How To Properly Place A Fender

By Pam Wall

Four steps to prevent your boat from banging into a dock or piling.

When you maneuver your boat alongside a dock, another boat, or into a tight slip, it can be a bit of a challenge to decide where to place the fenders, especially if it's an unfamiliar situation. These simple suggestions make improved protection easy.

1. Prepare fenders ahead of time. "Fender whips" are the lines used to tie the fender to the boat. Some fenders come with molded-in eyes at either end, and for those you'll need two separate fender whips, each at least the length of the fender. Other fenders have a cylindrical hole molded down the center and open at either end; for these, use one long line, at least three times the length of the fender. Run it through the center of the fender and position it so that an equal length of line extends from either end of the fender. Secure it with a figure-eight knot close to the fender at either end to keep the line centered. Use a soft nylon or spun Dacron line, not slippery line, which allows any knot to come undone easily.

2. Based on the type of surface your boat will contact, decide if the fenders need to be tied vertically or horizontally. If you're going alongside another boat, a flat area of a dock, or a seawall, vertical fenders usually work well. If, on the other hand, you're going alongside a piling or a post, most likely you'll want to hang your fenders horizontally.

If the spaces between the pilings is large, you may also need a fender board over two fenders to prevent the fenders from slipping between the pilings and allowing your topsides to rub against the dock. If you carry ball-shaped fenders, of course, there's only one way to hang those.

3. As you approach, position the fender in the best location. You want at least one large fender at the widest part of the boat, with additional fenders forward and aft of that. Secure the fender using the fender whips. When approaching the dock, it's fine to attach the fender to the lifelines or rail, though you'll want to move them later.

A clove hitch (see photos at right) works best to tie the fender to the boat, but it's not easily adjusted, and you may need to adjust it quickly as you come alongside to make sure it hangs at the correct height. Rather than finishing off the clove hitch, take the bight of the bitter end back through the hitch to finish the clove hitch with a slippery hitch. This allows you easily to release the clove hitch, adjust the height, and retie it while you're getting positioned on the dock.

Once you've secured the boat, reposition the fenders to give the most protection in the slip or alongside the other vessel. While most people leave their fenders on the top lifeline or rail, this creates the most leverage when the fender is getting squeezed against the dock and can damage stanchions. If your boat has high topsides, it's better to attach them to a midships cleat, to a toerail, or to the bottom of a stanchion.

Adjust all your fenders to the correct height and positioning for whatever you're lying against. Now's the time to change the hitch to a full clove hitch, with one or two half hitches tightened securely to keep the fender whip from coming loose. 

Pam Wall is a sailing instructor, seminar speaker, and consultant to world cruisers.

— Published: Fall 2016

How To Tie A Clove Hitch

Tying a clove hitch step 1

1. Pass the line over the rail, bringing it around and over itself diagonally and the rail a second time.

Tying a clove hitch step 2

2. Fish the working end underneath the diagonal cross.

Tying a clove hitch step 3

3. Pull it tight. The center of the knot should be two lines running parallel, but in opposite directions. Finish it with a half-hitch or over-hand knot to prevent slippage.



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