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What are Floating Docks?

Diana Bocco
Updated May 17, 2024
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Floating docks are buoyant platforms supported by pontoons, also known as vertical poles, which are anchored to the river bed. For better support, larger floating docks sometimes boast a ramp, either fixed or mounted on rollers, that rests on shore.

Frequently used in private docks and marinas, swimming areas, and landing piers, floating docks can be constructed from a variety of materials, including lumber and Styrofoam/polyethylene combinations, modular aluminum, stainless steel, and galvanized steel. Some companies are experimenting with alternative materials, such as plastics, concrete, and fiberglass, but wood remains the material of choice because it's relatively inexpensive and easier to install and maintain. Anti-slip paint finishes and handrails can be added for increased safety, and many companies are now offering floating docks in a variety of colors and finishes to fit any style and decoration. In waters that freeze during winter, floating docks can easily be removed to avoid structural damage.

Floating docks are self-leveling, which means they can adjust to water-depth fluctuations, making them perfect for both coastline and open-water settings. They are also great for waters deeper than eight feet and soft river bottoms that cannot hold permanent structures in place, since floating docks offer many choices for anchoring, including cables, ramps, and mobile pipes, and can be tailored to the environmental conditions of the area. Floating docks have only one major problem: they can bounce around and become unstable on strong-moving waters, so they are not recommended in areas where high waves are common. They also need a water depth minimum of three feet in order to have sufficient draft to actually float.

Because of the possible impact on marine life and shoreline ecosystems, all docks require a construction permit issued by both local agencies and the fish and wildlife department. In especially fragile areas, a permit for floating docks can easily run into the thousands of dollars. Once a permit is obtained, floating docks can be put together from a pre-made kit for about $14 per square foot. To get an idea of the total price, it's important to keep in mind that floating docks should be a minimum of 6 by 20 feet (1.8 by 6.1 meters) to guarantee stability. A certified dock builder can help you deal with all necessary paperwork and ensure a safe construction, but you should keep in mind the added cost, which can be up to twice the price of the do-it-yourself kind.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various businesses. With a data-focused approach and a talent for sharing engaging stories, Diana’s written work gets noticed and drives results.
Discussion Comments
By Oceana — On Jun 30, 2011

My husband and I are considering getting a kayak. We recently took a trip to Tybee Island, Georgia and rented one.

The place that provides the kayaks had the new EZ Dock Kayak Rack that lets them store four kayaks to one rack. This dock system can support multiple kayaks.

EZ Dock also offers a new Kayak and Canoe system designed to resist extreme weather. This dock’s structure is not harmed by ice, as it will pop up to the surface and requires only 1.5 feet of water in which to float.

This system sounds good for us, because we have a large pond that often freezes in the winter. I am very clumsy, and I need the support a dock can offer for getting in and out of a kayak.

By Perdido — On Jun 30, 2011

I went to a large, clear lake that is fed by a river. I visited the swimming area, but while walking along the beach, I wandered upon a wooden dock over to the side.

I stepped out onto it, and panic rushed over me. I had never heard of a floating dock, and this thing seemed to sink when I stepped on it. I was happy when it bounced back up a little and I could see that I wouldn't be going under any time soon.

Water levels at this lake are entirely dependent upon the stage of the river, so I can see why a floating dock is a good idea. A regular dock would most likely spend a lot of time under water here.

By omgnotagain — On Jun 29, 2011

@Frances2 – Yes, a jet ski floating dock is different. Jet skis are normally stored out of the water, unlike most boats. So, jet ski docks have a small ramp that allows the rider to coast his jet ski up onto the dock. On some models, the ramp ends with a raised rim, creating a compartment that snugly holds the jet ski on top of the dock.

During the summer time, if you’re riding the jet ski often, using that type of dock is way more convenient than putting your jet ski on a trailer and hauling it to the garage. Just leave your jet ski on the dock, and when you’re ready to ride again, simply push your jet ski backward into the water.

By Frances2 — On Jun 28, 2011

Is a jet ski floating dock different from a regular floating dock? We’re about to buy a pair of jet skis, and I need to know which type of dock to get.

By kangaBurg — On Jun 28, 2011

@smartypantz – I have a floating dock in the lake on my property. I bought an aluminum one because you can get aluminum dock kits with all the pieces, except the pieces you need in order to attach the dock to a pier or other structure. I had to custom order mine, and I received it in about six weeks.

I would have preferred a wooden one, but wood floating dock kits almost never come with lumber and nails. All you get kit is the floaters and some hardware, and I just don’t have time to assemble one.

Aluminum floating docks are more expensive, but if you don’t have a lot of free time, they’re worth it. I’ve enjoyed mine a lot, and I think it’s better than a wood one because it won’t warp or split.

By smartypantz — On Jun 27, 2011

I would like to install a floating dock in the lake in my backyard, but I don’t have time to make one from scratch. Is there a floating dock kit I can buy? I need one that’s really easy to set up.

Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various...
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