Why the dock is more than just a place to tie your boat

By Sarah Petrie

There’s no better way to relax at the end of a summer day than sitting on the dock, sipping on your favourite beverage and watching the sun set over the horizon.

A dock is so much more than just a place to tie up your boat; it’s a place to create memories. The wooden runway is an extension of your home or cottage on the water, the welcome mat for friends and family arriving by boat and a place for gathering to spend time with others.

By day, it wears many hats; the dock is the launch pad for water activities, a hot spot to relax and catch rays and is the platform from which to cast a line in search of the day’s catch. By night, it’s a place to watch the sun go down over the water and enjoy all of life’s simple pleasures.

It’s for these reasons that the dock is so much more than your boat’s parking space. It really does represent the entry point to your family’s life on the water.

When it comes time to build or upgrade your dock, all of these things have to be taken into consideration. How will it be used? What regulations are in place for your lake or waterway? Are you looking to have your dock serve multiple functions? Start making a list of what you hope to get out of your dock then do some investigation as to what kind of docks check off the most boxes on your must-haves list.

If you are having trouble finding a starting point, Courtney Vessair, sales assistant with Taylor Docks says to look next door: “Take a look at what the neighbours have and how it is working for them.” If you’re upgrading or replacing an existing dock, she suggests reviewing what you’re replacing and how well it stood the test of time as that can be a good indication of what type of dock works – or doesn’t – in your area.

There are a few other things to be considered as well. The environment in which you will place the dock should be studied. Any construction will affect ecosystems around it. Ensure you keep in mind any natural habitats that could be disrupted by your dock and plan to minimize impact as much as possible.

You also must contemplate where to place your dock from an aesthetic perspective and from a practical point of view. Take into account water levels, currents and the river or lake beds the dock’s foundation will sit on.

Before you even get to the planning stages, Vessair recommends looking into any permits and regulations that may be required in your area. She advises to check the Ministry of Natural Resources, your local municipality, local conservation authorities, Parks Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans if either applies to your situation. Vessair emphasizes, “Some of these permits take time to obtain so I would suggest planning ahead so you don’t lose a summer on the water!”

The next step is to decide which type of dock is for you. Because not every style of dock fits every situation we’ll outline a few of the most popular options available. You may need to use a few styles to get the perfect solution for you.

Floating Dock

Floating docks are popular because they simply float on the water and are held in place with anchors. The dock rises and falls with the water level, meaning high water won’t flood the dock and low water won’t mean a great distance between the surface of the water and the dock. Though, the water has to be deep enough to allow the floats to be buoyant and not drag on the waterbed.

A floating dock can be built on pontoons, hollow or foam filled plastic floats or other buoyant material – like steel tubes or specially treated foam. Typically several floats are used to keep the dock above water. They are attached to the dock’s undercarriage and the dock is secured in place using a chain and anchor.

This type of dock can be easily removed in the winter and is especially great for deep water installations.

Removable Post Dock

Removable post docks are flexible installations, great for shallower water and places where seasonal removal is required. They are not meant to withstand winter freezing.

Pipes or poles support this type of dock. The legs have bases that rest on the bottom of the water (or are corkscrewed in) and extend up to support the dock’s decking structure. The height is adjustable by increasing or decreasing the length of the poles.

They are commonly used in areas with sandy, but firm bottoms and places where a long dock is required to reach water deep enough to swim in. However, they are not suitable for tying up larger boats so a boatlift may be required alongside your dock if you intend to house a bigger boat.

Permanent dock

Permanent docks are built to remain in the water throughout the year. They are great for deep water installations and fare pretty well over the winter. They maintain a fixed distance from the water, so attention must be paid to the water levels where you plan to install a permanent dock. You don’t want it to end up underwater or have it ten feet above where your boat is.

In the past many docks were built on a crib support system that rested on the bottom of the lake. That practice isn’t as common anymore as many areas have banned cribs for their impact on the environment, and the fact that the cribs are subject to shifting and settling on the lakebed.

Pile docks are more commonly seen as a permanent dock solution. Wooden or steel piles are set into rock below the lakebed and a dock frame is built using the pilings as support.

Building Materials

Like most backyard decks, the decking portion of a dock is most frequently constructed of wood. Naturally rot-resistant lumbers like cedar make great dock surfaces. Pressure treated pine is a less expensive option and therefore a common dock material. Composite and synthetic decking products are also good options for their durability and ease of installation.

Your dock may also make use of metal hardware – usually a form of steel or powder coated steel – or it may be constructed completely from a metal like aluminum. Aluminum docks are lightweight, yet strong and can be purchased in ready-made kits or be made-to-order.

 Maintenance and Seasonal Tips

We know the weather is not always predictable, but one thing is for sure – winter ice can be detrimental to dock structures. When water freezes, it expands and as temperatures fluctuate during the winter months, that cycle can repeat, damaging anything in its path. For that reason, many docks can’t withstand spending the winter in the water.

There are a number of companies that will remove your dock in the fall and reinstall in the spring if you’re not up for doing it yourself.

Permanent docks are built to endure winter in the water, but even they can sustain damage from ice. Travelling ice floes can be powerful and if they make contact with a dock, they could harm the structure.

It is important to keep up with routine maintenance. Inspect your dock carefully come spring for any damage or rot. Make the effort to replace any boards that have deteriorated and consider cleaning and resealing to protect your dock’s wooden decking.

Accessories

The dock is an extension of your home on the water; it’s really up to you how you want to outfit it.

Lighting can add an element of drama and shows your neighbours how to find you at night.

If you plan on entertaining, think about how you will accommodate your guests. You might want to add built-in bench seating, or a less permanent solution, patio style furniture. A covered section could make the space useful on rainy days. Additional cleats and tie-up locations for guest boats will help make your dock a popular hang-out.

Lifts for your boat or PWC can be added to keep them out of the water. Covered lifts can further keep your boat protected from the elements. Mooring whips can keep your boat tied up a distance from your dock to prevent waves from bashing it against the structure.

Customization options are virtually endless. Bar tops, watersports equipment holders, storage bins, stairs, swim ladders, slides, diving boards and flagpoles – the list goes on and on. Choosing which accessories to adorn your dock might just be the most fun part of the entire process.

There isn’t one universal “one-size-fits-all” option when it comes to docks. Vessair, notes, “each type of dock has its own merit, but generally we meet with a client on site to assess their needs, the shoreline and ice activity and their budget to make a recommendation.” Sometimes a combination of dock types is necessary to fit a situation.

If installing a new dock is giving you anxiety, call a professional to help craft the best solution to fit your family’s lifestyle. With all the benefits that come along with life on the water, a new dock can only add to your enjoyment.

This article is featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Boats&Places.

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Sarah Petrie is the Editor of Print and Online content for Lifestyle Integrated Inc. She oversees Boats&Places Magazine, BoaterNews.ca and contributes to PowerBoat Television. Prior to her current role, she spent five years working in a live, television news environment. First as a chase producer, booking and coordinating news guests, then as a writer and video editor and, most recently, as a promotions producer. She graduated from Western University in London, Ontario with a degree in Media Information and Technoculture as well as a diploma in Television Broadcasting from Fanshawe College. After marrying into a boating family Sarah has spent many hours out on the water boating, fishing and exploring.

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