Design Considerations for Floating Boat Docks



Floating Dock design and considerations

As the popularity of boating and watersports grows, so does the need for marinas and docking areas to grow and expand their capacity to harbor boats. And with only so much real estate available on existing docks, marinas and waterfront properties, expansion can be a difficult task. Situations like these, is where floating docks prove to be the perfect solution. A floating dock allows you to tie off more boats, gives more people access to an area and doesn’t necessarily impede access from the beach itself, so smaller beaches on lakes can still have swimming areas, while accommodating a larger group of boats or other watercrafts.

Like all docks, floating platforms have specific needs due to their placement on the water. Take a look at these considerations and design ideas to help you make the most of your floating dock system.

Module Design

Many people think of docks and boardwalks as one, continuous piece of construction. And when building a traditional dock this may be true. But floating docks are built differently; they’re more flexible as they need to be able to adjust with varying water levels and general movement, smaller docks may need to have the ability to be taken out of the water during off seasons, and many require the ability to change the configuration from time to time depending on use and need. For these reasons, it’s best to consider your floating docks as separate modules, rather than one large piece.

By constructing your floating dock in several modules, or pieces, you can easily maneuver them to where they need to be, remove them easily from the water for repair or dry land storage in the winter months, or change their configuration as you expand.

Because floating docks are made up of a lower float with decking material on top, it’s easy to construct them in smaller pieces by working with the size of the floats. Floats come in more than 40 different sizes, or you can have custom floats built to your specifications. By placing one dock on each float and hooking the different docks together, you allow the docks to flex when waves lift them, and give yourself the ability to move them more easily.

Frame Construction

It’s tempting to consider a floating dock as merely decking applied to the tops of the floats, but there’s a lot more that goes into their construction. Every floating dock needs to start with a frame. This frame can be built out of several materials; aluminum, wood and fiber-reinforced concrete can all be used to create the frame.

Ultimately, the frame should snugly hug the floats once it’s lowered onto them. This type of construction gives you the ability to make repairs by removing the floats from the frame, while at the same time gives you a sturdy platform on which to erect your decking.

Material Considerations

As previously mentioned, floating docks can be constructed of several different materials. This includes not only the frame and the floats, but the decking as well.

Like any dock, these floating structures are designed to be used on and near water, which means that the moisture levels in this area and how they will impact the materials used needs to be considered. While the floats themselves may be made of plastic, polystyrene or fiber-reinforced cement, the frame and decking is usually made of either wood, composites or aluminum.

Pressure treated wood is one of the most common materials for all decks. It has a traditional style that fits in well with many marinas. However, pressure treated wood does have several drawbacks when used in this area. It can swell with moisture, as well as shrink on hot and sunny days, which can cause the decking to warp over time. Some types of pressure treated wood may also have issues caused by increased exposure to water such as rot, algae or mold growth, and even degradation from insect activity. If the pressure treated wood is stained or painted, the VOCs and the peeling paint or stain may harm the environment the dock is in, as well.

Aluminum and composites also have several issues, including growing hot in the sun, becoming slippery when wet, and lacking the style and versatility of real wood. Aluminum also has a tendency to dent easily and to echo loudly when walked upon, making it a less attractive material to use in high traffic areas like marinas. Some composites may also leach chemicals into the water over an extended period of time and composites that have their surface pierced may also begin to swell, warp or rot more easily.

Modified wood, like Kebony, is an attractive solution for both stationary and floating docks, as it avoids many of the issues found with pressure treated, aluminum and composite decking. Modified wood is much better suited for installations that are prone to water exposure. It’s also environmentally friendly and won’t leach harmful chemicals into the water. It also stays cooler than aluminum and composite in the sun, as a natural wood product. Over time, the boards will naturally weather to a silvery-gray, which enhances the appearance of the dock, allowing it to fit in better with many marinas and waterfront settings.

Constructing your dock and decking with modified wood, like Kebony, is a great way to avoid ingoing dock maintenance issues and need for replacement, while building something naturally beautiful that is engineered to last.

Design Ideas

Floating docks are very versatile and uniquely stylish, but because they’re often built in combination with stationary dock sections, you’ll want to ensure that the floating section matches the rest of the area for the best results.

Mixed Materials

Architect: Edgewater Resources Photo by: Walter Colley

Many floating docks are constructed with a border along the edges which aids in the structural integrity as well as helps to protect the edges of the deck boards on top. This long floating dock uses an aluminum edge mixed with the modified wood decking. The result is contemporary and clean, bringing a professional and polished look to the marina.

Angled Walkway

Architect: Grontmij Arkitekter

Many times, a floating dock may be constructed because of regulations that prevent a permanent structure. In these cases, the dock still needs access, even if it isn’t permanently attached, to land. This wide dock makes good use of an angled walkway that comes down off the property and onto the dock itself. It creates the illusion that the floating dock is more stationary than it actually is.

Boat Slips

Architect: Edgewater Resources Photo by: David Trott of Blue Sky Photography, Inc.

In some cases where seasonal boat storage is required, it makes the most sense to create a floating boat slip off a stationary boardwalk or dock. In this case, the boat slips are constructed of the same material as the dock itself for a cohesive look. Floating slips give you a lot of versatility in a marina, while allowing easy access for repairs in the off season.

Create a Better Floating Dock

By paying close attention to the structural considerations and solutions a floating dock can provide, you can build a better project that can withstand years of use. Consider using modified wood on your dock to help lower the amount of maintenance that you’ll need in this wet area, while giving your dock a traditional style and appearance. Build a better floating dock by paying attention to these issues and design ideas to get the most use of out of your marina, harbor or private dock.

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