Which Dock Is Best For You?
You've purchased a nice piece of property on a beautiful lake and can't wait to start enjoying it - swimming, fishing, boating, enjoying the sunsets over the lake.
But something's missing ... a dock! You'll need one to have access to the lake and all the fun that awaits .
You've seen a lot of different types of docks, but what are the advantages and disadvatages to each type?
And which one is right for you? These are some of the questions that we wrestled with when trying to determine what to replace the aging, homemade rolling dock that we inherited when we bought our home on Lake Champlain.
Photo of Jimmie Davis State Park from wikimedia.org
Considerations When Choosing Your Dock
How you plan to use it- For fishing, swimming or docking your boat?
Depth of the water- And does it vary?
Conditions of the lake bottom (substrate)- Is it rocky, muddy or sandy?
Prevailing wind and currents- Heavy wind and waves can destroy certain docks.
The lakeshore- Will it be attached to the shore or freestanding?
Federal, local, municipal, association and other regulations that might govern usage. Know the rules.
Sunset Over Five Island Lake (photo by David Morris)
We'll look at three types of docks. Each type is better for some uses and applications and not as good for others. By reviewing the features and best applications for each type, you can determine which type of dock will work best for you, in your particular situation. Here are three different types:
Stationary Dock: Platform of planking affixed to a metal or wood frame that is suspended above the waterline by legs.
Wheeled Dock: Similar to a stationary dock, where at least one set of 'legs' have been replaced by wheels.
Floating Dock: Platform attached to frame suspended on the water by flotation devices.
Here are some additional resources on docks and dock building & maintenance:
Good book for the beginning DIY dock builder - offering common sense advice for anyone wanting to build a simple dock.
Stationary Docks - or Standing Docks, Pipe Docks
What Are Stationary Docks?
Also known as standing or pipe docks, because many use pipes for the legs, stationary docks work well for small applications, and are fairly inexpensive to build. This is the most common type of dock used on a lake. They consist of a plank platform fixed to a frame, which is suspended above the surface of the water by posts of wood or metal pipes.
Typically, they require no special tools, materials or advanced buiding skills and are relatively easy to build, but they are difficult to move once in place.
Advantages to Using a Stationary Dock
They are very stable and are well suited for general use and boarding boats. If they are set higher than the maximum wave height, the waves will pass harmlessly below the deck and the stationary dock will not be affected by the chop created by the wind or boats. These docks work best on rocky, gravel or sandy lake bottoms.
Problems with Stationary Docks
Because they are bulky, they can be difficult to move. Fluctuating water levels may threaten to submerge your dock or leave it too far above the water's surface to be useful, and you may need to remove it if you're on a lake that forms ice in the winter. This can be a dreaded chore (I know from personal experience). Here in New England we have to do this at least twice each year, and is best handled with help from a group of friends, neighbors or family members.
This aluminum ladder flips up, as shown in the picture at left, so the rungs are not submerged, and don't collect algae and floating weeds.
This is what we use on our dock; it works great.
If you're planning to use your dock for swimming activities, a dock ladder is essential. Rocky or muddy lake bottoms can make for difficult access to the water for a swim. A ladder will get you to the swimmable water without tripping over rocks or sinking into a mucky lake bottom.
The ladders shown below feature rungs that slide or fold up and out of the water. This keeps them from accumulating algae and becoming too slippery to use safely.
Wheeled Docks - or Rolling Docks
What Are Rolling Docks?
These are similar to stationary docks in that they are situated on the lake bottom (substrate). The big advantage they offer is an easier way to set up and remove your dock. Here in New England, we must do this at least twice a year. Also, fluctuations in lake levels may require you to move your dock back and forth several times. Rolling docks make this job a lot easier.
They can be reasonably priced, especially if made with old iron wagon wheels, as shown in the photo above. This will increase the weight substantially. Some of the newer plastic dock wheels made for rolling docks and boat lifts are both affordable and light weight.
Best Uses for Rolling Docks
These should only be used where they will roll freely, without sinking into muddy or mucky lake beds. Gentle slopes, rock-free without sudden drop-offs are the ideal situation for using a rolling dock. If your lake has seasonal changes in water level, a rolling dock can be rolled into deeper water or wheeled closer to shore, as is necessary.
Avoid Using Rolling Docks in These Situations!
Do not use these in deep water or areas with high winds or waves. If the water breaks above the deck, wind and wave action will work on the hardware and frame, causing damage, destruction or loss of the dock.
Because they will usually take up more storage space in the off-season, you'll need extra room on the shore to store your rolling dock for the winter. Dense woods and brush can make it difficult to maneuver a rolling dock around..
This molded UV resistant polyethylene step has a non-slip pad on top of each step. Hand rails are also available for 2 and 3 step models.
Your dock can be even more useful with the addition of some accessories like steps to make boat boarding easier and safer or a dock storage box for life jackets or fishing poles.
This Rubbermaid deck box offers16.2 cubic feet of storage space below the seat.
The rugged high-density polyethylene construction won't chip, crack or peel
What are Floating Docks?
These are decked platforms that are mounted on a frame attached to flotation devices which raise it slightly above the waterline. They work well for large scale docking operations - composed of many sections, like marina docks. They are less damaging to lake bottom than other dock types, because their contact to the substrate is limited, in most cases, to an anchor or mooring.
Best Applications for Floating Docks
They work best in locations with muddy or mucky lake beds. Docks supported by wheels or legs will sink into the muddy bottom and be nearly impossible to move. Because they maintain a constant freeboard - the level above the water line - they are the best choice where there are fluctuating water levels. Deeper water applications also call the use of floating docks, since they are easier to maneuver in deep water.
Do Not Use Floating Docks In These Situations
They should not be used in water less than three feet deep or if there is any wind or wave action. In fact, floating docks shouldn't be used in any application where there are high winds or waves. Their anchoring systems will probably not hold up under these constant forces.
They are not as stable as other docks that are connected to the lake bed by legs or wheels. The longer, wider and heavier that a floating dock is, the more stable it will be. This increased need for size makes floating docks more expensive to build and move than stationary or rolling docks.
Automatically turns on at dusk; operates up to 8 hours a day. For best results place in location receiving direct sunlight. Water proof design provides longer life in all weather conditions
Solar Dock Lights
Walking along a dock on a dark night is not a good idea. These solar lights can illuminate the way so you don't go swimming unexpectedly and can add some charm to your dock at night.
How to Dock a Motorboat - Video from US Power Squadrons
Docking your motorboat can seem very intimidating at first. This video from US Power Squadrons gives a quick overview on how to safely dock your power boat.
Abrasive 6" stiff brush includes a 48" threaded wood handle.
Dock Maintenance Supplies - Keep your dock clean to make sure that it lasts!
Many other creatures will be as attracted to your dock as you are. Geese, ducks, seagulls and herons will eat and rest there. Muskrats will sometimes climb up to eat their meals. There are many insects that hatch from the water, these will attract spiders and other hungry predators. All of this traffic can leave your dock looking like a high school cafeteria after lunch.
Here are a few tools to help keep the mess under control:
Non-toxic, effective way to make spiders leave an area. Not a poison; safe for use around people and pets. Ideal for use on the boat, around the boathouse, garage, shed, basement or other enclosed areas.
Dock-Side Dock Bumper protects your boat and your dock from collision damage.