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Skipper’s Corner – It’s Time To Get Serious About Bumpers!

Bumpers, fenders, squishy protector thingies – Call ‘em whatever you want. The name makes no difference as long as everyone on your boat knows what you’re talking about when you suddenly need one. “Hey Jimmy! Hand me one of those white soft things with the old cord tied to it in the cabin. Hurry!” Communication is so important on a boat.

Fenders and their use are important aspects of boating. Having them ready to deploy at a moment’s notice can save your gel coat and, if necessary, save a life. It is essential to obtain the size and type appropriate for your vessel. Simply put, this means big boat, big fenders – little boat, small fenders. It’s an issue some boaters can’t grasp. I’ve seen some medium-size center consoles and walkarounds with all types of crap hanging from their cleats while they are slicing through waves towards Kismet. One 30 ft. beauty with three 300s, custom outriggers and a fortune in electronics had two tiny 8” fenders hanging and bouncing from portside cleats (The smallest ones I have ever seen.) and had two appropriate 10’’ diameter by 20 ‘’ long on the starboard of which one was white and the other blue. It so irked my sense of nautical symmetry. What in “Neptune’s Beard” were the tiny ones for and why different colors for the larger ones?? Come on you sea dogs! If you have a beautiful boat, get your act together! Pick one color, a standard appropriate size, and stow them when fully underway. Just don’t hang them ‘Wherever”
The best bumpers can be inflated or deflated to the softness you desire with a small air pump and sports ball inflation pin. Try to keep them all at about the same pressure. The minimum I would carry on a coastal pleasure or fishing boat is four. Larger yachts need larger fenders and more of them. There’s no exact formula. If you suspect you don’t have a feeling for what is appropriate for your vessel, ask a professional at your marine supply store, marina or whoever sold you the boat. By the way – if possible, refrain from using fender covers. I know they look so nice in maroon, black or blue, but they serve no purpose. What are you protecting? A vinyl bumper can be washed with Spray Away in two seconds, but if you feel you must, then indulge yourself. They’re just another unnecessary thing to take care of.
Now you and I know what bumpers are for but for those who don’t, let’s go over it a bit. You feed a line through the hole or both holes should you want it to be used parallel to the deck. Three or four half hitches should be enough when pulled tight. Try not to leave extra line hanging. Deploy them on cleats or railings when joining a flotilla or against a sea wall or a dock. This saves your hull’s gel coat from getting all scratched and bashed up. Check other salty boats and see how they do it. It’s not rocket science. They also sell clever clips that help you hang them at the marine supply.
I have been graced to witness quite a few unorthodox uses for fenders. Some smart – and some plain dumb. We’ll save the dumbest for last. Smaller ones have been repurposed for tag football on the beach and as floats for shark fishing. I have seen them used as foot and neck rests.
They have been used as rollers to get heavy objects down the dock to the boat and quickly tied together and deployed to aid someone overboard. They have saved lives this way by acting as life preservers.
Please – DO NOT throw the tiny 8” ones. Better still – have a life ring on the boat.
Now let me treat you to the dumbest thing I ever saw a fender used for.
Years ago, when I kept my boat in a marina, a boater was not satisfied with the position of his radio antenna on the T-Top installed on his boat.
He thought it should be “Raked”. The supports to the top were aluminum but lacked convenient supports to climb and adjust the angle on the antenna. There was a large pleasure craft down the dock with huge fenders, so the master handy mariner goes and borrows one (without asking the absent owner) figuring that by standing on it and using one hand to hold on the T-Top support he could just about reach and accomplish this important task. He placed it on the deck and rather gingerly put both feet on the fender and balanced as he reached up. Frankly, I thought he had it. But it’s times like these that Lady Luck often dives overboard. An incoming boat caused just enough disturbance to make him lose his balance and down he went cracking five teeth on the port side of his mouth. I took him to South Nassau where they stitched the wide cut in his lip and called in a dental specialist to attend to his broken teeth. Today he has a beautiful set of caps. His furious wife threw the fender into the water to float away on the tide. The guy with the two tiny ones picked it up! I swear by the barnacles on my bulkhead it’s true.