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Skipper’s Corner – Rub Rails and Bumpers

Oh! Those things that go bump in the night! Especially when you are not on board to check what the heck is grinding away at your boat.
It happens all the time, especially in marinas, but could take place at any time in a bad situation. The captain in the next slip whose boat is larger, he’s less experienced and his vessel has stainless steel rub rails with loose screws sticking out that can scratch and scar your boat. Did you deploy your bumpers when you left your boat? No?

Why? Do you think it takes away from the lines of your boat? Because you were in a hurry? Because you think it makes you look less of a salt? Well, guess what? If your boat gets dinged, blame yourself.
Bumpers and rub rails have been around almost forever. The best examples of this are the tug boats in New York and every major port in the world. Examine a tug carefully. Fore, aft, portside, and starboard are well protected by massive bumpers all every ingenious matter you can imagine from old tires to large masses of discarded thick rope lines. With tugs, it’s “Whatever gets you through the night“(Courtesy of John Lennon) as long as it keeps the tug from marring or compromising the vessels they are guiding.
Tug bumpers are extreme, of course, but they give you quick lessons on where and under what conditions to deploy them which is whenever there is a chance of your vessel making contact with another vessel, dock, or object such as a sea wall, whether in the marina, rafting up together in a quiet bay, or any situation where you are going to contact anything that does not have its own protection onto which you can make a soft landing.
Relying on your rub rail is prudent. Rub rails have been around forever!
Originally, they were made of a reasonably softer wood than the hardwood the boat itself would be made of and were made to be replaced, as they wore out. In those days folks weren’t scooting about in pure white wood shiplap and later white fiberglass pleasure boats. I still see quite a few classic wood boats used by bay men that have wood rub rails. Rub rails vary today and their serviceability is affected by the quality of the boat itself. Today many are of a poly composite. Some have a poly rope fed through a channel that can be replaced, others have a stainless-steel piece running through, and others just pure poly thickness depending on the brand. Whenever I bought a boat, which was way too many times, I checked everything – but the rub rail was always the most important.
Now you can clearly see the relationship between your vessel, rub rail, and bumpers. So now we pivot back to the bumpers. Never use undersized bumpers. They’re useless. One time we were rafting with friends who invited a new boater to tie up with us. I was on the end and he started coming in with tiny 6” bumpers. They were very cute. I had mine deployed so we were okay but when we were tied and secured, I said ‘’ those tiny bumpers, you were joking, right?” He wasn’t! He claimed that they took up such little space compared to decent-sized ones, which he needed for the Bar-B-Q, grilling utensils, all types of steak condiments, China service for 6, and matching nautical themed cloth table cloth with matching napkins. I am sorry I so rudely told him to sell his boat and buy a camper. Next year he did. Great! Another one off the water.
Buy your bumpers to guarantee the protection of your hull. There is no need to have cloth covers on them unless you are a “Very fussy” boater. Should they get messed with dirt and grime, they are easily cleanable to a great shine. One other thing, if your bumpers begin to get too soft and begin to collapse inward don’t just throw them out and get new ones. Just take a hand air pump and a basketball needle and refill them. I can’t believe how many boaters never got that message.
Two more little tips here. 1-You can get all the bumpers you want on the meadows for free! That alone speaks volumes. 2-Never, and I mean NEVER, cruise in your boat with your bumpers hanging from your cleats, over the side! There are some avid boaters appealing to have this become a case for the Admiralty Court.
See ya on the bay!