How to Dock Against Pilings: Fender Boards
Not all docks are created equal. Some present challenges for docking your boat safely. One such challenging scenario is a dock with unavoidable pilings. While you can hang HTM or double-eye fenders horizontally between your boat and the piling, when your boat shifts with wind, tide, or wave action, the piling will likely work the fender out of the way and your boat will make direct contact with the piling. Not good.
The best answer for this docking scenario is a fender board. A fender board is simply a length of 2" x 6" lumber that is hung across the outside of two regularly hung boat fenders. Set your fender board up as follows:
- Get a 4' length of 2" x 6" softwood lumber at any lumber yard. 4 feet is a good all-around length and can usually be handled by one person.
- Drill holes in either end of the board, 1.5" from the top edge if drilling through the 2" dimension, or in the center if drilling through the 6" dimension (as pictured in the photo), and 6" to 8" from the ends, with a diameter slightly larger than the line you will use to suspend the board (e.g. 1/2" hole for 3/8" line). Finish the edges of the holes with a file and sandpaper to mitigate rope chafing.
- Prepare two lengths of rope to tie through the holes. Ensure the line length is enough to both tie off to your cleats or stanchions and still allow the plank to reach the waterline.
- Before deploying your fender board, inspect the piling for any nails, eye-bolts, or other protrusions that may interfere with your board. Remember that the tide may change the board's contact point on the piling significantly so check up and down the piling. Remove or hammer down any such obstacles or choose another docking location.
- To deploy, hang two HTM or double-eye fenders vertically over the side of your boat on either side of the piling ensuring that they are no farther apart than your fender board is long. Then, hang the fender board outside of the fenders, against the piling, and tie it off.
Fender boards are not only good for pilings, but can be used for more effective rafting with other boats – just be sure both boats involved hang their fenders at the same height.
There are other alternatives out there but they are generally more expensive. Taylor makes fender board guards that attach directly to a 2" x 4" plank to convert it into a fender board. You can also get large, long inflatable fenders that provide good protection against pilings such as those offered by the Big Bumper Company.
A fender board (or two) will make a great addition to your on-board docking tackle as it will add to the types of docking scenarios you can safely use. With docking space at a premium these days, being ready to dock anywhere is a good idea.