Bumpers and Cleats for Boats and Feet - Your Dock’s Health

Old Fashioned boat fender used as a dock bumper with a new style cleat that folds down.

Imagine a beautiful Saturday at the lake and you are sitting on the dock. The sun is out, and a cool breeze is wafting across the lake surface creating small, rhythmic waves. From a distance you see your friends approaching on their new surf boat. You wave and signal them to stop by. As their boat nears, a troubling thought enters your mind. The kids are playing in the water on a floating pad, so where can your friends tie up their boat? It is at this point that any number of problems can quickly surface if your dock is not prepared for visitors!

Every dock should be outfitted for visitors because that is how people socialize on the lake. There are several components you need to make your dock the envy of others and a favorite place for friends to visit. Absolute necessities are cleats and bumpers. How often do you see a boat tied to a quad piling that is banging against the dock?

Bumpers and Cleats for Boats and Feet - Your Dock’s Health
Old Fashioned Cleat

Cleats are essential. Older ones were cast metal with points on either end. They allow for quick and easy wrapping of rope but come with a dangerous side effect, injuries to family and guests because they are magnets for people to stub their toes. The cleat is unforgiving and hazardously sits a few inches above the dock, perfectly located to catch the unsuspecting careless walker. To combat broken toes, a collapsible molded plastic cleat was developed to eliminate injuries while still providing quick and easy use. It folds down when not in use, creating a smooth, slightly elevated surface that is less likely to catch a stray toe.

Cleats should be installed in multiple locations. Take the time to determine the current and typical wind direction affecting your dock. Boats should be tied on the down wind and down current side so the boat is naturally pushed away, thus eliminating any chance of scraping and banging. Two – or better yet, three – cleats should be placed on this side of the dock so bow, stern, and mid-ship lines can secure the boat. If you are worried about the waves created by surf boats and tubers, keeping your boat in a safe location will protect it.

Bumpers and Cleats for Boats and Feet - Your Dock’s Health
New Style Dock Bumper

Bumpers should also be used to shield boats from dock contact. This includes inside your slips. Bumpers come in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of protection. Some docks have a plastic rub rail attached to the top of the deck boards. They can also be attached vertically on the backer boards. These bumpers offer some protection, but typically only project out from the dock an inch or so and are made of hard plastic. There is little to no give and the boat can be damaged as it bangs against the dock.

The older white or blue bumpers which are made of plastic and filled with air do a good job of cushioning and fending boats, but they have drawbacks. They are bolted to the dock on the top and bottom of the bumper and there is no protection against a boat riding up and contacting the sharp head of the bolt. Additionally, plastic will become brittle over time and once a puncture occurs, the bumper becomes useless.

Bumpers and Cleats for Boats and Feet - Your Dock’s Health
Plastic rub rail attached vertically on the backer boards.

A newer bumper design offers protection and the right amount of cushion. They are made of a stiff foam which provides stability and shock absorption. The bumpers come in 3-foot sections and are designed to be bolted horizontally to the dock providing a larger surface area of protection. Tapered at both ends and available in corner pieces as well, these bumpers meet every need. The bolts are recessed and covered with a foam plug so they will never come in contact with your boat.

Many homeowners believe that bumpers need to be placed entirely around the dock and in the slips. Spacing them will offer the same protection at a reduced cost. Slips only require bumpers at the entrance and end of the slip. If you have PVC pipes covering your lift wires, it will act as the best possible means of protection for your boat once it is in the slip. Place a bumper at the opening of the slip on both sides and at the end to prevent the bow from hitting the dock.

Being safe on the lake and having the correct accessories will enhance the experience for everyone involved!

Licensed Home & Dock Builder
Serving the Hyco Lake Area
(919) 270-4394