Buying a Dock
By Britta Reque-Dragicevic Tue, Nov 18, 2008
One of the most important accessories you will buy for your lake place is your dock. However, knowing which one to buy and figuring out what will work best for your shoreline and lifestyle can be challenging. There are several factors to consider- such as shore bottom, wave activity, what kind of look and maintenance you want- but regardless of your unique situation, rest assured, there is a dock to meet your needs.
There are four basic types of docks- the roll-in or wheel-in, the stand-alone or post, the floating dock and the piling or permanent wood dock. Each has its unique advantages and purposes depending on shoreline bottom and wave activity.
The roll-in or wheel-in dock is one of the most common docks used on Minnesota lakes because of the ease in which it can be pushed in and pulled out each season. Since our lakes freeze, most waterfront owners take their docks out in the fall. The roll-in consists of one main frame with a set of permanent wheels and several posts; the planks are then laid down on the frame. These docks work well on firm lake bottoms, gradual grades and minimal shoreline elevation. They do require a cleared space on shore where they can be pulled out and the frame stored and planks stacked and covered during the winter. The disadvantages of the roll-in are that you have less configuration options and the obtrusive frame must stand on your property during the fall/winter season.
Standing or post docks offer more flexibility with design and conditions. These docks do not have wheels and are installed on posts that are driven or anchored into the lake bottom. They can be permanently installed (usually for commercial applications) or pulled out each season depending on lake conditions. Since the frame, posts and planks come apart, they can be stacked out of sight quite easily for storage. Standing docks work well on firm lake bottoms, gradual grades and in rough water, as the waves can pass easily through the legs. They allow a wider range of creative design since platforms, slips and extensions can be added to create multiple configurations. The disadvantage of the standing dock is that they are harder to install/pull-out.
The floating dock is relatively rare in Minnesota, with the exception of river usage. But it is a viable alternative to the wheel-in and the standing dock. These docks consist of planks that are attached to flotation units, and then anchored by cables, stiff arms, sea anchors or ramps. These docks work very well in deep water, where water levels fluctuate, or on muddy/steep/uneven bottoms. For areas with heavy waves, a “U” shaped floating dock is recommended for more stability. These docks can be left in the water all year. The advantage is that for areas that have inaccessible lake bottoms, floating docks still give you the ability to enjoy a dock. The disadvantage is that they do not feel as stable as other docks, although the wider and heavier the floating dock is the more stable it will be. The piling or permanent dock provides access year-round and is a sturdy dock. Because of the pilings and sturdiness you can use this type of dock as a deck with a place for stunning or eating. Another obvious benefit is the fact that you don’t have to put it in each spring and take it out each fall. Because of our harsh winters in Minnesota these docks are not always a viable option. Brett Niccum of Niccum Docks suggests talking to a professional to determine if your lakeshore can sustain this type of dock. He has installed many over the years in areas where the dock is shielded from harsh winds and the water isn’t too deep. He also recommends a “bubbler” in the spring to keep ice chunks from pushing on and damaging your dock.
Niccum has many customers asking about more permanent and easy to use docking systems. One feature that is new for him is polythylene decking for his docks which are resistant to damage from ultra-violet rays to ensure the decking maintains its original color. In addition, this new product has a SelfDrain system allowing water to drain off of the decking preventing mold from growing, fungus growth, slippage, and winter freezes. “The options available in docks nowadays allow lakeshore property owners to extend their living space all the way over their water making the dock a more flexible and utilized part of their property,” states Niccum.
Another factor to consider before choosing a dock is the material used to construct it, as this will effect how easy a dock is to install and remove. Aluminum docks are lightweight, easier to install and are maintenance- and rust- free. Galvinized steel docks are heavier, may be more difficult to install/store, are paintable and are also treated to be rust-free. Floating docks may be aluminum or poly-vertex. Roll-in and standing docks may be solid-sided and truss-styled in their framing. Solid-sided is more aesthetically appealing, but truss-styled is stronger and bears the heaviest weight. Stainless steel hardware and convenient connecting devices are also necessities. Decking usually comes in a choice of wood, aluminum or vinyl. Wood offers the most natural look but also requires an application of weather sealant or strain and will need future upkeep. Aluminum should be ski-resistant and aside from an occasional cleaning, requires no maintenance. Vinyl should also be skid-resistant and comes in a variety of pre-made colors. It too requires little to no maintenance. Docks have come a long way in recent years from their traditional usage for anchoring boats and providing a place to jump off and swim or sit and fish.
