Our Dock Products Department primarily serves the do-it-yourselfer and small contractors who “know which end of the hammer to hold” but would like to lean on someone with years of experience in building and installing recreational docks. You can find dock parts on lots of websites. You can find dock parts, experience, drawings and bills-of-materials docks here.
Drawings of several basic designs are readily available on our website as well as standard kits to build them. Designs can be created for your custom configurations. In addition, complete instructions for building and installing take the guesswork out of your project. Almost always, your drawings include a bill-of-materials so that you understand all part quantities with pricing.
Generally, our docks are designed so that no more than two people are required to handle the individual modules (the weight of a single 4’ x 6’ module can surpass 200 pounds). The modules typically bolt together to form the complete dock and each module uses galvanized steel components in addition to treated wood framing. Vinyl decking, vinyl facia, low voltage lighting and accessories can be used to end up with a low maintenance dock that will be the envy of all of the neighbors. Some general information or “questions often asked”:
- Fixed or floating – which is best?
- Size of your dock
- Anchoring a floating dock
- What about the ramp
- How many floats do I need
- A few installation tips
- General float information
- DIY – building your own dock, kits
- Vinyl is final – Is it worth it?
- Various common designs
A stationary dock (sometimes called a fixed pier) is almost always less expensive and more stable than a floating dock. The most common reasons to switch from fixed to floating are:
- The water is over 6’ deep in the area of the dock and the support pipes would
- sway. Sometimes a bit deeper is achieved by adding additional bracing.
- The water level varies over a foot during the season and a fixed pier would be
- Under water or too far above the water, i.e., the freeboard is too great.
- The wave action is heavy and a stationary dock would be periodically swamped.
- The dock must be removed in the winter and supports would be cumbersome
- to deal with.
- Dock will be released as a swim platform to casually float around the pond.
The size of your dock is more a matter of usage rather than the size of your boat. Most docks are used more as “outdoor space” than strictly for mooring a boat. If your dock is used only for mooring your boat, it can usually be quite a bit shorter than your boat. For instance, a 12’ long dock is usually sufficient for tying up an 18” boat.
A floating dock less than 6’ wide rapidly becomes unstable as the width is reduced. A 4’ wide floating dock with no “outrigger” to stabilize it, will be a “rolling log” and will not be
stable at all. The reason that fingers on slip docks are reasonably stable is because the end of the finger is attached to another dock (usually perpendicular to it) to prevent it from rolling, i.e., the other dock (or usually the main dock) acts as an outrigger.
In general, we usually recommend a minimum size of 6×12 for floating docks unless senior citizens are using it in which case we recommend a minimum size of 8×12. For floating swim platforms, we usually recommend a minimum size of 8×8 since it is safe to assume that the younger folks using it are bound to try to flip it over. In general a 6×12 is reasonably comfortable for two people to fish off of or to moor a small boat. Once you add a couple of lawn chairs, tackle boxes and a cooler, you are pretty much out of space.
In general, the larger the floating dock, the more stable it tends to be and, like houses, it seems like you always wish you would have made it a little bigger.
Factors affecting how a floating dock should be anchored include considerations such as water depth, water level variation, budget, usage or number of boats.
- The most common way of holding floating dock in place is by using “spud pipes” which are pipes driven into the bottom of the lake used in conjunction with pipe holders (larger pipes) mounted to the side of the dock that slide up and down on the spud pipes. This design is obviously only practical to reasonable water depths (less than 10’).
- Deep lakes most commonly use submerged “deadmen” designs where considerable size heavy weights on the bottom are cabled to the dock almost always with winches to allow for adjusting the cable length due to water level variation. In addition, cables typically run to shore for winching in and out.
- Where spud pipes are not practical and in shallower lakes, some dock owners prefer a stiff arm design with horizontal pipes run from the dock straight back to shore and pivot both at the dock and on shore.
