Your Guide To Lake Living

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So You're Ready To Build A Dock

Design it around your lifestyle.  Create a requirements checklist before you start.

Docks can be very simple and functional, or elegant and elaborate. Of course, the first considerations when figuring out what kind of dock is right for you are budget, the weather conditions and the water depth. A dock is a major investment and improvement to a lakefront, and careful planning can help ensure that your dock suits your lifestyle.

Guidelines for Designing a Permanent Dock

For those lake lovers lucky enough to have waterfront property in a place where temperatures and water depth allow for a permanent dock, a dock can be made into a wonderful casual entertaining area. The considerations for permanent dock design are unique, and quite complex.

First, you have to decide where the dock will be situated. It needs to have easy access to land, as it is your path to the water. You will end up having lots of guests who use the dock with you, so you will want to make sure that they do not have to struggle to “board” your dock. The dock should be situated in the water so that during the highest or lowest water level fluctuations your boat can be put into the water, if this is possible. A permanent dock is a major investment, so you need to make sure that you know the history of water levels for the lake you are building on.

Other Dock-Specific Design Considerations

The next considerations in placement and design of a dock are a bit less essential, but are quite important to your enjoyment of it. Before you make your final determination on the exact placement and size and shape of your dock, you need to think about how you intend to use it. Some questions that you might want to put on your checklist are:

  • Do you need room for visitors to tie up boats to your dock? If so, how can you provide this in a way that their boats are safe from passing traffic? 

  • Will you need a place on the dock where the water is deep enough to jump in and swim, away from any boats?

  • Is the passing boat traffic going to endanger swimmers near your dock? If so, can you position your dock in such a way that it provides shelter for swimmers?

  • Do you want to be able to sunbathe? If so, how many hours will you have sun on the dock in a day?

  • How much room will you need for deck chairs and lounge chairs?

  • Do you need a covered area with a table for eating, or chairs to allow guests a respite from the sun? The dock is another outdoor living area, like a deck or patio, and some of the same types of questions need to be asked when deciding the design.

Another consideration is the view. While one can argue that there are no “bad” views on a lake, you may want to make sure that you make the best of the view that you have available. 

What about the neighbors? Will the dock you want block their views or cause traffic problems for them? Factors of the environment and your use of the dock should ultimately help you determine its design.

Boat Lift Decisions

Next you need to decide what type of boatlift will you use. If you use a standalone one you do not have to worry about incorporating it into the design of your dock. Do you need a fully enclosed lift area with walls and a door, or simply a lift with a roof over it to protect your boat from the elements? Make sure that the boat lift you choose is capable of lifting the largest boat you are ever likely to buy, even if the boat you have now is not that large. If you want to put in an electric lift you will need to be able to get the electricity run to the dock. If you are running electricity for a lift, you might as well make sure that you bring down enough power to support lights and other electrical needs. The incremental cost during the initial construction effort is small compared to having to add more capacity at a later time. Also, consider whether you want a telephone line (or two) to the dock. While you might consider this an intrusion on your quiet haven, it can free you up to be down at the water while you are waiting for calls or making calls.

Storage Space

What about storage area? Families with a boat are going to potentially need quite a bit of “lockable” storage are in which to stow the many water toys that tend to accumulate. Plan for as much storage space as you can afford, this saves a lot of time bringing equipment to and from the dock.

Dock Planning Techniques

One thing Lance and I did before we built our own dock, was to tour the lake and look at all the different types of docks. I would highly recommend doing this, as it can really help you determine the look and feel you want for your dock. We took note of any especially good features we wished to incorporate into our design, as well as problems to avoid. If you find a dock you particularly like, it’s a good idea to try to ask the owners who built it, and whether they would recommend that builder. Sketch out your ideas for the dock location and floor plan before meeting with a dock builder, so they can give you a quick estimate on cost and timeframes.


Just a few more decisions will need to be made once you have figured out location and floor plan for you dock. What materials will you use for decking, and any dock exterior? In the past, pressure treated wood was the preferred decking material, but these days you have many choices. Wood polymer composites, such as Trex, are an improvement on wood in several ways. First, it is maintenance free, second, it does not get as hot under the sun, and third, No Splinters! Since our dock is situated too far from the house to easily use running water to power wash, the maintenance –free aspect alone was worth the extra material cost. The rest was icing on the cake. One other decking option to consider is aluminum, but make sure you get something textured so that it will not be slippery when it gets water on it. As for the rest of the dock, you’ll want to make sure that there is a pleasing combination with your home exterior.

Now for the Finishing Touches

Don’t forget about ladders that reach to the lowest level the lake water is ever likely to reach. We love to entertain on our dock, so one of our first additions to our basic dock design was a small bar area with a counter for food and drink preparation. We extended the counter to create a small bar with two stools. Then we added a lockable window between the food preparation area and the eating area. The lockable window provides security. Next, we added some shelves and cabinets in the storage area and the food preparation space to have a place to put the rapidly accumulating water toys, boat and entertaining needs. Soon a stereo with outdoor speakers was added, and we really began to feel like we were in our own private resort. Another nice touch was adding ceiling fans inside the bar area, and over the eating area. This has been a great help on those really hot days.

Relax and Enjoy

Once your dock is completed you can sit back relax and enjoy the view. Hopefully you will get many years of enjoyment from the careful planning you put into this project.


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