Expert tips for choosing the right deck for your waterfront.
By Brent Coleman & Ernest Lorensson
Lakeside living is great, but most people agree that actually getting out onto the lake makes it better. Landscaping a lakefront cabin typically includes putting in a dock that will help you reach deeper water to allow for swimming, fishing, boating – or just enjoying sunlight playing on the waves. Whether you need a dock for a new cabin that you just built or bought, or you need to replace your creaky old dock that has reached its expiration date, be sure to check out what the experts have to say before you start dock shopping.
Step #1a: Needs analysis
Okay, where to start? The first thing is to determine what you’re going to use your dock for, says Cindy Gray, VP of Sales and Marketing for FLOE International. Your intended use will dictate size, shape and style. “Do you want a large sundeck to accomodate a lot of people relaxing on the dock?” Gray says. “Or, if you’re only using the dock for boat access, you many only need a simple, straight dock.”
Then again, how many boats do you have? If you have multiple boats, you may want slips to make it easy to get in and out of your boats. And if you plan to tie your canoe, kayak or small fishing boat up to your dock, be sure the dock is longer than your boat, and wide enough to allow plenty of room to set down gear and for people to get in and out of the boat. People with larger motor boats likely will need to shop for a larger, fixed dock, the size, cost and construction materials of which can vary greatly. If your family of four is just going to swim and fish from your dock, you might go with a dock that sits low in the water and is 7½ feet from the shore to the end of the dock and as wide as you feel you need.
Step #1b: Rules & regs
Another top priority: Consider that there might be state or local regulations and restrictions that you will have to meet. Some private lakes, for example, only allow floating docks set on encapsulated foam drums or floats. Dock shoppers should talk it up before buying, says John Krogman of Connect-a-Dock Inc. “The first place to start if you’re buying a cabin or putting in a dock is to ask a neighbor, ‘Hey, what do I have to do here?’ ” Krogman says. “Lots of times, Realtors will know.” Next, look around your lake and see what other people’s docks look like. Krogman, of course, would hope you’d see floating docks. But, he says, “If you look around and don’t see any floating docks, there’s probably a reason,” such as big waves or widely fluctuating water levels. Building a fixed dock or installing a floating one might require a permit. If you’re on a reservoir, you might need to check with two, maybe even three, regulating agencies. Keep in mind that your local municipality may dictate what size dock you can build. Flaunt those restrictions and you may end up facing a fine, and an order to remove the dock. You should also take care that your dock doesn’t block your neighbors’ ability to enjoy the waterfront, too.
Step #2: Shopping
When you go shopping armed with information, resist the temptation to just buy based on cost. “The number one mistake dock buyers make is they only shop price,” Gray says. “There are many different quality levels and prices of docks in the marketplace. Consumers should understand what their needs are and think long term before they purchase a dock.” Reasons to buy quality include safety and longevity. “For safety reasons, a dock shouldn’t sway when you walk on it or bow when a few people are standing on it,” says Gray. “If you entertain a lot of people on your dock or have children playing, you want to ensure you have a stable, solid dock.” As for longevity, ask your dock dealer for references. “My greatest testimonial from a FLOE customer,” Gray says, “came from an elderly lady in Thunder Bay [Ontario] at a boat show. She said she purchased her FLOE dock system 20 years ago, and her three neighbors laughed at her as she paid more than they did for their new docks. It’s now 20 years later, and she said all three neighbors have replaced their docks numerous times and hers still looks brand new. She said she had the last laugh.” Most people, Krogman says, “are going to spend anywhere between $3,500 and $10,000, depending on what you’re going to do with it.” But, he warned, costs can get much higher, especially for those who want electricity, running water, maybe even built-in seating and a permanent canopy – commonly seen on the waterfront in Southern states.
People buying a dock from a dealer should be prepared to ask a lot of questions. And, Krogman says, if their dealer doesn’t do the same, the customer might want to look for a different dealer. “We want to know everything,” says Krogman. “We don’t want to sell you something that’s going to fail. “There are a million ways to build a dock,” Krogman says. “It comes down to water conditions and personal preference. But wood is a lot of work.” Dock shoppers searching online for a dock will find dozens of websites of interest. One such option is Pier of d’Nort (pierofdnort.com). This company’s specialty is a modular aluminum dock system that one person of average skill can install using no special tools or winches. Its product options include steps, ramps, bracing, mooring poles, anchor posts and extraction boom and lever. A new canoe/kayak lift will be available for spring of 2016.
Step #3: Considering accessories
Consider what accessories the dock manufacturer offers such as furniture, bumpers, ladders and steps, so you can fully enjoy your dock. Plush options include space-saving table and chair sets that mount on the side of docks. “In the past five years,” Gray says, “we’ve added a lot of accessories including 3-piece furniture, steps, fishing pole holders and canoe/kayak rack – things to help people spend quality time on their docks. People with 20-plus-year-old docks are able to purchase these to add to their existing dock systems.”
Step #4: Installation & maintenance
Before you purchase, consider installation and maintenance. Installing either a low-profile or heavier duty high-profile Connect-a-Dock product requires one tool, a wrench, and can be done completely above water. And FLOE has a patented quick-connect system that makes it easy to create and change your dock system. Also, if consumers are installing and removing the dock themselves, they want a dock that is lightweight and easy to move. Gray says, “We continue to hear over and over at boat shows from baby-boomer husbands and wives ‘the kids don’t come up as often as they used to, and we have to put the dock in ourselves,’? so they are shopping for a lightweight, easy-to-use dock.” Even with today’s easy-to-install docks from companies like FLOE and Pier of d’Nort, maybe you’re not Mr. Tool Time? No problem. Many cabin areas have well-equipped crews that will put in and take out your dock every year, for a price of course. Maintenance is yet another consideration. Plastic docks require an occasional power wash or scrubbing with a brush. How involved the maintenance of a fixed dock can be depends on its size, complexity and construction material. Wood decking, for instance will need fresh stain periodically.