Black IMPACT boat fender shown on red Malibu boat

What is the Difference Between a Fender and a Bumper, Anyway?

We answer the age old question: fender or bumper?

One of the crazier moments in our first year of going to boat shows was when we realized that fenders and bumpers aren’t universal terms. While technically, the two words mean different things, their usage is not entirely consistent from region to region. So if you’ve ever been confused between fenders and bumpers, you can feel comfort in that you’re not alone.

To recap: Even though we sell dock bumpers and boat fenders, we named our company after our marquee product: IMPACT Fenders.

With that in mind, may I recall our mild horror when we first learned that some boaters in the Midwest and New England say “bumpers” for what we Westerners call fenders? 

Were we about to confuse an entire swath of the country with a product that didn’t match its name? Had we created a naming blunder like the Chevy Nova? Remember the (now debunked) urban legend that the model didn’t sell in its target market of Latin American because “no-va” means “doesn’t go” in Spanish? 

Rather than descending into a Google death spiral of regional boating terms, we did the first best thing. We talked to people. We talked to fellow boaters around the country and asked what they call things. 

So really, what is the difference between a fender and a bumper? 

Fenders and bumpers are different tools that aim to accomplish the same goal. They are both cushioned items used to protect a boat from impact or abrasion, either from another boat or a fixed structure, like a dock or pier. Technically, there’s one differentiator.

  • A fender is attached to the boat.
  • A bumper is attached to the fixed structure

As deducted from our first person, non-scientific research (i.e. over a beer at a boat show), it seems the limited use of “bumper” for both of these items may stem loosely from the variety of “fixed” structures you see regionally. We all know moorings, permanent docks, floating docks, concrete stanchions, piers, exposed pilings and more. But regions with more concrete in their waterways were prone to calling all forms of boat protection a bumper. 

Honestly, we’re open to whatever you want to call your boat protection…as long as you call IMPACT to get the job done.

For anyone who’s new to the boating world and finding the lingo a bit overwhelming, here’s the good news.

Most boating terminology is consistent from region to region, and even internationally. Check out this excellent list from The consistency standardizes maritime communication and helps us speak to one another with confidence, regardless of which vessel we’re driving or sailing or rowing that day. 

Thanks for reading and happy boating!

Brian & Courtney