Updated June 2022
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Buying guide for best boat fenders

Fenders are your boat’s bodyguards. They take the heat by being knocked around at the dock, squashed during raft-ups, and left behind when they loosen from cleats and float away. They’re the unsung heroes that protect your vessel’s gelcoat from bumps and bruises. Though it’s tempting to carry a variety of fenders, onboard storage space can be limited, so it’s best to fine-tune your selection.

It’s important to know a fender’s quality, shape, and what size you need for your specific boat. Cylindrical, round, and flat fenders each have different functions. Specialized fenders protect areas of your transom, such as on the back of a swim step. Though fenders and bumpers are often used interchangeably, they’re different products; a bumper permanently mounts to your dock.

In addition to carrying fenders onboard, you may need to install them on parts of your permanent slip or floating dock to avoid docking damage. 

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When docking, check the tide charts to see how high or low you should place your fenders. If the tide goes out, your fenders could drop below the dock, letting the wood, metal, or concrete docking damage your hull.

Key considerations

Boat size

The right fender for your needs depends on one important question: how big is your boat? The size of your boat determines the length and diameter of the fender you’ll need. It also determines the number of fenders you’ll need to have onboard. Knowing these parameters prevents you from buying a size too small or too large, as well as from buying too many or too few fenders.


Designed for extreme durability and fluctuating weather conditions, fenders can be constructed of foam or marine-grade PVC vinyl. Flat foam fenders have less shock absorption than vinyl cylindrical and spherical versions. Foam fenders are modular, and they can string together to provide more surface protection across the boat. They’re best used in calmer waters that won’t slam your boat into other objects. Vinyl fenders are more commonly used. These fenders are tough, rugged, and the best at resisting punctures, splits, and tears.


Common fender shapes include cylindrical, spherical, flat, and specialty shapes. Each shape provides a slightly different function. For example, a multipurpose cylindrical fender hangs vertically or horizontally. A teardrop-shaped spherical fender (also called a buoy) is ideal for larger boats when you want to have the maximum amount of space and cushion between the boat and the dock. A flat fender made of foam protects the gunwale and hull, and it will never pop or need inflation. A different type of flat fender, called a contoured fender, has a “hinge” allowing it to wrap down and around the gunwale and hull following the boat’s contours.

Specialty shapes may be designed to snugly hang over the gunwale and rub rail on a low freeboard boat. If you’re docked in heavy chop or busy waters, this is worth your consideration.

Sealed vs. inflatable

Sealed fenders are pre-inflated, so you can’t add or eliminate air. Inflatable fenders use a typical inflation needle that goes into the valve, much like you’d use for inflating a soccer ball or football. Inflatable fenders are shipped flat. You can deflate them after the season for easy storage.

Rope eyes (eyelets)

If you want the flexibility of being able to hang your fenders vertically or horizontally, consider fenders with two rope eyes, one molded and reinforced into each end of the tube. You can use one eye to hang a fender, or you can use both eyes to secure a fender in a horizontal position. Note the eye’s diameter so lines can fit (if you’re buying them separately).

Centerline design

A rugged centerline rope design is a fender where you can thread a line through a molded hole in the centerline of the tube. This protects the rope and holds the fender steady against the boat.


Colors: There’s no need to stick to traditional white when it comes to boat fenders. Choose from various colors to coordinate with your boat.

Ribbing: A fender with non-abrasive ribs offers a little extra thickness for added protection. Ribbed fenders may be slightly heavier than fenders with smooth finishes, but the added weight is negligible.

Seam reinforcement: Higher-quality fenders feature reinforced seams hand-glued inside and out for extra durability.

Packs: Fenders can be found in value packs of two to four. When buying a pack, you know the fenders match in style, color, and quality.

Fender kit: A kit provides fenders along with rope, inflating needles, and a pump. You could also buy these components separately, but when you buy a kit, you’re assured the lines are the correct sizes for the fender hole’s diameter.

Boat fender prices

Inexpensive: In the $10 to $25 range, you’ll find single, basic inflatable cylindrical fenders, ribbed or smooth, that average in size from 6 1/2 inches in diameter to 26 inches long.

Mid-priced: From $25 up to $60, you’ll find wider, longer cylindrical fenders and flat value packs. Quality spherical fenders start in this price range.

Expensive: Some products cost over $60 per fender. Now you’re paying for a wider diameter, longer length, and larger line hole diameters meant for thicker ropes and shackles that protect large boats and yachts in the 50-foot to 60-foot range. Depending on the size boat you have, you could spend hundreds of dollars for a single premium fender.

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When cleaning vinyl fenders, beware of using acetone. Though it works wonders on grimy fenders, the chemical could degrade the porous vinyl material.


  • To determine the size fender you’ll need, consult online charts that offer proper sizing. The rule of thumb is that a cylindrical fender should be about an inch thick in diameter for every five feet of your boat’s length. For example, a cylindrical fender that is six inches in diameter and 15 inches long would be ideal for a 30-foot sailboat or powerboat.

  • The number of fenders you need also depends on your boat size. Smaller boats need a minimum of two fenders. Boats under 40 feet should have at least four fenders. Boats that are larger than that need a minimum of six fenders.

  • Inflate a fender so it’s firm to the touch but not so hard that it doesn’t have any give. If you can manually crush the fender, it’s too soft and needs more inflation.
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Pontoons require specialized fenders, called fence savers, which lie flat on the boat to protect the aluminum fencing and corners of the vessel.


Q. How long should my fenders last?
It depends on how a fender is maintained, but some people can keep fenders in good working condition for 20 years or more. More typically, a fender may last about five years.

Q. How do I store fenders off-season?
Fenders take a beating, and they’re magnets for algae and barnacles if left in the water too long. But with a little care, they can look almost new from season to season. When winterizing your boat, clean your fenders with an abrasive cleaner or mineral spirits. Place them in fender covers (sold separately), and store them in a cool, dry space.

Q. What do I do with my fenders once I leave the dock or raft-up?
As soon as you’re underway, stow your fenders so they’re not flailing in the wind as you sail or motor in open water. Stow fenders in the built-in fender hangers, holders, or rack to keep them safe from flying off the boat (along with your whips) or from banging against the side of your boat, which could cause damage. Store fenders inside your boat whenever possible so they don’t fade or crack.

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