What To Do When Preparing To Build A Dock

Justin Ross

Preparing to build docks is a job that can seem simple, but it has the potential to get complicated quickly. Whether you want to DIY the project or hire a contractor, there are a few things you can do to make the task go more smoothly.

Choosing a Type of Dock

There are two common types of docks. Floating models use barrels or drums as the floating base. The decking then attaches to the floats. A piling dock is one where wooden pilings are driven into the bed underneath the water to provide maximum support. Each approach has its virtues.

A floating system is best in locations where the water level varies a lot. It also can be useful in settings where the shore drops off rapidly or the available bed is too soft and sandy to provide sufficient support. Some people also prefer to use floats in situations where they want to limit damage from ice on lakes by bringing the dock in at the end of the boating season.

Piling docks primarily provide the advantage of strength. Boat lifts and launches can be installed to provide greater usability in settings where the water level goes up and down. As you might imagine, these investments tend to make piling docks more costly.

Alternative solutions include using pipes instead of pilings, crib systems that are anchored with rocks, and suspension cable models. Generally, these approaches are applied in situations that don't lend themselves to the main two options.


The decking for the dock is another choice, with three common options on the market. Pressure-treated wood is widely used because it is fairly cheap and light. It doesn't weather well, and that means it must be treated regularly as a wooden deck would be. Composites use a mixture of wood and plastic fibers, and they're generally low-maintenance. Vinyl products are also available, but they tend to be more expensive than the other two types.


Depending on your rights at a site, you may need to acquire permits and possibly even a license. It's a good idea to get in touch with the authority for the body of water where you'll be installing a dock to inquire about licenses and permits. You might also be asked to provide plans for your dock, including engineering surveys that assess the impact the dock will have on the shoreline and the body of water.