October 15, 2020

Rope Fenders

One way to make old line into something useful again! The first of two tutorials

Before there were plastic inflatable fenders, sailors used to make fenders out of old tired pieces of rope. It was a great way to re-use old material that wasn't good for much else and keep your boat from getting banged up on the dock at the same time! Traditionally these were also filled with old pieces of rope (as you will see in the tutorial video at the end) but in our case we used a piece of pool noodle for the core. It may not be very traditional, but it does dry out nicely.

This method comes from Hervey Garrett Smith's wonderful book on marlinspike seamanship, The Marlinspike Sailor. We have to warn you: this is not the easiest method for making these darn things. Though the basic structure is simple enough, we found Smith to be ABSOLUTELY right when he says "to be candid, shortly after you start the fender you imagine yourself wrestling with an ambidextrous octopus, and before you are finished you sort of wish you WERE an octopus." We definitely felt these things. In the next few weeks we'll post a second tutorial for a method that we think is a bit simpler, and may produce a more satisfying result for you. However, if you're feeling very patient on a rainy day soon and you've got some time on your hands, give this method a shot and let us know how it goes! Maybe you'll get neater results than we did.


  • – about 18' of 3/4" diameter three strand rope
  • – seine twine for the seizing
  • – extra rope, pool noodle or length of hose for core
  • – scissors


Step 1: cut your noodle or hose to your desired finished length (about 1')

Step 2: middle your rope

Step 4: take your other ends…

Step 5: and start unwinding!

Step 6: this will take a while; be patient

Step 7: we found it was easiest to sit on the floor and hold the eye between our knees; you can try to arrange your six strands neatly but it's all going to go crazy in a minute no matter what you do

Step 8: start weaving wall knots: take one strand and pass it over the strand to its right. Now take the strand just passed over and past that over the next one. When you come to the last one, thread it through the loop of your first strand – see video below if this is confusing

Step 9: continue working your way up the length of the noodle one wall knot at a time (one full cycle of passing each strand over its neighbor, and the last one through the loop made by the first)

Step 10: weave a few knots, and then tighten them down. We found it was easiest to tighten three different strands aligned in a row, letting them follow the spiral of wall knots up the length of the noodle .

Step 11: keep weaving a few rows and then tightening as much as you can as you go; a fid really comes in handy here. It's going to take a while!

Step 12: just keep going off the end of the noodle. You can finish as they do in the video below, or just keep tying wall knots off the end of your core and doubling them back once to secure.

As with all our At Home Activities we would love to hear what you thought of this project! Did you find it as time consuming as we did? Is yours as terribly lumpy as ours is? Stay tuned for our second rope fender tutorial in a few weeks! And as always, you can share your photos with us by emailing us at lima@herreshoff.org, posting on our Facebook page or tagging us on Instagram @herreshoff #HerreshoffFromHome.

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