Landowners with waterfront properties have a huge asset on their hands – but to access that water, you’ll want to build a dock.
Yet, this is intimidating for many property owners.
A dock is a significant investment.
It not only involves careful planning and execution, but it also requires some specific know-how.
If you’re interested in building a dock, keep reading.
You’ll learn everything you need to know about planning, getting permits, buying materials, and building a dock.
Let’s get started.
1. Do I need a permit when building a dock?
Yes, you’ll likely need a permit to build a dock on your land.
You’ll need to check with your local municipality to see what the requirements are.
Always check with your local governments before starting construction.
If you fail to do this and apply for the proper permit, it could result in fines or the removal of the dock.
2. What materials do I need when building a dock?
Of course, materials can vary depending on the type of dock you build, but here are the core elements of a dock.
Framing and piers
These elements of the dock are essential for the structure.
To create a good foundation, they should be built of heavy-duty, marine-grade material.
Additionally, the hardware used should be timber bolts that are a three-quarter inch in diameter with ogee washers that are four times the diameter of the bolt.
The classic choice for decking is timber (No. 1 grade or better), which should be replaced every 10 to 15 years.
If you opt for the No. 2 grade, then it will have knotholes that can pop out.
This is an apparatus that is bolted to your dock to suspend your boat above the water when you’re not using it.
They’re almost all made of aluminum, which makes them relatively equal in quality.
If you choose to install a floating dock, you should make sure that the dock is at least 8 to 10 feet wide.
Otherwise, it’ll feel like you’re walking on a surfboard.
You may be concerned about the stability of floating docks, but contrary to popular belief, they are some of the most stable floats and kayak launches available.
3. What type of dock should I build?
There are three main types of docks that you should consider.
The right kind for your property will depend on factors like water depth, wave and wind conditions, intended use, and budget.
Here are the different types:
This is a water dock that is fixed in place.
It doesn’t move with the water level, and it’s ideal if you’re seeking a dock with features like ramps, ladders, and safety railings.
You should consider a stationary dock if you want something stable, durable, accessible, and customizable.
However, stationary docks have a stronger environmental impact, higher maintenance needs, limited flexibility, and a higher cost.
This type of water dock simply floats on the water’s surface.
It is generally made with foam-filled plastic, wood, or concrete.
It is anchored to the seafloor using mooring lines or pilings.
Although it isn’t as stable as a stationary dock, it can still include features like ramps, ladders, and safety railings.
The advantages of a floating dock include adaptability, ease of installation, low environmental impact, and portability.
However, there are some drawbacks including stability, maintenance, accessibility, and cost.
The final type of water dock is a floating dock that is attached to vertical pilings that are driven into the seafloor.
These pilings provide support and stability.
However, the dock rises and falls with the water level.
The benefits of this type of dock are versatility, stability, low maintenance, and easy installation.
The drawbacks of this dock include cost, accessibility, environmental impact, and maintenance challenges that can arise if they become damaged or worn.
4. How do I determine the size of the dock?
The size of your dock will depend on two factors: needs and available space.
For your needs, think about what you want to use the dock for.
Are you docking boats?
If so, how many, and how big are they?
Are you using the dock for swimming?
Your answers to these questions will help give you some idea of how much space you need.
You may also have some limitations depending on how much space is available.
In an ideal world, you may desire a larger dock than you have space for.
This can help you determine the proper size for the dock.
5. Where should the dock be located?
You should place your dock as close to the center of your shoreline as possible.
Ideally, you (as the property owner) will be able to see who is on it.
You don’t want unattended children to be able to access it without you being able to see it.
Additionally, a dock should never hug a common property line.
If it does, then your next-door neighbors won’t have room to get in and out of their boats.
So, it’s common courtesy to keep it in the middle of your property to prevent any issues.
6. What materials are best for building a dock?
Before you determine the type of materials that you need to build a dock, figure out what type of dock you’re building.
This will be instrumental in ensuring you have the right kind of materials.
Other factors that are important when choosing materials to build a dock are water conditions and intended use.
The most common materials for docks are wood, aluminum, steel, and composite materials.
Each of these materials has positives and negatives.
Some are more or less durable and expensive.
Others require more or less maintenance.
Make sure you do your research when you’re selecting a type of dock.
You can also ask your contractor for their recommendation if you’re ultimately unsure.
7. How deep should the pilings be for the dock?
A dock piling is a large post or pole driven into the ground.
It provides stability for the structures built over water.
How deep these poles need to go depends on several factors, including:
In general, the pilings should be deep enough to provide sufficient support and stability.
We recommend working with your contractor to determine this depth.
It will vary based on your specific situation and land.
8. Do I need to hire a contractor when building a dock, or can I do it myself?
If you have previous experience building a dock, then go for it!
However, if you’re inexperienced, we recommend hiring a contractor with experience in dock building.
