Boat Fender vs. Bumper vs. Buoys — What’s the Difference?

Protecting your boat is on the top of any boat owner’s checklist. You’ve made an investment and want to keep the hull in tip-top condition. We detail how fenders, bumpers and buoys can make sure your boat is protected from docking, mooring and other boats so you can enjoy the adventures boating offers without worrying about marring or dinging your boat.

Fenders, bumpers, and buoys offer ways to protect your boat from other boats, docks, and other obstructions.

What is a Boat Fender?

A boat fender is the cushion or padding that stops boats or what it is bumping against from taking on damage from docks or other boats. Fenders absorb the shock of impact and decelerate the boat as it moves about. As a boat owner, you quickly learn that fenders are the solution to preventing harm to your boat, docks, or other boats.

The fender size and type you use depend on the length and weight of the boat and mooring conditions. A rule of thumb for fender size is for every five feet of your boat’s length; you need one fender at least one inch in diameter. For more details on the size and type, check out our chart.

Boat Fender vs. Bumper vs. Buoy

Boat Fender

A boat fender is a protective cushion that hangs from the side of a boat, keeping the sides of the hull from knocking into the edge of a dock or other boat.


A bumper or dock bumper is a protective strip or buffer that attaches to the sides of a dock to protect the hull of any boat floating next to it.


A buoy is a floating device used for navigation and mooring, marking key locations in the water for various boaters and fishermen.

Why the Confusion?

While the goal of protection is the same, a boat fender hangs from a boat while bumpers are attached to a dock, and some buoys serve as a boat fender for specific boats. Buoys come from the fishing boat world; many are used to mark nets. Their transition into fenders came about because the round buoys cover a lot of real estate for slanted hulls, which is for protection. Buoys are also used for mooring and navigation. It’s important to note that the buoys for navigation and mooring are not used as fenders.

Did you know that the words fenders and bumpers are used interchangeably? And sometimes, they are referred to as fender bumpers. Depending on where you live, you may call fenders fenders; or you may refer to fenders as bumpers. We conducted a very unscientific study that revealed many Midwest (Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri), with Louisiana being the outlier, boaters refer to fenders as bumpers. While in the eastern section of the country, Maine, New York, Connecticut, and Maryland call them fenders. Whatever you call them, you need to protect your boat with either fenders or bumpers.

Types of Boat Fenders

Fenders come in many shapes, and it depends on the model of the boat you have and the length of your boat. It’s essential to know the distinct types of fenders, how they work and which boat bumper is best for your boat.

  • Cyclical Fenders are one of the most used fenders. The cylindrical shape, also referred to as extruded, is easy to use and protects boats when docking.
  • Twin-Eye Fenders are versatile and are ideal for boats 20’-25’. Because these fenders have holes at either end, they can hang horizontally or vertically. These ribbed marine boat fenders are a great way to protect your boat from taking on any damage, as these ribbed marine boat fenders prevent the bumper from rolling out of place. You want your bumper to stay in position for maximum protection of your boat’s hull. Check out our fender collection including, Taylor Made Super Gard Fenders, Taylor Made Hull Gard Fenders, Taylor Made Storm Gard Fenders.
  • Center Rope Tube Fenders also known as “hole-through middle” bumpers, are designed for larger vessels. Center rope tube fenders usually hang horizontally to cover more of the hull. This is especially helpful when mooring against vertical pilings, awkward docking situations and tidal change areas. These inflatable vinyl fenders work well when mooring on docks because the fender line can be hung vertically through the middle and tied off the ends. Boaters like the Taylor Made Big B Fender for full protection from a strong bumper.
  • Round or Ball Fenders, also known as buoys, are a type of fender, especially popular for fishing boats. They are as heavy-duty as a fender gets, and anglers love the protection they provide. The Taylor Made Tuff End Buoy is a favorite among fisherman and women when it comes to a sturdy and durable boat cover.
  • Tuff End Fenders are heavy-duty fenders that protect larger boats with a deep V-hull. Check out the Taylor Made Tuff End Fenders for your large boat.
  • Flat & Contour Fenders won’t take on water or puncture. Their flat design prevents them from rolling or riding up, which means more protection for your boat. Contour fenders follow the boat’s shape and wrap around the gunwales and the hull. Shop our collection of Taylor Made Hull-Saver Fenders and Modular Flat Fenders. 
  • Transom Fenders are considered a specialty bumper. Their unique design allows them to fit the stern, the back of the boat, or the edge of a swim platform on a powerboat. When attached to a boat’s swim platform, transom fenders minimize any rubbing or chaffing when swimmers, water skiers, or wakeboarders get back onto the boat. Shop the Taylor Made Transom Fender for your boat’s swim platform. 
  • Boat Rafting Fenders have a flat design that covers a lot of real estate on the boat’s hull making them ideal for rafting up to other boats. These fenders also make docking a bit less stressful. You can have fun without the worry of dinging or marring your hull. Check out our collection of boat rafting fenders that include the Taylor Made Rafting Fenders, Fender Cushions and Big B Fenders.
  • Pontoon Fenders, due to their unique shapes, protect various sections of a pontoon boat, including the delicate fencing area and the non-traditional boat corners. Pontoon boat owners rely on these fenders to protect their investment: Taylor Made Pontoon Fenders and Pontoon Corner Gard Fenders. 
  • PWC & Jet Ski Fenders need protection and should use fenders, especially against hitting the dock or other boats. PWC and jet ski bumpers can offer protection when trailering them to and from the water. Taylor Made PWC Fenders.
  • Low Freeboard Fenders are ideal for small boats, bass boats and fish and ski boats. They hang over the gunwale and protect boats that sit lower in the water. Boaters like the protection these fenders offer at high tide; they minimize riding up under high docks. Check out the Taylor Made Low Freeboard Fenders. 
  • Inflatable Superyacht & Mega Fenders as the name implies, this inflatable boat fender is made for yachts. Big boats need big fenders. Check out our collection of yacht fenders, including Taylor Made Super Duty Fenders and Freedom Fenders.

