Anchoring & Docking

How To Choose the Best Boat Fenders

two boat fenders on deck

We’ve all seen a boat fender before, even if we didn’t necessarily know what it was at the time. They serve a crucial role in protecting your boat and dock, so it’s important to pick the right one. If you have the task of selecting boat fenders for your boat, you may have a few questions. Let’s review some of these below so you can be prepared for your next trip.

Why Do I Need Boat Fenders

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Before we begin the selection process, it helps to know what a boat fender does. A boat fender, like the fender on your car, is designed to protect. It offers a buffer between your boat and the dock, shielding your hull from damage.

Boat fenders are used each time you tie up. They are important to keep on the boat, so you are protected anywhere you go. Most docks have built-in bumpers of their own, which are like fenders, but these alone won’t be enough to protect your boat. After all, it’s up to you to ensure the safety of your boat and passengers.

How to Choose Boat Fenders

Many factors go into choosing the correct boat fender; we’ll go over some of these below.


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Most fenders are air-filled, although some are constructed of foam. The inflatable design allows you to increase or decrease pressure to your needs. It also does a great job of absorbing impact. Foam is a good option as well because it’s very durable, but it takes a lot of foam to accomplish the same level of protection as an air-filled fender.

Air-filled fenders are usually constructed of vinyl, which is robust and easy to clean.


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When it comes to color selection, there’s no shortage of options. Some prefer to match the fender color to their boat, whereas others choose a color that stands out. There isn’t a right or wrong way to choose a color, it’s entirely up to you and your preference.


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Boat fenders typically come in three shapes: round, cylindrical, and flat. They can be either smooth or ribbed to prevent rolling. Let’s go over each of these below.

RoundRound fenders are common on large boats, typically in the commercial industry. They are usually bright orange, which is easily visible, and have smooth sides. The fenders are secured using a single eyelet at the top with a large opening for a heavy-duty line.

CylindricalCylindrical fenders are mostly used on small and medium-sized boats. They can be ribbed or smooth and have single or dual eyelets for vertical mounting. These fenders are also offered in a pass-through style. Pass-through fenders feature a rope tube that runs through the hollow cavity in the center of the bumper. This allows the fender to be hung horizontally or vertically with a single line.

FlatFlat fenders are also common on small and medium-sized boats. They are usually constructed of foam. Some have a modular design that allows you to tie multiple together for more protection.


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The most important factor when picking out a boat fender is size, diameter to be exact. The diameter gauges how much impact the fender can absorb. If the fender is too small, it may not have enough cushion to absorb the full impact, leaving the boat susceptible to damage. A fender that is too large will be cumbersome and difficult to store.

As a rule of thumb, for a cylindrical fender, you’ll want 1” of diameter for every 4′ to 5’ of boat length and 2” of diameter for a round fender.

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At a minimum, you should have a total of 3 fenders per side on your boat. However, larger boats require more for adequate protection, so it’s a good idea to have 1 bumper per 10’ of boat length.

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Installing Boat Fenders

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When securing your fenders to the boat, you’ll need to attach them to a solid structure like the stanchion base or deck cleat. There is an abundance of brackets and adjusters to make this easier, some of which are adjustable to allow you to quickly change the height.

The fenders need to be close to the water, as securing them too high could result in the fender ending up on top of the dock instead of between the dock and boat. You’ll need one fender located at the boat’s widest point to ensure proper protection.

Line Selection

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It’s important to use the correct size fender line when securing your fender. A line that is too small can slice through the eyelet, and a line that is too large may not fit. You want the line to fill as much of the eyelet as possible. There are a few materials used for line, nylon being the most popular due to its durability and stretch properties.


Most fenders will need to be inflated before use and maintained throughout the year. Smaller fenders can be inflated using a hand pump, whereas larger fenders may require an air compressor.

It’s important to inflate the fenders properly, as too much air could cause them to burst and too little air could allow contact between the boat and dock. You should fill the fenders until they are firm but still have a bit of give.

Fender Accessories

To store your fenders on the boat, you should consider a fender rack. Fender racks keep your fenders out of the way until you need them, without taking up precious storage space. You might also consider fender covers that help protect your fenders from sun fading and dirt/grim buildup.

Check out our full selection of fenders and fender accessories!

Let us know in the comments below how you selected fenders for your boat.


One comment

  1. […] may wonder if you need dock edging since you already have boat fenders. Boat fenders don’t usually account for dock corners or pilings, so you could still contact the […]

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