How Will You Spend Your Summer?
Perhaps you wish you could install a private pier stretching out over a tranquil body of water somewhere in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, or New Jersey; a place where you could fish, watch the sun rise or set, and tie up your boat or pontoon just steps from your back deck.
Just as you snap back to reality from your daydream, you realize it’s only March, you still have plenty of time to get your private dock planned and installed before summer, right? Well, maybe not. If you want your own pier or dock this summer, or if you’d like to install a new floater along your bulkhead this spring, you need to start the process now.
For many people, a dock or pier is the wood or metal structure that’s built over the water and it’s used as a walkway. A dock is the water next to a pier, where you moor or tie up a boat. And a floater is typically a plastic modular floating dock system like PolyDock Products, or sometimes it’s used to refer to a wood floating dock, usually installed alongside a bulkhead or seawall. However, people, businesses, and the agencies involved in regulating and building such structures use all these terms somewhat loosely and definitely interchangeably.
No matter what you call it, you should think about how you would like to use the structure. Do you want a basic configuration where you can unwind after a long day, or week, at the office, or do you want an extension of your backyard with power, dock furniture, and a fish cleaning table?
Do you have a lot of wave action or is it mostly calm at your shore, what kind of water or tidal fluctuation do you have? Are you docking a waverunner, a pontoon, or a Bow Rider along the dock? What about boat lifts? Are you planning on installing the dock in a narrow canal?
Find a Reputable Dock Builder or Marine Contractor
Finding someone to build your dock can be difficult. Ask those who have nicely constructed docks for their recommendations, then ask the contractors how their construction and installation techniques differ from those of other contractors. Find out if they are licensed and insured. Ask them to show you some of their other work. You’ll quickly learn which bodies of water have ice movement or challenging restrictions to dock installation. You’ll also get a good idea of what makes a floater like PolyDock such a great choice thanks to its stability and firm walking characteristics.Stationary docks are usually anchored to pilings designated for marine use and then the piles are driven to maximum depths and spaced out (typically every 6’ to 10’ on center. Modular floating docks can also be anchored, with piles, and many waterfront owners and installers find it much simpler and much easier to anchor modular floating docks with schedule 40 Galvanized Pipe – this is a less expensive option and typically works very well for installing modular style floating docks in nearly any location.
The marine contractor should use hardware that will withstand constant exposure to the marine environment. Hot-dipped galvanized steel pipe and either galvanized steel or at least stainless steel and brass nuts and bolts are the rule. Anything less will soon rust. As concerns grow about the effect of chemically treated pilings on water quality, chemicals from pressure treated lumber used to build piers leaking into the water supply, and the environmental damage caused by Styrofoam beads that escape from some foam-filled modular floating docks that some manufacturers still fill their floaters with, it is important to consider using products that are environmentally friendly.
The best dock builders often will be incredibly busy, so you’ll likely need to be patient. Our growing list of PolyDock Products dealers are a great place to start when trying to find a reputable marine contractor, and most PolyDock dealers will be able complete the installation of your PolyDock or ShorePort for you.
Fixed Pier or Floating Dock or Floater Next to the Bulkhead?
The choice between fixed and floating docks usually boils down to personal preference, and while a floating dock might give you a bit more versatility, there are some general guidelines to think about. Fixed docks tend to sit higher off the water, especially at low tide, than floating docks and are preferable in places where there is a lot of current or wave action.Floating docks float directly on the surface of the water, rising and falling with the water level, their freeboard is generally determined by the amount of water that the dock system drafts minus the total section height. For instance, PolyDock floating docks have a total section height of 16” and they generally draft about 1.5” to 2”. This means that the PolyDock floating dock will always have a freeboard of about 14” regardless of the water depth or tidal fluctuation. This is great for entering and exiting boats, pontoons, kayaks, canoes, you name it. This style of dock is usually anchored using pile guides around pilings, or pipe brackets around galvanized pipe. They require fewer pilings, too — and the ones needed are to hold the floaters in place horizontally, not to support their weight. That makes repairs less expensive, and easier.
Modular floating docks are popular because many people may find it easier to get into a boat from a floating dock, because instead of climbing down from a standing dock, they can just step in to enter or exit the vessel.
Naturally, floating docks may not be the right choice everywhere. Some jurisdictions discourage installing a floating dock (or any dock) over incredibly shallow water or in some wetlands. The thought is that because the dock may rest to close to the bottom it could impede the flow of material underneath.
