There are two trains of thought concerning fender socks. There are those who do not like them because they believe that dirt builds up on them and then damages the finish on the hull. There are others who believe the opposite.
As far as I am concerned there is no doubt that fender socks are not only useful, they are essential if you want to protect your top sides from chafe. My experience is that fenders with socks on do considerably less damage than fenders without but there are many reasons why you might consider socks for your fenders.
For a start, they can make a bunch of ugly, stained fenders look great. Nothing looks worse than a boat with tatty fenders. A boat with fender socks just looks better. It is a sign that you care about your boat and that is important because other people will treat your boat with more respect when they are coming alongside. No one cares when they are coming alongside a tatty old boat but they do take more care when your boat is clean and tidy.
Fenders get hard with age and when they get hard they can do a lot of damage. I have seen a fender eat through a cover and the wood behind it because it was old and hard as rock. By covering your fenders you are protecting them from the sunlight so they will last longer and stay softer.
There’s more. Without fender socks, fenders can make a lot of noise on a windy day when they are swinging about and ‘bonking’ against the hull. With fender socks they are much quieter. Fenders without socks often squeak and squeal when up against another boat or the quay. Fender socks do away with this annoying problem.
If you are selling your boat, a set of clean matching fender socks will show the potential buyer that you care about your boat and don’t mind spending money on it. It will make the boat look so much better and make it worth more. Some even go to the effort (and cost) of having their socks embroidered with the name of the boat. The only advantage to this that I can see is that no one is likely to steal them, unless of course the thief’s boat has the same name as yours!
You can buy fender socks in all shapes, sizes and colours. The most common are the stretchy terry towelling sort that come in most colours and are easy to fit. However, they soon fade in the sun and have an annoying habit of riding up the fender. After a couple of years they will probably be rotten and have holes in them. They offer good protection and look smart but not for long. They are not cheap and if you have 6 fenders as I do then it might cost you as much as £100.
If you want really long lasting looks and protection then it is best to make your own. Enter Boat Blanket. It is a thick and fluffy polyester material that looks a bit like the soft half of Velcro just a lot thicker. It is not very stretchy so socks made from it need to be made to measure. It comes in black, blue and beige colours and is, I am informed, easy to cut and sew but to mark it you’ll need a soap stone pencil or taylor’s chalk.
My talented other half made these fender socks for the boat. The top has a stainless eye in it where the rope is passed. It stops the hole enlarging over time and just looks really good. A professional finishing touch. They are not cheap however and you’ll probably need a sail maker to press them in for you. I paid about £40 to have 6 pressed in.
The sides and the bottom of the socks are split making it very easy to fit them to the fenders. The Velcro hooks catch on the Boat Blanket making a very neat and tough join. The Velcro grips tenaciously so there’s no chance it can come undone. It also makes the socks easy to adjust for a snug fit. The Velcro is protected from the sunlight so should last many years.
There is a simpler and cheaper way to make fender socks from Boat Blanket but it doesn’t look quite as nice. Here’s a video from Sailrite that shows one being made. The Boat Blanket costs about £10 a square yard. We only needed about 4 square yards in all. So these smart fender socks cost about the same as the terry towelling ones but should last much much longer.
I am very happy with the socks, they are very soft and will not damage the gelcoat. The Boat Blanket is quite thick so the fenders are quiet but best of all it is a vast improvement on the old faded and torn terry towelling ones they replaced. They just look so smart. Result.