A floating dock is often subjected to periodic intense external forces including mooring boats, high winds, ice and current. That is why we always recommend cabling the dock to the shore. Particularly on river docks, cabling has saved many a dock! A couple of relatively small cables running from the corners to shore is enough (note that most agencies require more than just attaching cables to big trees).
Your dock is usually located far enough from shore to be in an acceptable water depth. This depth may be enough to work well with a boat prop or it may be deep enough to allow for the kids jumping or diving off the dock or maybe it’s just deep enough to assure plenty fish like hanging out under your dock. Regardless of your situation, it is more common than not to have the main dock accessed via a ramp or walkway. It should be noted here, however, that many docks have been installed that are really more like “patios over the water”, i.e., fixed piers that extend out into the water and are the same width all the way out.
- Your ramp (or walkway) can be fixed, semi-floating or full floating (sometimes it is a combination of two of these).
- A fixed walkway does not move up and down and is built just like the stationary docks shown elsewhere in the website. It is only recommended for shallow water applications with minimal level variation.
- A semi-floating ramp is the most common. The standard design for a semi-floating ramp has floats on one end only and pivots at the dock and on shore. As the water level rises, the lake end of the ramp goes up with the dock so that the ramp slopes upward. Conversely, as the lake drops, the ramp slopes downward. By hinging the ramp at the dock and placing it on its own floats, you avoid the weight of the ramp tilting the dock.
- A full floating ramp goes up and down with the dock. Both ends of the ramp have floats under them. This design is often used when the dock is next to a steep cliff or when a long ramp is made up of one or more floating ramp sections ending in a semi-floater on shore.
Here are a few of the most common questions that are asked by first time recreational docks.
Calculating floatation is addressed in the previous paragraph and more detailed float information will be addressed later.
Most often, the dock modules are constructed at a convenient place and moved to the shore where they are assembled on a ramp and the decking added so that the dock can be pushed into the water. Alternately, many floaters are assembled while already floating.
The modules for a stationary dock or fixed pier are heavy and seldom are they easily maneuvered even in shallow water. Almost always, the installer will temporarily attach floats to the bottom and float them into place.
We usually support our stationary docks with 2” Schedule 40 galvanized pipe. Near the bottom of the pipe there are mud pads that help prevent the pipe from sinking further once set. Driving the pipe is done with a post pounder like the farmer uses to pound in his metal fence posts. A sledge hammer is sometimes used when the heights work out relatively conveniently. When driving these pipes, the installer will be able to tell when the mud pad has hit bottom as the post will not be going any deeper. The installer can also confirm by feeling the mud pad with his foot.
Spud pipes for floating docks do not use mud pads on the bottom and are driven in as far as possible (at least two gorillas taking turns is the best way to describe it). Although it is preferable to have the 2” pipes well above the dock to allow for water rising, there are a couple of ways to extend spud pipes. Remember that a 1 ½” schedule 40 pipe slides happily into 2” pipe.
On floating/semi-floating designs, it is unwise to expect the shore end of the ramp to hold the whole dock assembly in place. Even farm pond docks will see external forces such as high winds on occasion. So consider spud pipes, stiff arms or at least cable tie offs to shore to absorb the external forces.
Most docks are installed when the water is “up” even though some lake associations periodically drop the water during the winter months. Installing the dock while the lake is in normal pool helps assure the proper placement and freeboard.
Each float is rated on the number of pounds that it will support. Past experience with floating recreational docks has proven that using a load factor of 25 lbs/sq ft (minimum) is usually acceptable. For applications such as commercial or added weight such as a roof are to be added, the load factor should be higher. Obviously, in addition to weight rating, that actual placement or location of the floats is also critical. When in doubt, it never hurts to add more floatation. One other consideration is the span limitation of the lumber. Span charts which list the allowable span of standard lumber are available through your lumber supplier (commonly treated yellow pine lumber). Since floats are often available in different heights, this will created different “freeboards”, i.e., the final distance from the top of the dock to the water. Different float heights for the same length and width have different floatation ratings. The most common size for the floats is 2’ x 4’ x 16” and this will typically provide a freeboard of about 20”.
