For many aspiring and current cabin owners, there’s no place better than being out on the water. Few experiences can compete with a summer evening spent on the dock, legs dangling in the cool lake, while the calls of Kingfishers echo in the background as the sun sets.
Whether your goal is to tie up a boat, cast from a convenient fishing spot or simply have a space to watch the golden sun reflect off the water, one of the best ways to maximize the joy of waterfront living is to add a dock. But before you head to shore with hammer in hand, here’s what you need to know.
Types of Docks
When it comes to dock design, the options can be overwhelming. Start by separating docks in two categories, non-permanent (removable or adjustable) and permanent. Non-permanent docks, like floating docks, move with the water. Permanent, or fixed, docks have a set height, are situated above the water on a foundation and are usually constructed of concrete, steel or wood.
Several key factors will determine which of these is right for your property:
- Water type
- Local regulations
- Water depth
- Your intended use: boat access, fishing, swimming, entertaining
- Size and number of watercraft
- Shoreline profile
- Water-level fluctuation
- Waves and currents
- Soil composition
If your waterline fluctuates in height over the course of the year but the water is deep, or if permanent posts are not compatible with the ground due to soil softness or water depth, a non-permanent dock may be the best decision for your property. These come in a few different styles, but floating is the most common you’ll see out there. These are large platforms that bob on the water’s surface and are tethered to the shore.
Veronica Williams, director of marketing at Pond King Inc. in Gainesville, Texas, explains part of that popularity is thanks to the fact that floating docks can adjust for whatever Mother Nature throws at them.
“As you can see, they are quite effective in accommodating water elevation changes due to drought, evaporation or, best case, rain!” she says. “Because of our unique hinge system ... our standard steel-framed and deluxe steel-framed docks can accommodate water elevation changes up to 10 feet.” That’s no small feat.
Floating docks also make great platforms for fishing and boating, as it situates you right on the water and the dock remains consistently close to the boat’s cleat and ties. This allows watercraft to be easily secured and offer a consistent experience getting in and out of your boat.
One of the big advantages of a permanent, or fixed, dock is the increased stability, both for the sake of the dock and for those using it. Particularly in areas with strong waves or currents, a permanent dock is likely the way to go. Additionally, permanent docks are a good fit in shallow water, less than 5 feet or so, where a floating dock would be at risk of hitting the ground should the water level recede. They also offer the chance to incorporate higher-end entertaining features, like a bar or seating. On the flip side, permanent docks may cost more and involve permitting to construct.
Permanent docks come in several varieties. A “piling” dock, in which large wooden posts support a framework of wooden decking, is one of the most common. (Think: marinas and ocean piers.) Another is the “crib” dock, which is made by creating a literal crib of crates or wooden frames and filling it with rocks before covering it in decking.
Their stability is not without a steep price tag though, and they may disrupt the surrounding ecosystem.
In addition to the construction style of your dock, you’ll have to sort out the materials to build it with. The three most common choices are aluminum, wood and synthetic materials.
Aluminum and synthetic materials, like plastic, boast outstanding durability, lower maintenance and less weight. Wood offers a classic look and fits in particularly well in rustic locales. That being said, it does come with some upkeep, and you’ll need to check with local regulations regarding chemical treatments.
Veronica reports that TimberTech, a composite decking option, is a favorite of Pond King’s. “It is one of the densest decking products on the market and will out-perform solid wood decking, lasting far longer with less maintenance,” she says. “It’s splinter-safe and resistant to fading, staining and warping, as well as mold and mildew. You will pay more up front for this material compared to wood, but it has a potential lifespan of 25 to 50 years.”
DIY Your Dock?
Once you have decided on a floating or fixed dock and what material to use, all that’s left to decide is how it will get built. Your options are build it yourself, buy a kit or hire someone to build it for you.
Even if you’re a seasoned DIYer, building and installing some dock types requires specialized techniques and tools. Docks made from a building system are a good solution, but be prepared to rent heavy-duty equipment for its delivery. Ultimately, you may just want to hire a pro to tackle this project, so you can concentrate on having fun.