Angie's LIST Guide to
Dock Building and Repair
Building a dock
Whether you live along either coast or are landlocked, waterfront property is always prized real estate. If you're fortunate enough to own property with a pond, river, lake, inlet or ocean in your backyard, you might want to add a dock for boating, fishing or enjoying a glorious sunset.
Docks often come in two varieties: stationary docks with posts that sit on the bottom and floating docks that extend out into the water.
You first need to research local ordinances and laws regarding permits or regulations on the shape or size of boat allowed. You'll also want to determine exactly where your property line extends.
For a new dock, you'll need to scout your shoreline location carefully. Your dock should reside in concert with the land, so take into account how high and low the water gets, nearby wildlife, wind and currents.
Building a stationary dock can involve many of the elements to adding a deck to your backyard, except that your posts will be submerged. Does this mean that you should hire a regular decking company? In most cases, no. You'll want to make sure that the contractor has experience building docks. Choose a professional dock construction company that works with experienced pile-driving, dock and marine contractors.
Just like a deck, though, you'll need to account for the type of soil the posts will be resting on. Is it rocky or mushy clay? Will it shift or erode away? Most importantly, will it handle the weight of the dock?
While floating docks are much easier to build, excessive wind and waves can make you and your family downright seasick. Pay attention to the traffic also: Jet skis, wave runners and boats with powerful engines can churn up disruptive waves, making your floating dock unbearable.
Docks can be built from wood, pressure-treated wood, composite, aluminum, vinyl and even concrete.
Hiring a professional
Like all home projects, there's often an art to knowing when you're treading water and need a pro to bail you out.
While there are many ways you can build, maintain or repair your dock yourself, some assessments require contractors. For example, if a boat runs into your dock, it may be hard to determine the extent of damage without the help of a professional.
Angie's List is a great resource for local reviews on marine and boat professionals and hundreds of other categories of service provider. From the top companies you find, be sure to get at least three detailed references.
Repairing and maintaining your dock
A dock requires regular maintenance. You should keet it clean but only with nontoxic cleaning solutions that won't hurt water quality. You should inspect all planks inspected regularly for splinters or cracks. Here are some tips for keeping your deck shipshape.
Seal wood docks. All wood used on a dock should be treated lumber. Also, apply dock sealant on an annual basis following the manufacturer's instructions. Before sealing, clean the dock with a pressure washer, and use dock-cleaning chemicals to remove algae and mold. Sand the surface before sealing to remove peeling paint, debris and anything that will prevent sealant from adhering. If possible, remove the dock from the water and allow it to dry completely before and after sealing.
Inspect the underwater platform. If the dock sits on an underwater platform, examine the platform with swim goggles and run your hands over the material to check for damage. Be sure to be safe when working in the water: Use a floatation device, and also be sure a strong swimmer is nearby.
Remove plants and animals. When large quantities of barnacles and other creatures attach to a dock, they can cause damage and make it impossible to properly inspect, treat and repair. Use a plastic putty knife or hull scraper to remove barnacles and marine life from all surfaces. After barnacles are removed, scrub with a mild abrasive scrub pad.
Repair wood platforms. Small holes and damaged areas on wood platforms can be repaired with marine putty. There are many types of marine putty, including two-part epoxies and one-part acrylics. Wear gloves and follow manufacturer directions when using the putty. Epoxy putties are generally a better choice for larger areas, while acrylic putties are good for filling in pinholes and scratches. If using epoxy putty, be sure to mix the parts sufficiently and at the correct proportions to ensure that the putty sets properly. When repairing underwater surfaces, make sure to use putty that will dry underwater.
Treat and repair metal platforms. Metal platforms should be lubricated regularly to avoid rust. Repair holes, rusty areas and other damage with a welder as needed.
Replace damaged platforms. Larger amounts of damage may require replacing all or part of the platform. It's generally easier and safer to install a new platform next to the old one, then remove the old platform after the new one is in place. When replacing beams, be sure to drive them at least 4 feet into the ground. A water pump can be used to remove old beams and help in driving and securing new ones.
Replace and repair hardware and accessories. Replace any lost or damaged screws, nails and other hardware. Use galvanized nails and screws. Chains should be treated with lubricant regularly to avoid rust. If part of a chain becomes too rusty, replacement links can be welded on. Check ropes for damage, and solder together any damaged ends. If the dock uses barrels, replace any damaged barrels.