The following is an example of the usual calculations. Assume that:
- The dock finished size will be 8 x 10.
- It is constructed of typical galvanized steel bracketing and 2×8 treated wood.
- The decking will be typical decking boards.
- There is no roof and it will not be used commercially.
Total square footage is 8 times 10 or 80 square feet.
Multiply the square footage (80) times 25 lbs per sq ft or 2000 lbs design load.
It appears that a 2’ x 4’ x 16” float could easily be incorporated into our 8×10 dock design and a 2’ x 4’ x 16” float is rated at 590 lbs. So, if we attach one at each corner for maximum stability, 4 floats times 590 lbs/float is equal to 2360 lbs which is greater than the 2000 lb design load.
Our encapsulated floats are designed and warranted for years of trouble free service. The polyethylene shell absorbs a lot of abuse such as sliding the dock down the ramp when launching. The polystyrene foam inside adds to the strength as well as assuring long lasting floatation.
The floats attach to the bottom of the frame usually using lag screws and washers. Previous to the introduction of encapsulated floats, foam floats were used and fit up inside the dock. Just about all agencies such as Corps of Engineers, Fish & Wildlife, TVA have banned use of these foam types of floats.
Encapsulated floats can be left in the water during the winter as long as there is no flowing ice such as might be generated where there is any current. As with any structure, the life of a dock will be extended if it is protected against damaging conditions. Simply pulling the floating dock onto shore and covering will extend its life.
The float plugs are typically added when the floats are attached to the structure. If the plugs are tightened in storage and the temperature goes up, the float will start blowing up like a balloon particularly on the bottom. Obviously, this can also happen when shipping floats into warmer climates.
By using our designs and products, you can rest assured that you’ve built your dock just like we would have and you can count on years of trouble free service.. We are proud to say that, after many years of designing and building docks, we have never had a design turned down by any national, state or local agency. Generally you can build your own dock for about half of what it would cost built and installed by a contractor. You purchase the treated wood locally so that freight costs can be minimized.
You will first want to decide if any of our typical designs fit your needs. If you find one that fits your needs, we will be happy to provide a current bill-of-materials including quantities and current pricing for each dock part or kit.
If you wish to build a custom dock, contact us for a scale drawing with bill-of-materials.
Even more complex designs can still be supplied in kit form. Although there may be a small charge to create scale drawings and BOM’s for your project, our standard is to credit this charge back when you order the parts.
In addition to your drawings and bill-of-materials, we also send you complete instructions for building the modules and then installing your dock.
When building a wood dock, the expected life is hard to predict particularly with the EPA’s changing wood treatment requirements and chemicals. Using vinyl decking and vinyl facia adds years to the life of the dock as well as improving the appearance and minimizing maintenance. Although each circumstance is different, you can usually expect to spend in the vicinity of 75% more for a vinyl dock.
If you have the tools necessary to build a typical deck, you will likely have everything you need to build your own dock. You might want to consider the borrowing, renting or purchasing the following tools for installation, however:
- Post pounder for installing pipes
- Floats when installing fixed piers
- Recommended bits for installing vinyl
- Reciprocating saw with metal blades for cutting pipe
In addition to vinyl decking and facia, you may want to consider other options such as low voltage lighting or vinyl railing for special conditions. Whereas railing is often an obstruction on a dock, it is preferable under certain conditions.
Occasionally the question arises about using a wood frame underneath the vinyl and “is the wood the weak link in the design”. From a practical standpoint, over the years we have found that, 1.) The wood that most often fails on a deck or dock is the decking and railing (not the structure) and 2. The fact that the framing (joists, etc.) is structurally sound and can be re-covered after the decking has failed indicates that the framing is much longer lasting than the other boards. Adding galvanized steel bracketing to the structural equation, it is easy to understand how this design can be expected to provide many additional years of service.