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14 Different Types of Boat Fenders

A photo of boat focusing its fenders on a sailboat.

Boat fenders are one of the easiest and most effective methods of protecting your boat. They give your boating neighbors peace of mind while saving you money from any impact on the hull. The purpose of boat fenders is to work as cushions that absorb the shock caused by bumps against other vessels, pilings, and docks, thus eliminating damage to your water vehicle.

If you’re in the market for a set of high-quality boat fenders, then it’s important to understand the various types available on the market. Keep reading to learn more!

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Types of Boat Fenders

There are numerous boat fender types that you can purchase, each with different applications, functions, and shapes. These include:

1. Arch

Marine arch-shaped fenders in black and pink

Arch fenders were developed to improve the performance of cylindrical fenders with a better energy/reaction force ratio. Given the improvement over the traditional cylindrical fenders, arch fenders can be used for numerous watercraft applications. The arch shape was engineered to dissipate stresses at various points on the fender evenly.

Like the cylindrical fender, this version is simple to install and offers the benefit of being maintenance-free. While arch fenders can be utilized across a variety of applications, they are most useful for small-to-medium-sized watercraft.

2. Ball

Three ball-shaped boat fenders at the side.

Ball fenders look exactly as you might expect, like a ball! While this fender type is inflated with air, the outer shell is constructed from durable PVC and a strongly reinforced eyelet. The ball fender boasts exceptional point of impact protection and can easily roll to transfer the point of contact alongside the hull.

Ball fenders are best for maneuvering across tight spaces or while navigating through locks, where little room for error exists. Ball fenders are also incredibly versatile and are used to mark anchor locations.

3. Cone

Colorful cone-shaped boat fenders over the sea.

Cone fenders are an upgrade to the Cell type fender and can be used across multiple water applications, including in high tidal variation locations.

The cone fender features a shorter height which drastically improves the material handling capabilities of vessel/deck cranes. This maneuverability improvement helps to save on significant project costs.

Given its geometric shape, the cone fender can deflect more while absorbing additional energy from all directions. Doubling energy absorption while maintaining a reaction force is achieved by utilizing back-to-back cone fenders. To add reaction force, cone fenders usually feature large panels, which lower the hull pressure.

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4. Corner

A far view of a ship with corner fenders in front.

Corner fenders are simply constructed 45-degree shaped models that are used on docks to protect incoming watercraft from being slammed into the shore. Most are compression-molded, and some have additional steel inserts depending on the boat types that are docked.

5. Cushion

Two big cushion fenders with tires around it placed on a ship.

Cushion fenders are a terrific addition to all vessels because they feature excellent storability, due to their flat surface, versatility, and low slippage possibility.

This fender type is constructed from foam and often covered with nylon for additional protection. You find cushion fenders on vehicles that must navigate through tight spaces, but also on slipways, cranes, and locks.

The only major disadvantage to this fender type compared to a traditional fender is that they are incredibly lightweight. This means birthing during a storm or fierce winds could cause them to fly right off the boat.

Boating professionals advise that during intense winds, it’s best to add a water-saturated sheet to hold it in place so your watercraft maintains protection.

Also, PVC fenders tend to be a more durable construction, so they will likely last longer.

6. Cylindrical

A photo of boat in water with cylindrical in a color black.

Cylindrical fenders are one of the more commonly used options that mitigate damage and ensure linear and safe berthing for various vessel types. This boat fender type is an economical solution that protects most berthing structures with a simple installation.

7. D Fenders

Side view look of D fenders on a white background.

D fenders can be used on small jetties as well as watercraft. The most common manufacturing method is using extruded solid rubber with a weather-resistant EPDM compound.

Double D fenders also follow this manufacturing process and are typically available with steel inserts. This fender type is easy to install when the surface is cleaned and free of debris from previous fenders that may have sat in this location.

8. Floating Rubber

A photo of Floating rubber fenders against at marine vessel damage between.

Floating rubber fenders are built from solid rubber and are considered a newer protective watercraft component. This type features excellent compressive deformation, energy absorption, easy installation, a simple ability to sail, and a low reaction force. The floating rubber fender can adapt to quick tide changes to be used on docks.

The most common floating rubber fender types include foam fill and pneumatic. The major differences between these two designs are application, price, materials, and structures.

9. Foam Elastomer

Close up photo of black foam elastomer fender at the side of boat.

Foam elastomer fenders are built from a closed-cell central Polyethylene foam core, which is surrounded by a Kevlar or nylon reinforced Polyurethane skin. The performance is comparable to pneumatic fenders without losing their function when the skin is punctured. This is because the foam elastomer core cannot deflate.

