So you finally decided that this is the year of the dock at your house or camp. Whether you will be building a dock from scratch, purchasing a pre-fabricated dock, or adding onto your existing dock, you will be faced with a myriad of choices regarding dock design and materials.
Before you even look at your first dock brochure, you should first decide on how you will use your dock. Consider all of the uses that will fit your lifestyle now, plus think of any potential future uses. Will it be used to moor your boat, or as a fishing and swimming platform, or to entertain guests, or all of the above? You will be amazed at how quickly every square foot of dock space becomes precious.
Second, look at the environmental constraints that your shoreline, lake bottom, and lake levels will place on your dock. Deep water, a rock bottom, and major fluctuations in lake levels can produce a dock design that is totally different from a design intended for shallow water, mud bottom, and minor fluctuations in lake levels.
Third, don’t forget that your dock will have to meet regulatory requirements. In order to be exempt from permitting requirements under the Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA), your dock will have to be a temporary structure that is in the water no more than seven months of the year. That means your dock will have to be portable and relatively easy to install and remove. Also, check with your municipality regarding its Shoreland Zoning Ordinances and the limitations that they will have on dock design with regards to dock width, etc.
Once you’ve compiled your list of dock uses, environmental constraints, and regulatory requirements, you are ready to go to work on your dock design. Types of do-it-yourself and pre-fabricated docks include the popular floating docks and pipe docks.
Floating docks may be the best choice for deep water with major fluctuations in lake levels. They are the only type of dock with relatively consistent freeboard. However, an overloaded floating dock can become submerged or, at the least, submerged enough to subject the occupants to splash from waves. Big waves are the enemies of floating docks. They increase wear and tear on floating docks, jostle the occupants, and generate noise as the dock connectors grind against each other.
Pipe docks may be the best choice for shallow water with minor fluctuations in lake levels. Pipe docks are essentially a deck platform suspended off the water surface by pipes resting on the lake bottom. A good rule of thumb for pipe docks is that the depth of water should be no greater than the dock width. Dock width should never be less than 3 feet. Depending on the design, large boats moored to pipe docks can be trouble. Considerable bracing is normally required to make pipe docks stable. A variation on the pipe dock type is the roll out pipe dock. Wheels attached to the lake end of the dock allow the owner to either push the dock into the lake or to pull it out, using a vehicle or a bunch of relatives at the land end to provide the horsepower.
As in the construction of a land-based deck, the use of pressure-treated wood framing and plastic or composite decking can greatly extend the life of your dock. Pre-fabricated steel or aluminum framing made specifically for docks is also available. The selection of materials for the decking requires special attention. Even though plastic and composites may cost more than wood, they are generally easier on the feet in terms of absorbing less heat and not producing splinters.
To locate dock builders, dock materials, and specialty dock hardware shops in your area, refer to the Yellow Pages or the internet. An excellent reference for dock design and construction is The Dock Manual, written by Max Burns (1999).
Like any other project, careful planning will help you to eliminate the potential pitfalls associated with dock design and construction. I think you’ll agree that when you are finally able to just sit and relax on your own new dock, the rewards are well worth the effort.