A boat dock may seem to be a very technical, complicated structure to design, but in reality there aren’t too many differences between building a dock and a typical deck. Many of the same factors you’d need to consider when building a residential deck, such as weight distribution, apply to boat docks of all sizes. The only considerable difference between a dock and a deck is that you will need to account for submersion and water-resistance.

Planning Your Boat Dock

Before you get around to shopping for materials you should first get an idea of what design you’d like your dock to have. Whether made of wood or composite, the structure and size of your dock will remain the same so be sure to get your plan on paper first.

Getting the size of your dock incorrect can be a frustrating problem, so it’s worth it to build a dock slightly bigger than you think you need rather than one that is too compact. Some other factors you should keep in mind when planning your boat dock include:

  • Average number of boats that will be anchored to the dock
  • Furniture placement on dock (you’ll want to add 2′ to 3’ of extra space around furnishings)
  • Activities involving the dock (will you fish and dive off the dock or use it for entertaining)
  • Location of dock (will the dock be in shade, partial sun or full sun)
  • Depth of water around dock (railing may be necessary)
  • Will any part of your dock need to be submerged in water?
  • Any local town or municipal coding requirements or permits for docks

All of these factors will affect the end design for your dock so be sure to answer them honestly and always err on the side of caution. For many private docks it’s important to consider the range of functionality you’ll need your dock to sustain, since it often becomes a place not only to house your boat but also to support a wealth of fun activities.

Selecting the Right Boat Dock Height

As a general rule you will want to keep as much of your dock out of the water as possible. Common sense dictates that the less material you have submerged, the longer your dock will last. Constant contact with water, especially salt water, and the weather patterns associated with big bodies of water can make a big difference on the durability of your dock.

Too high of a dock can pose just as much frustration as too low of a dock. When a dock is placed excessively high out of the water it makes it difficult for swimmers to safely get out of the water. Similarly, a deck too high out of the water makes it difficult and possibly dangerous to get in and out of your boat.

The solution is to determine the maximum waterline in the spot where you want your dock and plan for your beams to be just a couple inches above this. It is important to determine your maximum water line before any construction begins. Checking runoff height or going through records will help you determine the ideal height. Even marks left on stone outcroppings in and around the water can help. If all else fails checking the height on other docks in the same body of water or checking with a professional is preferable.

Creating a Proper Boat Dock Foundation

Traditional all wood boat dock construction sometimes included the practice of sinking wood posts directly into the bed to function as a footer. The use of wooden posts can work well for smaller docks, but consider the use of PVC pipe. If the dock is to be on a body of water in a region with extreme weather, concrete-filled PVC pipe is ideal for use as dock footers. Often time this pipe will extend above the maximum water level to help protect exposed wood from direct water contact. Regardless of what material you are using for your footer you will want to sink it a minimum of 3ft into the bed.

After getting your footers firmly into place you can then start the framing. The frame of your dock is going to determine how long your dock deck is going to last. Even the most expensive decking will fail if you have weak dock structure. Once the basic frame is constructed you may also choose to install shoreline support posts.

With the foundation constructed, you can begin the final and most exciting step of adding the dock decking.

Choosing the Perfect Dock Decking

Choosing the right dock decking isn’t a process to be taken lightly. The two main materials you will decide between are wood and composite decking. Both materials have their own pros and cons.

Wood decking is the traditional route, offering a natural look and often times an environmentally-friendly advantage. Wood dock planking by Pier Advantage is made of Southern Yellow Pine offered in planks that are straight and engineered with stress relief grooves as well as eased edges. This material has a stunning appearance and is finished with a water-resistant surface treatment.

If you’re more interested in composite boat dock construction then the PIer Advantage Composite Deck Planking is your best bet. This is also an eco-friendly option, being made of 95% post-consumer recycled materials, making it eligible for LEED points. This composite planking is resistant to moisture as well as mold, mildew, algae, and staining. It can be placed anywhere around and even in water. It also comes with a limited lifetime warranty and 8 different color options.

Composite decking looks more modern and sleek, but some do find that it feels hotter to the touch than wood. Due to the overall durability and longevity of composite planking, it makes it a perfect choice for docks that take a lot of abuse and/or are located in salt water.

Wood deck planking is preferred for docks that are designed for residential use or if the design calls for a natural look. Wood deck feels cooler to the touch and is ideal for docks where residents will be spending a lot of time lounging and playing on.

5 Inspirational Boat Dock Designs

There are a wide variety of different dock designs out there, from the extreme to the very compact and quaint. Here are five inspirational boat dock designs to help you figure out what style will work best for your needs.

1. The Classic Wood Dock for Marina Use

Image Credit: PineRiverGroup.com

A classic wood dock looks luxurious and attractive for public marina use. This particular dock’s deck has aged to an attractive finish and will hold up for many years to come. Despite wood being a very traditional dock material, there is little doubt that it is one of the most beautiful options.

2. A Dock Designed with Foot Traffic in Mind

Image Credit: PineRiverGroup.com

When designing a dock for public use it is important to plan for foot traffic. The above wood dock is clearly spacious in design, even allowing for cyclists to ride their bike along it without congesting space. The overall size of this dock gives it a perfect balance between a pier for public visitation and a typical dock for anchoring boats.

3. An Attractive Family-Sized Composite Dock

Image Credit: PineRiverGroup.com

Composite decking is perfect for busy family docks. This lovely blueish-gray color is very attractive and homeowners won’t need to worry about water damage, scuffing or splintering. The wide range of color options that come with composite decking can be a real bonus for homeowners that want their dock to match their home.

4. Inviting Railed Pathway to a Private Dock

Another great idea for private docks is to build a charming walkway connecting land to dock. This particular composite dock has a long pathway through a landscaped area out to a cozy waterfront dock complete with a covered, shaded spot. Even if you only have one boat or even no boat, a deck designed simply for relaxing by the water is of great value.

5. Versatile Dock Appropriate for Every Activity

When versatility is important a dock such as this one is ideal. Though it is somewhat plain in design, it functions beautifully as both an anchor for boats or jet skis as well as a swimming dock. The water level is low in this picture due to seasonal changes. Keep in mind that docks that are in shallow water, like this one, may benefit from a safety railing along the walkway to ensure accidental falls into very shallow water close to shore are avoided.

Whether made of wood or composite, boat docks are an important waterfront feature for anchoring boats and other water-related activities at your lake or coastal property. A well-designed, structurally sound dock will offer stability and usability for decades to come as long as any required maintenance needs aren’t neglected.

Editorial Contributors
Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield is an experienced writer specializing in home improvement topics. He has a passion for educating and empowering homeowners to make informed decisions about their properties. Matt's writing focuses on a range of topics, including windows, flooring, HVAC, and construction materials. With a background in construction and home renovation, Matt is well-versed in the latest trends and techniques in the industry. His articles offer practical advice and expert insights that help readers tackle their home improvement projects with confidence. Whether you're a DIY enthusiast or a seasoned professional, Matt's writing is sure to provide valuable guidance and inspiration.

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