“Docks are now an extension of the home- a living space for family and friends to relax, have fun and entertain,” said Gary Johnson, a marketing manager with Shoremaster, a leading national dock manufacturer based in Fergus Falls, MN.
Corner planks, platforms, unique configurations where more surface space allows for patio tables, chairs and seating- docks are now a place to be in and of themselves. Johnson reports that Shoremaster now offers a standing dock dubbed the “Curvie” which allows homeowners to create a curve dock from the shore and a round platform for a unique design.
“There’s more flexibility in design and homeowners can be truly creative in planning a dock that compliments the home’s design and their lifestyle,” Johnson said.
“At Porta-Dock, we offer stairways and handrails that can be readily attached to the dock so that accessing the dock from the shore or the water is very easy,” said Jay Miller, a marketing manager with Dassel, Minnesota-based, Porta-Dock. Porta-Dock has been designing and manufacturing docks since 1966.
Everything from furniture to flag pole holders, lighting to storage boxes-the list of accessories is nearly endless and allows homeowner to truly make their dock a space that is usable and purposeful.
Johnson and Miller suggest that the best thing to do before you buy a dock is talk to a dock professional, either at a company’s headquarters or at a local dealer. They should be able to assist you with determining you dock’s intended use, lakeshore considerations and budget. Research online and spend some time considering how your dock could be an extension of your deck, home and yard. A dock is a major investment that should afford years of reliable and safe service. When chosen well, it can also make your lake front the envy of the shoreline.
Choosing the Right Dock With so many dock styles and configurations to choose from, how do you know what to look for when planning a dock system that will ideally fit your lake property? Turns out there are a few key considerations that will help you design a dock system that truly works for you. So, before you jump in and buy a dock, take a few moments to consider the following questions. Once you have your answers, you’ll have a much better idea of just which dock will be best for you.
The first thing to do is to establish the purpose (most likely multiple purposes) of your dock. Will you be swimming off or around it? Boating? Will your boat be on a lift, tied to the dock or does it need a slip? Do you have more than one boat? How about other watercraft? Jet skis? Will you be docking a float plane? And don’t forget to consider what kind of weather you have, the lake exposure, what type of elevation, shoreline grade and what the lake bottom conditions are. What kind of wave activity do you have? Do you envision holding sunset dinners on a patio table at the end of your dock? Entertaining friends there? Or do you just want a bench to sit and throw a line out? Write down all the activities you envision your family doing on your dock (this will also help you later when choosing accessories).
Next, after you’ve determined what (if any) your physical lake shore limitations are for a dock, consider what level of ease of installation and removal you want. Most cabin/lake home owners are do-it-yourselfers. Are you? Or will you be hiring a dock service to handle installation/removal? What about storage? Do you have a cleared area where a roll-in dock can stand all winter, or is your land better suited to the stackable standing dock that can be stored out-of-sight? Remember, too, that when storing a dock, the legs need to be put down and snow load should be reduced to as little as possible. This means with a roll-in or standing dock you’ll need a place to stack and store your planks and keep them covered during the winter.
Third, consider the look and level of maintenance you want. A dock system should compliment your shoreline and your home style. A well-chosen and designed dock system should appear as an extension of your home, deck and property. Do you want wood planking stained to match your deck? Or vinyl that compliments your home’s exterior? Do you want the ease of aluminum planking? Do you want to apply sealant to wood planking as it’s needed, or would you rather just have to wash your planking down each year and leave it at that? What kind of accessories will you have? Patio furniture? Benches? Storage containers for swim gear? “The biggest mistake I see people make is buying the wrong dock for the wrong application,” said Jay Miller of Porta-Dock. “You need to buy the right dock for what you will use it for, not just what the salesman may suggest you buy.”
“Ask your neighbors about their docks. Look for ease and function. Ask them how easy it is to install and store, and if they like how it’s held up over the years,” suggested Miller.
Gary Johnson of Shoremaster recommends looking for a brand name and making sure the dock comes with a warranty. Most legitimate manufacturers offer warranties that last for five or more years.
“There are still a lot of mom-and-pop shops out there who build docks in their garages. It’s cheap and fairly easy to do, and may of them have been doing it for years,” Johnson said. “But a lot of people have been disappointed. Docks are an important investment in your lake property and one that should not be taken lightly.”
That’s why taking the time to think through the current and future use of your dock system will in the end save you time and possibly money. You may have to invest a little more than what you planned, but in the long-run the fun your family will have will be well worth it.
Photos compliments of Shoremaster and PortoDock
Original article posted by Lakestyle Magazine.