“My husband orders me to put out the fenders, but never says how high or how low. Regardless where I put them, he yells at me that they are at the wrong height. Help me, before I hang him up from the nearest yardarm!”
This request greeted me in my emails the other day.
Freda and her husband have a 28’ cruiser with single sterndrive. I thought a whole article would be better than an individual reply in this case, as many First Mates run into this same situation.
Fender height is very important when docking and, knowing how to figure it out each time, is key. My advice to Freda so she could stop fender height fretting.......
The majority of fenders are air filled vinyl cushions that hang on a fender line providing padding/protection between the hull of the boat and a dock or other object. Some people mistakenly call them “bumpers”; but, just like the kitchen belongs in your house, bumpers belong on a car or on your dock—not a boat.
Depending on the size of the boat, you would have three or more, attached by lines and knots, to cleats or stanchion bases. Your goal is to put them evenly spaced and positioned to be between the boat and the dock/wall so that the boat doesn’t touch the wall or dock directly.
You want to hang your fenders, so that about 75% - 80% of the fender’s height is below the dock’s top; i.e. the dock’s walking surface. When approaching a typical floating dock that is about 2’ to 3’ above the water, hang your fenders with the bottom almost touching the water. This will keep the fender’s weight below the dock’s top. This will prevent the fender rolling up onto the top of the dock, rendering it useless.
When approaching a higher fixed/permanent dock, hang your fenders with the tops a couple of inches above your boat’s sheerline and well below the dock’s top. This should be about the right height to protect your sheerline.
You can always adjust them slightly, once you are alongside.
As you approach and are hanging your fenders in preparation for docking, the best knot to use is a clove hitch. This knot is easy allowing you to take up or let out more fender line to adjust the height up or down. Once the height is confirmed to be correct, then lock each clove hitch in place with a couple of half hitches.
For boats/cruisers with bow rails and stanchions/posts, tie the fender line around the middle of the post. This knot location gives you the post height to quickly and easily adjust the fender height by sliding the clove hitch up or down the post.
Once you are confirmed or docked, fine tune the height. Push the clove hitch to the bottom of the stanchions. Take up the slack. Then, lock the clove hitches in place with a couple of half hitches. This will prevent the clove hitch from working loose and dropping the fender.
To become proficient at tying these two knots, plus a few more needed on the boat and around home or work, see Tying and Using Knots e-lesson with video links for only $11.95—less than one fender gadget. Also knots don’t fall overboard and sink.
Most boaters usually tie up at only a few docks—many times per season. Once you are tied at each of your popular docks and have your fenders secured at the perfect height, take note. Either write it in your log or easier still, take a few photos on your smart phone/camera. First shot should be the dock as you approach, so you can identify the location i.e. restaurant or fuel. Next, shoot the fenders, hull and deck from both the swim platform view and from ahead of the boat standing on the dock.
Next time you approach that dock, pull up your photos for reference. You’ll always know the correct fender height by checking your smart phone.
Freda, no more fender height fretting!
Freda, no more getting yelled at!
Knowing how fenders work and how to position them will help First Mates everywhere, and relieve the tension and stresses so many experience when docking.