Gear test: StowAway fenders

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If you care about your boat — or your dockmate’s boat — fenders are essential gear to have on board.

If you care about your boat — or your dockmate’s boat — fenders are essential gear to have on board. Over the years there have been fenders of various sizes, shapes and colors added to the traditional lineup, even a few made of unconventional materials, but nothing that encouraged me to add to my well-used collection — until now.

 

There is little room to store full-size fenders aboard my 21-foot center console, so I resort to carrying small, relatively ineffective fenders that provide minimal protection from pilings and docks. And on my 36-foot trawler, I have four large conventional fenders stored in appropriate racks, but there isn’t much room for additional fenders without cluttering the boat. DACA Innovations, of Cape Coral, Fla., has introduced a line of inflatable boat fenders that can be easily stored on board without sacrificing precious storage space.

Whether you use fenders infrequently or like to keep extras on board, StowAway inflatable fenders provide protection and can be stowed in a space that’s a fraction of their working size. And because of their compact storage size, you can carry fenders that are larger than the minimum size recommended for your boat.

The fenders are made of heat-sealed vinyl and incorporate a recessed high-volume inflation valve for quick inflation using either the StowAway hand or foot pump. (The company says the fenders also can be inflated with most electric inflators.) After unscrewing the valve assembly, the fender completely and rapidly deflates for storage. Just roll them up and stow away. The valve is similar to those found on inflatable boats and worked well each time I used the fenders.

StowAway fenders are housed in a form-fitting ballistic nylon cover that protects the vinyl bladder from abrasion and provides strength to the entire assembly. The cover has a flap on the top that allows access to the inflation valve and protects it during use. Attached to the top of the cover is a 1-1/2-by-40-inch nylon strap with an adjustable quick-release plastic buckle that allows the fender to be easily suspended and adjusted from a rail, stanchion or other location. There also is a ring stitched to the bottom of the cover that allows the fender to be suspended horizontally using two lines.

For this review I was provided a “large” fender kit, the fenders measuring 9 inches in diameter and 27 inches long when fully inflated. The kit includes a foot pump, and everything fits nicely inside a 13-by-10-by-13-inch carrying case that can be stored in less space than one conventional fender of similar dimensions would require. I was able to inflate a fender in less than 20 seconds with 15 steps on the pump. The set of four could be inflated and deployed in less time than it would take to retrieve conventional fenders that had been stowed out of the way.

I used the four fenders while rafted up with another trawler, and at my marina’s floating dock, where they remained for several weeks. The StowAway fenders were easily secured to the boat, remained fully inflated, and suffered no apparent wear from chafe. I would, however, caution against relying on the StowAway fenders for full-time, unattended use. As with any inflatable device, they can unexpectedly deflate and lose their impact-absorbing qualities. If a leak in the bladder were to develop, the fender could be easily repaired using a standard PVC repair kit.

Like conventional fenders, they are sized according to overall boat length. The small fenders are recommended for boats less than 18 feet, measure 6 by 18 inches, and take about 10 seconds to inflate. The medium fenders are for 18- to 26-foot boats, measure 7-1/2 by 22-1/2 inches, and take 15 seconds to inflate. The large fenders I used are designed for boats from 26 to 38 feet, and DACA offers extra large fenders for boats 38 feet and up, measuring 12 by 36 inches and taking 30 seconds to inflate.

The small and medium kits include the tote, four fenders and a hand pump, while the large and extra large kits include the tote, four fenders and a foot pump. Prices range from $79.99 for the small kit to $279.95 for extra large. The fenders also are available individually and range from $19.99 to $69.99. They are available directly from DACA Innovations at (800) 788-1747 or www.stowawayboatfenders.com . The company also is establishing a distribution network.