Also, as a general rule, most floating docks should not be subjected to continuous non-stop wind driven waves, or excessive waves brought on by heavy boat traffic. No matter what the installer or dock builder tells you about a floating dock’s couplers being able to withstand huge waves, there is almost nobody that wants to walk on a wobbly, constantly moving, floating dock that is doing its own version of the worm dance in 3’ waves. You should feel compelled to question any installer that tells you otherwise. You do have other, better options, and when someone tells you a floating dock is a great choice for large waves and in unprotected areas, your start to exercise your options. Most floating dock systems and drive on jet ski ports are optimal for backwaters, and calmer areas where waves aren’t much of a factor. In these locations a dock that offers a firmer, less spongy walking surface, along with a more rigid dock connector that allows the whole dock system to float in unison is going to give you the most stability. Take a walk on any installed PolyDock floating dock system to get a good idea of what great stability in a modular floating dock feels like.
Many people use floating docks in combination with stationary or fixed docks. One popular configuration is a T- shaped design, with a fixed walkway on pilings, then a ramp or steps going down to a floating platform, or they will simply install the floater parallel to a fixed dock with a ramp or gangway transition. It is also very common to see a floater installed parallel to a bulkhead because it is an effective and easy way to access your boat and generally is very simple to get a permit for a modular floating dock in this configuration.
The stability of some modular dock systems and traditional wood floating docks that utilize billets or tubs for flotation, varies greatly. In some cases, stepping on one side of a lower quality floating dock will cause the dock’s other side to rise, this can be very unsettling for many people to experience. Because of its design, PolyDock Products floating docks are among the most stable you’ll find, and, they are designed to reduce or eliminate this type of movement creating a safe and stable system. You can learn more about PolyDock Stability by checking out thePolyDock Blog Article on PolyDock Stability. If you’re considering a modular dock, you really should take a walk on some in-water floating docks before purchasing.
Traditional floating docks usually have decking made of wood or polypropylene. Naturally wood frame docks with polypropylene decking are more expensive but generally require a bit less maintenance.
Wood floating docks will warp, rot, and require maintenance and repairs over time. The dock hardware will generally need to be inspected and / or replaced, and, if not installed properly, the dock hardware can wear out faster than if it were installed properly.
Dock Permitting and Environmental Considerations
Is your property in a flood plain or tidal wetland area? For instance, local jurisdictions in Maryland may require a water quality impact assessment to demonstrate compliance with Chesapeake Bay protection laws.Could there be bird nesting and fish spawning areas nearby? These things all can impact what time of year dock construction or installation can take place.
Will your proposed dock layout obstruct the flow of sand and silt? Is the location likely to freeze in winter? Ice flows can be more damaging to a dock than boat wakes.
The Dock Permit Process
Despite what some people may say, permits are often times required to build docks. Indeed, the actual construction can take less time than getting the required permits. Permitting rules vary depending on the location and type of body of water involved. In some counties, docks may be considered an improvement to property, which means local zoning and building permits may be required.To apply for these permits, you’ll likely need a copy of your property’s plat and drawings of the proposed construction and placement – a good tool to use to at least get the conversation started regarding your dock layout is the PolyDock dock builder tool online
. Plan out your PolyDock system and add measurements, etc. as a part of your initial permitting plans. Piling size, width of slips, fingers and walkways, and whether the dock interferes with boat traffic and navigation will be considered.
If you are buying waterfront property, check local regulations before completing the sale. A perfect project without any issues might take two to six weeks for approval. And the more complicated the dock or pier, the more time will be needed to complete the permits and probably the actual dock construction as well. Also, as temps warm up, the longer the process will take because of the volume of permit requests tends to goes up with the temperature.
One of the biggest challenges with water-oriented structures is figuring out which jurisdiction is responsible for approving what permit and determining what has been recently changed regarding dock permits. Regulations change, so don’t rely on what a neighbor who put in a dock five years ago tells you. Maryland and Virginia now limit a dock’s main walkway to no more than six feet wide – three feet in wetlands. The allowable size of the structure also varies from place to place, so read up and pay attention, even these restrictions may be different today.
So, How Much Time Do You Have or Need To Install A Dock?
As you have probably guessed all along, there are many, many options when it comes to building your perfect dock system no matter how you intend to enjoy it. The amount of choices available to you, combined with the fact that there is no one best solution for everybody, means that planning and installing your new dock, pier, or floater is likely to take longer than you originally thought. Once you’ve chosen the correct dock system for your vision, you may still need to get those permits in place.
Wherever your dream shoreline is, do your research now, talk to a PolyDock dealer to help you get started. Don’t wait, summer will be here and gone before you know it. Wouldn’t you rather be out enjoying your time on the water this summer rather than waiting to enjoy it next summer?
To help you turn your vision into reality, below are some very common PolyDock layouts and configurations for the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-Chesapeake area, of course these are just a few examples of the many ways you can use PolyDock!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this post and wish you all of the best in turning your waterfront dreams into waterfront reality this summer. If we can help at all, please contact us!