During a poker run a few years back, our neighbor’s fenders—for whatever reason—weren’t entirely secure. They were riding up the hull’s side and rolling around, which was causing worry for boat owners on either side. Everyone was fretting their boat would get scuffed up or worse.
How can a situation like this be avoided?
Boat fenders are there when you need them. They add extra security and insurance for your boat, but often times they’re the accessories we overlook. We just pick up the most inexpensive shape we find and throw it overboard. But there’s a variety of fenders out there that all serve different purposes. It’s important to know what each one’s purpose is to ensure that your boat’s hull is protected.
Here’s a quick overview of the types of fenders that are available on the market, including fenders designed for those square railings that pontoon owners are all too familiar with.
Rules of Thumb for Pontoon Fender Size, Spacing and Quantity
For every five feet of boat length, you should have one inch of diameter on cylindrical fenders.
You’ll need a minimum of three fenders—one at widest beam, one at fore and one at aft—but a general rule is to have one fender per 10 feet of waterline.
The Must-have Accessories for Pontoon Fenders
Rail hangers and adjusters
This set of rail hangers and adjusters is a great accessory for quickly deploying a fender.
Even if you know your knots, it’s nice to have around as they can be easily repositioned at a moment’s notice.
Rail hangers can be purchased for round rails as well, but these are specifically constructed to clamp securely to a 1” square pontoon railing.
Fender racks are good for larger vessels and sailboats which have lifeline stanchions.
These make it easier to deploy while keeping two fenders nearby yet safely out of a skipper’s pathway.
Covers and cleaners
Just like your vinyl upholstery, your fenders can become moldy and dirty. Covers might be a bit excessive for some boaters—they come in customized colors and embroidered logos—but you should at the very least keep them clean.
Fend for Yourself: 9 Types of Pontoon Fenders to Know
1. Cylindrical fenders
Also called the cylindrical double-hole, these fenders are generally for smaller vessels and contain eyelets on each end of the fender.
The double-eye feature allows the fender to be hung horizontally by two lines. Also, most cylindrical fenders are molded with ribbed reinforcement, adding a certain stability and keeping the fender in the desired position.
Cylindrical center hole
These fenders are molded to slide a rope through the middle tube. You can even slide several together on the same rope for longer applications.
Hybrid cylindrical round
These fenders are very similar to cylindrical double-eye fender but with a softer edge. They are smoother like a ball fender and don’t have ribbed reinforcement.
2. Round cylinders
Round cylinders, also known as ball fenders, are made of plastic vinyl with a hollow interior. These round ball cylinder fenders only support one line attachment. I don’t think your average recreational boater would get much use out of these. They’re mostly used for powerboats and commercial fishing vessels. And—because they can get quite large—they can also be used as mooring buoys.
3. Transom fenders
Transom fenders are a smart choice for boaters who just love to anchor or tie up around crowded poker runs or party islands. They attach by gripping the center of your transom or swim platform for extra protection. This particular model fits swim steps up to 4” thick and secures by passing a line through a ¾” diameter tube and tying off.
My biggest complaint with these is that they’re a bit large and you’ll need to consider where to store the fender when it’s not in use.
4. Flat fenders
Rectangular-shaped fenders are designed so they won’t roll around the side of your boat. They are also very modular and can be fastened together to make an even larger fender. The flat shape makes them easy to slide into storage. Best yet, you can use them as extra guest seating.
Often times you might find them called contour fenders or tab fenders. This means the model has an added center crease which adds flexibility, allowing the fender to lend to your boat’s contoured shape.
Fenders Made Specifically for Pontoons
The difficulty with fenders on pontoons is that a pontoon has the same beam width from bow to stern, and also has a flat aluminum sidewalls only protected by the frame. This makes protecting your pontoon a little trickier. And it especially adds to the trickiness when the railings are square.
Some of the fenders are made to secure more permanently, making it less trouble to remember to throw over a fender. You don’t have to drill into railing because they fit snugly by themselves, but you may not be able to fit your pontoon cover once they’re attached. So plan to remove them before preparing your pontoon for winterization.
One thing about pontoon fenders: Some are made of solid plastic and though they are hollow—they won’t float! And also due to being plastic, there’s not really much in terms of shock absorption. So keep this in mind!
5. Side fenders
Pontoon side fenders are made to fit their signature square railings and framework.
This side fender by Taylor Made Products (seen left) is designed with marine grade and UV resistant vinyl and is included with a valve for reinflating.
6. Fence-saver fenders
This fender saver by Taylor Made Products secures to the railing but specifically designed to protect your pontoon’s aluminum fencing.
I’ve seen these used out on the water with large groups of rafting boats tied together. These fit snugly but also come with an attachment strap for extra security.
7. Corner fenders
Pontoons are already manufactured with aluminum corners to protect their platforms. But hit a dock—or a neighboring boat for that matter—at the right speed and you’ll rip one right off. Adding a nice buffer like these corner fenders can limit your impact.
Their gray PVC color blends into the original aluminum framing, making them not that noticeable. And when you purchase—pay attention if your pontoon has square corner fenders or round corner fenders. You’ll need to the right size to fit.
8. Dock edge boat saver
These dock fenders can be used for both docks and pilings.
It includes a molded caps which mount to your dock and gives a bit of cushioned protection
9. Corner dock wheels
Dock wheels work great if you tend to come into the slip a little too strong.
They roll you off and away from the dock, keeping your boat from a direct impact and possible damage.
These dock wheels mount on the corner of your dock with a bracket and are re-inflatable.
Having the correct quantity and sizes of fenders can really make or break a bad situation.
Maybe our poker run neighbor didn’t have the fender dropped to the appropriate height. Maybe the fender wasn’t ribbed, which caused it to flail around everywhere.
A fender may seem like an insignificant piece of equipment, but some day, and maybe even at a huge dock party—your pontoon boat and neighboring boats will thank you!