Which Type of Docks Works Best For Your Needs? - Hiseadock
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Which Type of Docks Works Best For Your Needs?

September 24, 2020
Boats Anchored to a Dock
Source: Pixabay

When it comes to boat docks, you do not just wake up one morning and decide to go with a floating dock or a crib dock; it takes planning and taking a lot of other considerations into account. Docks are big structures that not only transform your waterfront property but also affect the environment in one way or another, especially marine life. A lot of logistics are involved from deciding the right site to put it up and the materials that are within your budget range.

Table of Contents

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Boat Dock

Knowing which type of dock will work best for you is not as easy as it may sound. To save you from the legwork, this is a guide that will help you determine all the things you need to choose the right dock. There are several factors that you have to consider as you access your dock needs. These factors include the following.

Budget Restraints
Source: Pixabay

Your Budget

All boat docking systems are not the same, both in structure and the cost of setting them up. The cost is commensurate with the size of the setup. The bigger the dock, the more you will have to spend. Floating docks are among the cheapest as they are made using pre-made plastic dock materials. Piling docks are among the most expensive as they involve excavating the sea bed for the foundation. Your budget should be the main driving force when it comes to selecting a drive-on boat dock.

The Number of Water Vessels

The number of watercraft on your property should also determine the type and size of the dock you need. The more the boats and the jet skis in your possession, the bigger the dock would be. If you own jet skis, then a simple jet ski dock lift is enough since they are not that heavy compared to boats. The size of your boats is another big influencing factor. Bigger boats will require a bigger dock that covers a bigger surface of the water. Smaller boats can make do with average-sized docks.

Sailboat racing
Source: Pixabay
Stamp of Approval
Source: Pixabay

The Laws

Lake docks are governed by construction laws due to the impact they have on the environment and the residential areas in general. You will need to clear with the relevant authorities before starting any construction. The site has to be inspected and cleared for construction once it has satisfied all conditions. The commercial potential attached to docks is also another factor that attracts the attention of licensing bodies. You will have to clarify beforehand if you have any future plans of turning your dock into a commercial enterprise or whether it will continue being private property.

Changes in the Weather and The Seasons

The prevailing weather and seasonal conditions of your residential area will determine the type of dock you will go for. Some boat docks do not do so well in winter; once the lake freezes over, they are rendered useless and can even be permanently damaged. If you live in a hurricane hotspot, then you will have to go with the sturdy type of docks, like a pilling or crib dock, ones that cannot be easily damaged by a storm.

Calm areas that do not experience extreme weather and seasons are ideal for setting up floating and wood docks.

Frozen Lake with Anchored Boats
Source: Pixabay
A wooden pier in shallow waters
Source: Pixabay

The Depth of the Water

Piling and Crib docks require a foundation on the sea bed, the implication of this is that if the depth of the shoreline is too deep, going with these two will be out of the question. Where the water is too deep, a floating pontoon lift and a suspension dock would be the best option. Deeper waters will also support more water vessels, which means you can be able to set up a bigger boat. Shallower waters are common in residential waters compared to deeper waters, which are associated with commercial harbors that use bigger docks for freight ships.

The Location of Installation

The location of your waterfront home also matters a lot. It is what decides whether you can turn your dock into a commercial center later. If you live in a strictly residential community, then any plans of ever commercializing your lake dock would be slim since you will be surrounded by neighbors who also have docks. However, if you happen to have one of the few properties with a good waterfront space, then you are primed to reap from it. You can set up a bigger dock with enough space to rent out to other people.

Residential Lake
Source: Pixabay
Boat Traffic
Source: Pixabay

Frequency of Use

Another factor that determines the size and type of boat dock platform to go for is how frequently you use the dock. Living in an area where people own boats will force you to have a bigger dock to accommodate friends and family when they come over. Your own needs are also another big factor. If you are a heavy user of boats for all your errands, then a long-lasting dock like a crib dock or piling dock is what you should be considering setting up. It should be a dock that is able to handle the daily pressure without coming apart or needing repairs every few weeks.


Your preferred material will guide you towards the drive on boat dock you need. A wood dock is what you go for if a structure made entirely made out of wood is what you want. You can also choose to create a hybrid dock where you combine wood and aluminum to make a better version of the two. Your needs may also be limited by the availability of materials, you may want an aluminum dock, but no one around could be stocking up on any supplies, forcing you to use other alternatives.

Aluminum Pillars
Source: Pixabay

Types of Docks Based on Installation

Boat dock lift systems can be broadly classified into two groups; based on the mode of installation and the materials used. Using these two parameters, the following are the main types of docks based on the mode of installation.

Floating Docks

floating platform on the sea

These are large floating dock systems that are usually supported by buoyant material like PWC tanks. Most come pre-built with the only installation needed being anchorage and decking. Owing to how light they are and the ease of installation, floating dock boat lifts can be set up in various designs using various shapes.