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10. Long

Two colorful motorboats on calm water with long fenders.

Long fenders are the most used boat fenders because they can easily be deployed horizontally or vertically from lifelines, railings, or cleats, and are easy to manage. There are two types of long fenders: center cord and two-eyed. Center cords are used for vessels with frequent docking situations, so the additional roll is required to bring the boat along the dock.

Both options feature two attachment points for horizontal placement.

11. Keyhole

A 3d illustration of Keyhole fenders on a white background.

Keyhole fenders offer high-quality protection to ferries and tugboats due to their load-absorbing capabilities, along with a typical profile. As a result of their design, they are also one of the most versatile options available.

12. Solid Rubber

Close up view of solid rubber fenders near at the water.

Solid rubber fenders have a lengthy history and are available in a variety of anti-collision components. This boat fender type functions by managing the compression, rotation, and shear forces, which are dependent on the shape and structure. Designs can include cylindrical, rectangular, fan-shaped, drum-type, cone-type, and D-type.

These solid rubber fenders offer the benefit of high reaction force and energy absorption, durability, longevity, easy maintenance and installation, and low cost. The versatility of the solid rubber fender transcends boats and is also used for protecting docks.

13. Square

Close up photo of its side view on a white background.

Square fenders can be used on small jetties as well as various water vessel types, including ships, boats, and tugboats. This boat fender type has excellent resistance to ozone aging and UV rays since they will be exposed to the environment around the clock, which can cause degradation, and to seawater resistance.

14. Tugboat

A photo of tow ship at seaport with tugboat fenders.

Tugboat fenders are constructed from high abrasion-resistance rubber, which gives them excellent resilience properties. Therefore, they are most used by tug and small port craft owners. This fender type is compression molded using a thermic-fluid-heated high-pressure mold. The result of this design is excellent seawater resistance.

Historically, tugboat fenders were only comprised of rope as the padding, but material engineering has greatly improved this design over the years.

FAQs

What is a fender?

Boat fenders are inflatable protective bodies that prevent scratches and damage to the boat’s hull as you navigate through a marina, while moored to a piling, or with boat-to-boat contact. Fenders come in different shapes and sizes depending on the boat and application.

How many fenders should a boat have?

A photo of Boat Fender Bumper Guard hang on the rail.

Your watercraft can never have enough fenders. However, space is limited around the perimeter of your vessel, so the question is always raised: do I have enough fenders on my boat? The general rule is for boats 10 meters or less, two fenders on each side are sufficient, with one or two as replacements when necessary.

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Boats over 10 meters in length should have 3-4 fenders on each side with one or two replacements. The side fenders must be placed accordingly for proper docking, but sometimes you need additional fenders to offset strong wind pinning your watercraft to the dock or a rolling swell. For this reason, it’s advisable to have more than one fender type or shape available.

Where can I store fenders?

Since most boat fender designs consume a significant amount of space, it’s impractical to store them. However, since safety is always the number one priority on board, these should not be overlooked because of space requirements. Having too few extra fenders on board is as bad as having none. That means the railing and deck are the ideal places to store them.

Fender baskets constructed from stainless steel are available on the market and can easily be mounted on the boat railing bars. With so many fender holder types, they can also be mounted on the stern, where they are unlikely to interfere with space. When fenders must be kept off the deck, they can either be stored in the cabin or in a back storage container.

What is the amount of pressure required by a fender?

Close up photo of sailboat and its fender hanging on the rail.

Ball and longer fenders have a lower volume and, therefore, require a lower internal pressure ranging from 0.15 to 0.2 bars, which depends on the size and circumference of the fender.

A good rule of thumb is fenders should never bulge while being pumped up and you must be able to press the fender without resistance. Experts always recommend testing fenders for the optimal pressure before use.

A moderate amount of pressure loss is typical and it’s normal to have to re-inflate fenders since insufficient pressure decreases protective qualities. On the other hand, too much pressure hardens the fender, thus reducing its cushioning effect.

How can I clean my fenders?

Once the boating season has ended, you will immediately notice the amount of punishment your fenders have experienced. Whether they are marked up with abrasions or just dirty, they require a thorough cleaning.

That means you must not wait until the winter to clean them. Instead, you should clean them periodically throughout the boating season and do a thorough cleaning before placing them into storage.

The best cleaning solution for dirty fenders is water and soap first, followed by a boat-specific cleaning solution. The water and soap will eliminate surface-level dirt and grime, while the cleaning solution will eliminate the deeper particles.

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