Pulling Into The Slip: All About Dock Bumpers and Fenders
What was the most harrowing part of your very first solo boat expedition? I can recall mine quite clearly. Pulling out of the slip and tooling around feeling like a million bucks, until it was time to get back into the slip. I was mortified. Surely my boat wasn't going to survive the trial run! Despite my inexperience and shaky hands, I did manage to get back into the slip with minimal scrapes and dings. How did this miracle come to pass? Well, an extreme abundance of dock bumpers and fenders were a great help.
If you are engineering your own slip then you might need to set up your own bit of protection. What kinds of dock bumpers and fenders exist out there? What are the advantages and disadvantages or the different types of dock bumpers and fenders? There are definitely some things you need to be aware of. There are very few disadvantages to most of these setups, but some types of fender do jobs much better than others, so let's dive right in!
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Tires are a great choice to hang dockside to prevent unfortunate impacts. You'll find tires being used as dock bumpers and fenders all around the world and there are two really good reasons for doing so. The first is because they're durable and can withstand plenty of impact. The second major reason is to keep them out of landfills. If such a simple action can keep the planet cleaner on top of keeping my boat safe, then I'm more than willing to do so.
I will say that tires don't look great. If you're going for aesthetics then you'll probably want to write off using tires as dock bumpers right away. Tires used as fenders can be extremely damaging when rubbing against a fiberglass hull so you'll want to be careful around those lovely shiny boat hulls. In order for a tire dock bumper to be effective you'll want to place them close together to spread out any impact from your boat as much as possible.
Dock edging is probably not the greatest choice for a first time boater, but it does look rather pleasing. If your boat is rubbing the side of the dock due to the ocean's natural waves then you can rest assured that a length of dock edging will keep your boat safe from damage. If you are coming in any faster than a speed that causes a gentle bump then you are at high risk of causing damage to your vessel despite the edging. Edging obviously doesn't cover the entire length of the side like a tire would...
On the plus side, dock edging is fairly cheap to buy and extremely easy to install. Measure twice, cut once. Then proceed to screw or nail your dock edging onto the edge of the dock. You can get it in almost any color that you please though white is what I've seen most commonly. I really like dock edging for ease of use, but it's definitely not the fender I would suggest for a boater that doesn't have the experience to ensure they're coming into the slip nice and gentle.
Inflatable or Foam Dock Fenders
Somewhat of a happy medium between dock edging and a big old tire, foam or inflatable dock fenders can protect your boat much more effectively than dock edging does. It also looks much more pleasing than a row of tires. My suggestion would be to pair these up with dock edging to get a bit of added protection.
You don't necessarily need to cover the entire length of your slip, but I'd definitely suggest covering the areas you are most likely to hit... Specifically the bow of your boat. You can find dock fenders in both 90 degree angles and straight pieces but I'll be honest that I've never found a reason to pony up for the corner pieces unless it's just for the ever-present thirst for the perfect aesthetic.
Even if you're rocking dock edging and dock fenders, corners are still going to be your biggest enemy. An unprotected corner can cause thousands of dollars in damages in a matter of just a few seconds! Dock wheels are a wise investment to make. Trust me on this. Include them in your trifecta of protection!
Dock wheels will allow you to stop worrying about those nasty corners and quite literally roll your boat into the slip. You can find dock wheels in side mount and corner mount configurations but I will push everyone I know toward the corner mount. Side mounted dock wheels are a nice addition, but a set of foam dock fenders and dock edging is cheaper and serves just as well.
While I've made some suggestions here, it isn't a catch-all. You should carefully consider the variables that you are presented with. How large is your boat? What is your dock configuration? Are you exposed to high winds or regular waves? You can mix and match to meet your needs.