Storing boat bumpers

Hate stowing bumpers every time you cast off? Try this easy DIY solution

By David HarrisDavid Harris


Photo by iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Fenders are the first line of defence in protecting your boat against the ravages of a rough dock, less-than-perfect boat handling, and the ineptitude of “the other guy.” In reality, however, fender use on cottage boats is often an afterthought, as in “quick, quick, move the bumpers to the other side!” or “where are the *#!?ing bumpers?” Murphy’s Law dictates that fenders (a.k.a. bumpers) will always be missing, punctured, placed incorrectly, and/or on the wrong side of the boat when you need them. Here’s a DIY solution that was once standard-issue on boats: On approach to the dock, the fenders magically drop in sync to the perfect height and, on departure, they neatly lift to a horizontal “stowed” position just under the gunwale.

For a typical 16’–20′ runabout, components include three fenders per side, hardware and lines from which to hang the fenders, a single length of lifting line, a through-hull sheave, or pulley, to lead the line from outside the hull to inside, and a hook under the deck to secure the line in the “up” position.

1. On each side, locate the three points from which you’ll suspend the fenders and install the hanging hardware.

2. Locate the approximate correct height of each fender and suspend it from the deck hardware. Leave a few inches excess on each line for final adjustments.

3. Estimate the length of the lifting line you’ll need to run between the three fenders and through the hull sheave to the inside hook. Add 2′ for knots and fine tuning. (You’ll need roughly 20′ of line for each side.) Using a bowline, attach one end of the line to the bottom eye of the forward fender. Thread the line through the bottom of the next two fenders, securing it to each eye with a clove hitch.

4. Adjust the lengths of the hanging lines and the links between the fenders so that when the fenders are down, the bottoms are 2″–3″ off the water. In their lifted position, the fenders should lie roughly horizontal against the side of the boat.

5. Install the sheave. Be sure that its location allows the aft fender enough room to lift to horizontal with at least 3″ to spare (see photo at left). Inside wiring, fuel lines, steering cables, etc. may need to be slightly rerouted to provide clearance for the sheave and routing of the lift line.

6. Install the inside hook or cleat at least 3′ forward of the sheave. If your boat has a cockpit liner or finish trim, the hardware can be screwed onto a small mounting block of wood and epoxied in place.

7. With the fenders in the “down” position, make a figure-8 knot in the lift line just inside the boat after it passes through the sheave. This knot prevents excess line from pulling out and trailing in the water.

8. To pull fenders to the “up” position, tie a bowline or overhand knot with a generous-sized eye in the lift line and slip it over the hook. Adjust so the fenders are lifted snugly against the hull. Check the up and down positions again and adjust all your knots as necessary. Finally, trim the excess line, stand back, and admire your handiwork. Your boat says thank you.

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David Harris