How Many Fenders Do You Need?

The number of fenders you need depends on the waterline. A general rule that boaters follow to determine how many fenders to use is one fender per 10 feet of waterline, with a minimum of three fenders. Your boat length is a variable in the number of boat bumpers you need. As an example, using this rule, a 20-foot boat would need three fenders.

See our Boat Fender Size Chart below to find the exact type of bumpers for your specific boat length.

Boat Fender Size Chart

This boat fender size chart is an excellent reference for the size and type of fender based on the length of your boat. Another rule for the size of fenders is one-inch diameter for cylindrical types, two inches for round bumpers for every four to five feet of boat length.

How to Hang Fenders on a Boat

There are many ways to hang fenders on a boat. Some fender types can be hung horizontally or vertically, depending upon your protection needs. Whether you’re docking, mooring, or rafting up with other boats, you’ll want to position your bumpers for the situation. And you must be ready to adjust your fenders quickly, especially in unknown docking or mooring areas.

Here are some options you can use to make sure your fenders are in a secure position, minimizing not only damage but reducing the stress level when docking or connecting with other boats.


Brackets are a great way to secure your fender lines in place and are easy to adjust the heights of your bumpers should you need to change them up for docking or mooring quickly. Taylor Made Rail Lifeline Fender Bracket makes it easy to get the right fender height.


Fender clips mount to your boat’s lifeline and keep your bumpers in place. They can also hold power cords or other boat accessories, keeping your deck free of clutter.


Boaters use fender locks to keep their bumpers secure. Fender locks are either fixed or adjustable, allowing for flexibility of the height you need in specific scenarios. It’s important that whatever height you need, you can respond quickly to your docking or mooring situation to protect your boat from damage from the dock or other boats.

How to Attach Boat Fenders on a Pontoon Boat

As we detailed in the types of fenders, pontoon fenders provide excellent protection because they are shaped to fit the contour and unique corners found on pontoon boats. In addition, corner bumpers offer a level of protection that traditional fenders don’t due to their shape. Pontoon boats also need to quickly adjust their fender heights when they are docking or rafting.

Boat Fender Accessories

Now that you know the type and size of bumpers you need to protect your boat, you will need accessories. We’ve got some great suggestions on keeping your fenders in good condition, protecting fender lines, and keeping your bumpers safely stored when you’re not using them.

Boat Fender Covers

Boat fenders need protection! And when you use covers for your boat bumpers, you are extending their shelf-life and can count on your fenders for many boating seasons. You don’t have to worry about these covers marring or scratching your boat’s gelcoat.

Fender Lines

Your fenders need dock lines so you can hang them from your boat. You will want to ensure that these fender lines are easy to use and won’t kink when you’re threading them through the bumpers.

Boat Fender Racks

Where do you put your fenders when you’re not using them? It would help to have a quick and convenient way to store your boat bumpers. Keep your fenders stowed away safely.

Chafe Guards

Protect your fender and dock lines from rubbing against your boat’s surfaces with Chafe Guards.

All Your Boat Fender Needs

There are many company’s that provide Fenders, two we recommend to look at are Lippert and Taylor Made have what you need when it comes to protecting your boat! All their fenders are expertly engineered and made from quality marine-grade vinyl that withstands harsh marine conditions and will safeguard your boat from taking on any damage.

You now know what type of fenders are available and can make sound decisions based on the length of your boat as well as the type of boat. Whether you refer to them as fenders or bumpers, you can equip your investment with our collection of fenders, bumpers and buoys. Products are designed to soften any impact during the sometimes-stressful docking process, mooring and rafting with other boats.

You can enjoy the boating life knowing your boat is protected with your fenders.

Recent Posts