Cottagers see their dock as an extension of their living area. Teenagers bake in the sun on docks while others sit and watch the world go by or use the dock to moor the boat. A dock is an essential item at lakefront cottages.
What Type of Dock do You Want?
Floating dock – These docks are supported by floats with no leg system underneath. Flotation can come from foam billets, foam or air filled drums, modified recycled tires or steel tubes, among other things. Floating docks are popular as they are relatively inexpensive, easy to assemble, can be used with any water depth and allow for fluctuating lake levels.
As these docks float on water without reinforcement from beneath, stability is essential. Two things make a floating dock stable on the water – one is size and the other is weight. Floating docks are best in calm waters and adapt easily to fluctuating water levels. Many cottagers remove floating docks from the water before winter arrives to avoid wintertime destruction.
Temporary pile docks (also called pipe docks) – These docks sit above the water on posts or pipes with a base plate on the lake bottom. They are best in locations where the water level is constant. They are stable when installed properly but leg stability is compromised if the water depth exceeds two metres. Cottagers like temporary pile docks as they are easy on the wallet, can be brought onto land for the winter and have relatively little environmental impact.
Permanent pile docks – These docks are the same as temporary pile docks except that they are built to stay in place indefinitely. The piles or legs are bored into the earth below for long-term stability. Building this dock requires equipment most cottagers do not have and knowledge of drilling so it is not ideal for the do-it-yourselfer. Permanent pile docks are a good choice for someone who wants a smaller, stable dock and has a high budget.
Cantilever and suspension docks – These docks overhang the water. Imagine how a balcony juts out from a hotel room (cantilever dock) or how a suspension bridge is attached to land on one side with a tower and cables (suspension docks). Both dock types alter the shoreline but do not touch the water. The main drawback is that they can be costly and difficult to build.
Crib dock – These docks are constructed by filling a container (usually made from wood) with a ton of rocks and filler. They are made to stay in place for years, squashing everything beneath it. Crib docks are an environmental disaster, so it is difficult to get a permit to build such a dock.
Concrete dock – These docks are essentially a huge block of concrete plunked in the water that obliterate all life around them. As they are expensive and destructive, few cottagers even consider them.
Docks usually come in three main shapes: a straight line (rectangle), a T-intersection, and a U-formation. Beyond this, they get fancier with more branch-offs and curves.
What Materials Should I Use?
Docks are often constructed of wood. It is readily available, relatively easy on the budget, easy to work with, durable, and simple to repair.
Plastic “wood” lasts well and is resistant to water and rot. It does not affect the water and floats well but it can get hot in the summer and very slippery when wet. The centre can sag when long planks are used. Plastic lumber is not as strong as wood so it is not ideal when you need structural strength. Plastic can crack easily during installation so use caution.
Plastic foam is popular for dock building, although it does break down over time. Plastic foam resists the elements and is easy to install and remove. Sections can be added or removed as the budget allows or as your dock needs change.
Steel is often used for a dock’s support posts. Although it rusts, unpainted steel is the best option as it does not affect water quality. Painted steel will flake over time and the chips are toxic to aquatic life. If you have some flexibility in your budget, consider galvanized steel, stainless steel, or even bronze parts. They will last longer.
When constructing a dock, quality hardware is essential. Brackets, screws, hinges and other hardware distribute dock stress, brace sections and hold everything together. Consider purchasing your hardware from a dock supplier to ensure you get the right materials for your project. Galvanized hardware is ideal for dock building. Use screws or bolts instead of nails for added enforcement and strength.
Before You Build
Before you bring out the power tools, plot out your new dock on paper. Include everything such as shoreline uses (swimming areas, fire pits, etc.) as well as shore characteristics like sand bars, protruding rocks, loon nesting area, etc.
Determine your needs for the dock. Will boats regularly pit stop there or will you just use it to watch sunsets every night? Do you have six children who will use it for a play area or relatives who will enjoy lounging on it? Will people fish off the end of it? Knowing the ultimate uses of the dock will help you determine the type of dock you want, how big to build it, what shape it will be, and what materials to use.
Do I Need a Permit?
Just like in the city, bylaws and other restrictions may limit what you can do on your cottage’s property. Find out if you need a permit for your dock before you start building.
Your dock will suffer tremendous abuse from the boats running into it, the people traipsing all over it, the water battering it, and the sun beating down on it. It is to your advantage to take the time to construct a well built dock. It will give you years of almost maintenance-free usage.
Hopefully this information will help alleviate some of your "pier pressure."