

Additional Sailing Tip:

PVC makes a light, efficient fender board. Cement PVC pipe caps onto each end of a four foot piece of large diameter PVC tube. Drill holes near the ends of the tube. Drill straight through the tube so that you have a hole on the top and bottom of the tube. Pass four foot pieces of line through the holes on each side of the tube. Tie an overhand knot on the outside to anchor the line to your PVC fenderboard.

6. Align Fenders inside a Slip:

Position horizontal fenders adjacent to each piling. In areas with negligible tidal range, you could mount horizontal fenders onto the piling. Horizontal fenders spread the protection of the fender over a greater surface area and have less of a tendency to roll off the piling.

Hang vertical fenders between the boat and the finger pier. Position the fenders low enough so that they protect the hull as the tide rises and falls.

7. Use Fender Covers:

Tar and dirt can stain your costly fenders and transfer the grunge onto another boat. In addition, UV rays cause damage to the rubber fender material after years of hard duty. Fender bags with elastic tops--called fender covers--are worth their weight in gold to defend against these problems.

Use these seven boat fender tips to save on repair costs and protect your expensive investment. You'll be glad you did the next time the unexpected comes your way!

John Jamieson (Captain John) with 25+ years of experience shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need for safer sailing worldwide. Visit his website at www.skippertips.com for a free issue of the highly popular 'Captain John's Sailing Tips' newsletter. Discover how you can gain instant access to hundreds of sailing articles just like this, along with sailing videos, FREE e-Books and more!

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