Piling Docks

Piling Dock
Source: lakehomes.com

Piling docks are made by driving huge beams of wood into the seabed to create the foundation for the dock. The decking is then laid on top and connected to the shore by a series of cables, ropes, or rollers that allow the decking to rise and fall with the tide to a certain level. Having such a solid foundation, piling boat docking systems are among the most robust docks you can find.


They are very strong and sturdy. They can withstand extreme winds and violent waves thanks to their solid foundation that is embedded deep into the seabed.

They are very durable if well constructed. A typical piling dock can hold on for over 30 years if properly maintained.

Piling boat docks can handle much bigger water vessels without feeling any strain.


The cost of building a piling boat dock platform is high, as it involves a lot of engineering. Dredging up the seabed alone takes a lot of time and resources, not to mention professional expertise, which costs a lot to hire.

They are fixed structures that do not allow much room for customization once they are set up. What you get is what you have to work with.

With wood as the main material, there is always the nagging problem of wood rot, which means you will do a lot of replacements over the years.

Pipe Docks

Pipe Docks
Source: Pinterest

Pipe docks feature aluminum as the predominant dock material; they are structured in design that is almost similar to piling docks, only that they are less expensive and feature a removable dock. They are best suited for shallow waters that do not go further than eight feet, just shallow enough for the whole setup to be removed once winter sets in. 


It is the most environmentally friendly dock design with the least impact on the surrounding wildlife and plants as it does not make significant contact with either the water or their land.

They are removable and can be stored away to shield them from damage during extreme weather.

They are much cheaper to construct as the materials involved are readily available with so many alternative options.


Pipe docks, although removable, get easily submerged in the water. In the event that the tide rises significantly, they become unusable.

They are less stable, which makes them sway too much when faced with heavy waves; this can cause damage to anchored boats and jet skis.

  • They are highly susceptible to damage, especially when winter sets in. Ice has been known to damage the dock accessories beyond repair. This Is the reason why it is removable in the first place.

Crib Docks

Crib Dock
Source: Pinterest

Crib docks are boat lift systems made by submerging wooden frames then filling them up with rocks and boulders to create a solid foundation under the water surface. Then a decking is applied on top to create a surface for people to walk and boats of being anchored on.


They are very strong and durable. They last for very long and rarely get damaged easily.

They are a permanent structure, making them a cost-saving option if you do not harbor any future plans of remodeling or expanding the dock.

They can handle bigger vessels.


The initial cost of constructing a crib dock for boats is very high. It also takes a lot of time and resources.

It is a very invasive design that disrupts the environment. The rocks used in setting up the foundation can change the flow of water and destroy habitats for marine life. This is the reason why many areas around the world do not allow people to construct crib docks.

Their permanency is also a weakness; they do not allow any room for expansion or modification. Once the dock has been set up, you have to use it just as it is.

Suspension Docks

A Suspension Dock Hanging Above The Water Surface

As far as complicated goes, suspension boat docks are the most sophisticated docks you will ever come across. They are made to hang over the water with the support of cables and ropes that anchor it to the shoreline. They are a much more recent dock design that is slowly gaining popularity around waterfront areas.


They hang above the water, which makes them ideal for electrical wiring without posing a danger to people operating boats around it.

They have a visual appeal; most resemble miniature hanging bridges. Having this on your residential property adds an aesthetic touch to it.

  • They have very little impact on the environment.


As expected of such a sophisticated structure, the cost of setting up a suspension dock is very high. Unlike some of the other types, you cannot hack this if you want to. You will require the services of a professional dock builder.

They are not that strong, and their inability to be removed during extreme weather exposes them to great damage. You are advised to only go for a suspension dock if you live in an area that does not experience intense hurricanes or heavy storms.

Types of Docks Based on Materials

Aside from the design and mode of installation, boat lifts and docks can also be described based on the materials used to construct them. The following are the three main types under this category.

Plastic Docks

Hiseadock Plastic Dock

A plastic boat dock is a floating docking system that makes use of buoyant pieces of plastics. These pieces are pre-made by boat dock manufacturers and transported to the site for assembly. They are quite easy to install, something that anyone can manage on their own by following the manual. 


They are much cheaper compared to a lot of other docks on this list. Plastic is a readily available material and is easier to manufacture; this brings down their cost.

They are highly flexible. You can set them in any fashion you want. You can even have them custom made by the manufacturer to suit your exact preferences.

They are portable and can be moved at any time without any trouble.

They are highly resistant and durable. They do not get affected by rust or wood rot; they can last for ages with nothing other than bleaching as the only change.


They can only support smaller boats and a drive on jet ski ramp. You will need a huge pile of them to be able to handle a bigger ship.

They sway too much when subjected to heavy currents and waves, posing a danger to the integrity of the vessels anchored on them.