This will ensure the project is completed safely, efficiently, and to code.
Another reason to hire a contractor is that they will help advise you on all aspects of a project that you are uncertain of.
Don’t know the right design for your dock?
They’ve got you!
Don’t know the right materials?
They’ll tell you!
Don’t know the proper construction techniques?
That’s their specialty!
When you hire a qualified contractor, they’ll guarantee a high-quality finished product.
9. What time of year should I build a dock?
Numerous factors dictate the best time of year to build a dock.
Keep the following in mind:
Availability of materials and contractors
We recommend avoiding building during the rainy season as well as times of high winds or waves.
Spring and early summer are good times to start building.
This is when water levels are lower, and the weather is milder.
Plus, you should have a deck in time to enjoy for the summer, which is when most property owners want to be outside!
10. How long does it take to build a dock?
The time you’ll need to build a dock will depend on four factors:
Size of the deck
The complexity of the project
Availability of materials and labor
As noted above, certain times of the year are not as good for building a dock.
With a small dock, it may take only a few days to build.
However, with a larger or more complex dock, it could take several weeks.
If there’s poor weather or you can’t get the materials you need, the timeline could be lengthened.
Patience is key!
11. What maintenance is required when building a dock?
The maintenance you’re required to perform for a deck will vary based on what type of deck you’ve installed.
However, it’s important to perform said maintenance to ensure the longevity and safety of your dock.
Here are example tasks that may be required:
Replacing worn or damaged elements
Regular inspections to spot any issues or hazards
12. What safety concerns exist when building a dock?
Are you worried about having a dock on your property because you know they can present a liability to you as a property owner?
This is critical to keep in mind.
If you’re going to build a dock on your property, you need to take the extra steps to make it safe.
Here are a few ways you can make your dock safer.
Of course, this still means you’ll need to monitor who is using your dock and keep an eye on any children who are regularly on the property.
Install non-slip decking
Add handrails or guardrails
Ensure there’s adequate lighting so you can use your dock early in the morning or late at night
Make sure the dock is properly anchored and stable, so it doesn’t shift or collapse
13. Does building a dock impact the environment?
Yes, building a dock does impact the environment, and if you want to be an environmentally conscious property owner then understanding the disturbance this can create to aquatic organisms is essential.
Your goal should be to minimize the disturbance to the surrounding environment.
You can do this by choosing materials and construction techniques that are environmentally friendly.
Another important step as part of your due diligence is to read up on environmental regulations.
Check to see if there are any rules regarding wetlands, shorelines, or other protected areas.
If there are, you should be especially mindful and considerate of these while building a dock.
14. How can I customize my dock to meet my specific needs?
If you want a more customized dock, never fear!
There are plenty of options for you.
Here are some features you may consider:
Fishing rod holders
While some of these make the dock more functional and comfortable, others enhance the aesthetic appeal of the dock itself.
You have a variety of options depending on what you prefer, so feel free to play around with your dock design until you find something that suits you best.
15. How can I ensure my dock is built to last?
A typical dock will last anywhere from 15 to 30 years.
If you want to build your dock to last for decades, then you must use high-quality materials and proper construction techniques.
For most property owners, this will mean hiring a qualified contractor.
Additionally, you’ll need to perform regular maintenance and inspections.
This will help you identify and address any potential issues with your dock before they become major issues.
If you do not perform maintenance, then your dock may not last up to 30 years as it could.
Finally, you must also check with your municipality for any regulations and safety standards they may have.
Some jurisdictions have requirements that ensure the longevity of docks as well as the safety of those who use them.
16. If I want to buy waterfront property and build a dock, is there anything I should know?
If you’re thinking about building a dock before you’ve even purchased waterfront property, you may want to take a closer look at the property first.
There are some situations in which landowners make the mistake of purchasing waterfront land where they believed they could build a dock, but this wasn’t the case.
Check your state.
In some places, you must be a riparian landowner to build a dock or pier.
In other words, you must be platted to “mean low water,” or the average low tide over a certain number of years.
Request proof that your property reaches the water.
Knowing your property lines is essential.
Just because they call it “waterfront property” doesn’t mean that it is.
Furthermore, just because there’s an existing dock or pier, doesn’t mean it’s legally there.
The person who built it may not have had the proper permits.
Study the tide table and get a physical survey.
If you want a deep water access property, you want to get a survey to verify that your property reaches to the appropriate tide line.
Building a dock is not an insignificant investment for a landowner, but it does allow you to use the water and adds value to your property.
As long as you carefully plan and execute this project, your dock should be safe, durable, and aesthetically pleasing for years to come.
We do recommend working with a professional for this project unless you’re experienced in this area.
A contractor can ensure that you have the proper permits, dock type, size, materials, and maintenance when installing a dock.
If you do it right, it’ll enhance the value and enjoyment of your waterfront property.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.