Fenders–Up or Down? In or Out?

Fenders are your boat’s best friend!


The majority of fenders are air filled vinyl cushions that hang on a fender line providing padding 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.

Without fenders, the dock will always win when the dock and the boat make contact. Your boat will look battered in no time. This can happen either during the docking process or as a result of strong wind or current. Sometimes, even your slip neighbor is the unsuspecting culprit, when his poorly tied lines come loose, allowing his boat to blow against yours.

Everybody knows that fenders are a “must have” for your boat to protect it from scrapes, scratches, gouges or much worse.

What most boaters don’t know, is what to do with their fenders after they leave the dock. So, what do you do with them?

Leave them down? Pull them Up? Take them off? If so, where do you put them?

Leave Fenders Down

fender flopping on a boat
fenders for docking a boat

We’ve all seen boaters who subscribe to leaving their fenders down thrashing in unsynchronized rhythm against the hull side while underway. Not only does this look bad for the boat and the captain, (like wearing a ball cap in Church), the fenders scratch the gelcoat. One boater who will remain nameless, says it is like a group of streakers running across the ball field—all bouncing and swinging out of sync. The constant beating of the waves loosens poorly tied knots and breaks plastic fender hangars. Everybody has seen the resulting lost fenders floating in the water.

fenders down for boat docking

Don’t donate your fenders this way and don’t create a revenue stream for the fiberglass repair shop—neither are a good investment.

There really isn’t a good reason to leave them down; unless maybe you are just going out for a short trip at idle speed. We don’t recommend leaving the harbour as shown in this cruiser at the right.

Pull Fenders Up


As you can tell by the foregoing, we don’t prescribe to leaving fenders down, when underway. It is much better to pull them up out of the water spray. You never see fenders hanging on boats in any brochures or magazine ads. That is because the professional marine photographers always insist on fender removal before any pictures. They just clutter up the picture.

  • On larger slow cruisers or trawlers, the easiest thing to do with fenders is to raise them and re-tie them at the sheerline, where they won’t be constantly hit by the spray.
  • For faster boats, fenders should be brought aboard and secured to prevent movement. As shown on the starboard side deck of this yacht, fenders can be tied on the side decks or stored in fender baskets. The problem with fender baskets on many express cruisers is that four or six fenders lined up across the bow in fender baskets, block your line of vision.
  • fenders-pullup-line
    For all styles and sizes of boats, having a drawstring attached to the bottom of the fenders, makes it quite easy to pull them up. This drawstring will pull the fenders parallel to the sheerline well clear of the spray as shown on this fiberglass cruiser. This method of pulling up fenders was invented back in the 1930’s on the old wooden launches.

    To set this up:

  • While you are still in your slip, tie your most aft fender from your stern cleat. From there, it can easily be lifted into the cockpit and stowed after leaving your slip.
  • Next, hang your amidships and forward fenders at the correct height for your dock,
  • Then run a narrow 1/4″ nylon line between the bottoms of each of these two or three fenders (forward and amidships) to your aft stern cleat. Tie a clove hitch and a locking half hitch at the bottom of each fender. You may have to adjust the knot on the bottom of the amidships fender slightly, so that the two fenders when hauled tight are all the way up and parallel to the sheerline.
  • Once you have left the dock, your First Mate can pull up these fenders to be parallel to the sheerline by pulling the 1/4″ line tight and securing it to the transom cleat. No more going forward to haul in individual fenders.

Take Fenders Off


The best thing to do with fenders, even though it is the most work, is to untie them and store them aft.

  • Larger boats have fender lockers within the transom or under the cockpit sole or under the cockpit seating. There, your fenders are totally out of the way and protected. They won’t do any harm or get lost, and won’t create any problems if you encounter bad weather.
  • fenders-on-transom
    For cruisers without a large locker to store the fenders, you can secure them across the transom to the taffrail with aRound Turn and Two Half Hitches. They will be safe and secure and handy when you return to your dock.
  • When rafting, it is important to know how to place the fenders, on which boat, how high and how to secure. Rafting is covered in our Docking Lessons

Tying Fenders


For Captains with deck hands, who are not proficient at tying a Round Turn and Two Half Hitches, or a Clove Hitch with a locking hitch, or a Bowline or a Cleat Hitch, and buy them an e-Lesson “Tying and Using Knots” with pictures and video links. The key here, is being able to use the knots appropriately, after you learn to tie them.

“Tying and Using Knots” teaches just the 6 basic knots that every boater should know—not the 50-100 other knots that you’ll probably never use. All our photos and our videos are shot from the eyes of the person tying the knot, which makes it a lot easier to follow the step-by-step instructions.


The lesson also explains many domestic and work related uses for each of the 6 knots, so you will learn to use them year round, not just on the boat. No need to re-learn knots every spring.

There are many “gadgets” on the market to hang fenders. They cost money, come undone when you least expect it, sink or disappear with your fender when you drop one, are in the wrong place when you need one, or you may not have enough for your particular situation. They require two hands—something you don’t have, when you are holding on for safety with one hand. If you accidentally do drop one overboard, it sinks.

Knots are far better. Knots are Free. Knots don’t need to be stored. Knots are already right there when you need them. Knots don’t get lost. Knots don’t fall overboard. Our Knot e-Lessons teach you how to hold on to the boat with one hand for safety and tie with the other hand.

Cruising Fenderless

For boaters who come and go from their own seasonal dock, there is another option. You can line the dock with permanently attached dock bumpers eliminating the need to have fenders on your boat. It simplifies the coming and going.

Store your travelling fenders in a locker, so that you will have protection from all the docks you’ll encounter when cruising. The rest of the time, you can go “fenderless”.

We’ve sourced some unique specialty dock bumpers that attach to the vertical edge or that wrap around the edge of the dock 270 degrees. Just secure with screws and you’re done. Here are several docking aids to protect your hull during the docking process—a small investment that could save thousands of dollars, especially when you have family members learning to handle and dock your boat.


At the dock, or underway,
boat fenders that are positioned properly, tied correctly, and the right size,
will protect your hull from dock damage
avoiding costly repairs and down time in the service shop.


dock bumpers will not only protect your boat while docking,
but will also allow you to boat “fenderless”,
simplifying the docking and undocking procedures.

1 thought on “Fenders–Up or Down? In or Out?”

  1. I recently moved to a coastal town, and I was thinking of trying out fishing while I’m here. It’s a good thing you told us that fenders help protect the boat from scrapes, scratches, gouges, or much worse damage, so it’s best to have them if you don’t want your boat to look battered over time. I’ll make sure to buy my boat fender holder from a trusted sports goods store once I get my fishing boat.

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