Aluminum Docks

An Empty Aluminum Dock

Aluminum boat dock ramps are made using aluminum supports complete with aluminum decking on the upper layer. Of all metals, aluminum is the cheapest to acquire and is durable as it is not prone to rust. The interlocking edges present in aluminum docks are the best on this whole list. They are tight with no gaps to even allow the water through.


Aluminum metal is durable and strong enough to support heavy loads. With an aluminum dock design, you will not have to worry about damaging the whole structure by docking your big boat on it.

Although their initial cost is a bit high, the reduced need for repairs in the future makes this option a cheaper one in the long run. 

Aluminum does not rust like other metals despite it being much lighter. For this reason, you can use them as the foundation, submerging them under the water.

It has very little impact on the environment since aluminum is a recyclable metal; it can be used and reused indefinitely.

Since they are pre-made, there’s always room for expansion or remodeling any time you feel like.


Aluminum boat lift designs are susceptible to corrosion and calcification.  Saltwater especially has a very corrosive effect on aluminum, and although this corrosion is what saves the metal from rust, it weakens it, and this may affect the whole dock.

Being a hard metal, aluminum may cause significant damage on a boat if the two happen to collide or graze against each other due to heavy waves.

The initial cost can be very high for most people to afford, especially if you choose to construct everything out of aluminum. A single square foot of aluminum costs about $10.

Wood Docks

boat anchor to wooden dock
Source: iStock

Wood docks are mostly residential docks that are made entirely out of wood with very little use of other materials, from the foundation to the decking to the auxiliary support structures. What makes this type dock popular is the affordability it accords people and the fact that wood is an abundantly occurring material. You will find it in any hardware you walk into.


It is the most environmentally friendly drive on boat dock systems since wood is a biodegradable resource that will simply dissipate back into nature with time.

They are cheaper and easier to construct, and they can be handled without much professional input. 

They are strong enough to support heavy loads if they are well constructed.


It can get eaten away by termites, and this can bring the whole structure down, causing damage and even injury.

It gets affected by wet wood rot, which also makes the foundation too weak, leading to a total collapse.

Wood splinters can cause injuries to people, especially if the decking is damaged from years of overuse.

How to Choose the Right Dock

A long wooden dock
Source: Pixabay

Having described all there is to choose the best boat docks for your property; you are now left with one last hurdle. Making the actual selection. The following tips should help you navigate this part:

Inspect the quality of the materials yourself. This is the only way you will ascertain whether you are getting your money’s worth. If you are importing boat dock materials from abroad, you will have to ask former buyers to get their feedback on the authenticity of what you are about to buy.

Use an expert every step of the way. It will cost you something to hire the services of a dock builder, but it will be worth it. They will be able to help you choose the best floating dock design plans, the best site, the best materials, the best places to buy those materials, and handle the whole construction from scratch. This way, you will be assured of a solid dock that will hold out for long before the usual issues start setting in.

Get the best insurance cover you can manage for the dock. Once the dock goes up it becomes part of your property, therefore, you will have to take an insurance cover for it. Insurance covers for waterfront properties are not cheap due to the unpredictability that comes with being in close proximity to water. The dock will be treated the same way but ensure you get the right cover for it.

It is time you started thinking of accessories. These are the additions that will make the dock more comfortable and homely. Dock accessories include lights that enable the dock to be operational even at night. You will need a shade with a sitting space, you can even throw in a gazebo to turn the whole thing into a relaxation spot. Accessorizing the dock should be dictated by what you can afford, again, do not blow a hole into your savings for a luxury you can do without.

Dock Maintenance Tips

A Lake Dock
Source: Pixabay

To ensure your spanking new dock stays in good shape for the longest time possible, try the following quick maintenance tips.

Check on the joints, the fasteners, the deckings, the bolts, and every other little thing at least once a week. Especially after a storm.

Keep the deck clean at all times. The assumption that a dock will self-clean for being close to water is not right. You must clean it properly as regularly as you can.

Invest in some baking soda paste for cleaning the aluminum parts to get rid of calcification that dulls the luster of the metal surface.

Replace any wood that starts to show rot as fast as you can. Always apply a coat of paint before replacing the deck wood.

Hammer down any plank of wood that shows any sign of being dislodged before they trip and injure someone.

Take pictures of the whole set up regularly to keep track of any subtle changes. You will be surprised by how much you can discover if you go through this kind of documentation.

Invite a professional once every 2-3 months to give the dock a thorough inspection just to be sure you did not miss anything that may need immediate attention.


Assessing your needs before settling down on residential boat docks is very important. Going in blindly without any thought will only lead to you getting stuck with something that only bows a hole into your finances but does not help you in any way. Conduct due diligence before starting out anything since docks do not come cheap.

At Hisea Dock, we make sure all your floating dock needs are met and more. Our plastic floating platforms are fully customizable and can last you ages without needing much maintenance. Get in touch with us today to know more.

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