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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!