Thoughts From a Lake Bum

Waterfront Experience Free for the Taking. Enjoy.

Do I Need to Remove My Dock for Winter?

This question is very common among first time lakefront home owners.  The preceding scenario is usually as follows:  I just bought this house in June, the old dock is either gone or an accident waiting to happen, and I have NO IDEA what I even need, let alone want.  Fear not my soon-to-be-lounging-lakeside friends, I’ve got all the information you need!

Perhaps the most important consideration when choosing a style of dock – whether it be permanent, sectional, floating, roll-in, etc. – is if you will need to remove it in the winter, or if it can stay in year round.  In northern climates where lakes, ponds, and rivers freeze during the winter, the ice can create powerful forces that will wreck and remove your dock with ease.  Your blogger has personally seen a number of docks and hoists frozen in ice 200 yards off shore that some lackadaisical lake home owner failed to remove in due time, perhaps a result of the prior summer’s borderline excessive lakeside relaxation. 

If your lake doesn’t freeze and the water stays open all year, you should be fine barring some type of regular high water event.  However, beware of moving ice sheets in the spring.  Just because your part of the lake didn’t freeze, doesn’t mean a cove around the bend didn’t.  Large moving sheets of ice during ice out often pose the biggest threats.  If you are on a lake that is fairly large in size (think square miles, not square acres) but still freezes, you’re going to need to get them out.  Ice will freeze and expand up onto shore crumbling your docks, or the ice will freeze around them and drag them out into the lake on ice out.  Either way, you’re losing your stuff.  Don’t bother with the usual tricks such as pounding the support pipes into the lake bottom or filling them with concrete as you are just making it harder for you to clean up the wreckage in the spring.  Ice wins almost every time.  The key is to instead have a dock that is easy to remove, whether that be from using light weight aluminum materials, removable deck panel designs, or easy roll-in wheel kits.

To sum things up, when new lakefront owners ask me about removing their docks every winter I respond with one simple question.  What are your neighbors doing?  They’ve been there for years, and if they’re all taking their docks out every fall, you should be to.  If they’re all leaving them in, there’s a good chance you’ll avoic the winter’s wrath.

 

Aluminum or Galvanized Steel – Which is better for docks?

So which is the better dock building material – aluminum or galvanized steel?  Well I’m going to give you the ol’ “Sunday morning politician on Meet the Press” answer.

 

It depends.

 

But I’m not sidestepping the question to avoid being on the record – it really does depend!  Each offers their own advantages and disadvantages.  Galvanized steel consists of the base steel metal being dipped into a molten  bath of zinc at temperatures that cause excellent adhesion.  The resultant product is a very bright silver finish that will dull gray over the years.  Because the zinc takes on a sacrificial status – meaning it actually corrodes in place of the base metal – galvanized products can easily last 20 years or more before troublesome rust begins to take over.  It is important to remember that paint is not a sufficient substitute for galvanizing, as it only provides a barrier to corrosion, not a chemical conversion.

So galvanized steel won’t rust (just like aluminum won’t), but what about the weight?  That is where aluminum steps in and really shines.  At roughly 1/3 the weight of a comparable section of steel, but with similar strength characteristics, aluminum is the clear choice for dock products.  In the northern states of the US, ice formation on lakes, rivers, and ponds can pose a serious threat to docks left in the water during the winter.  Because of this threat, many lakefront owners are forced to remove their docks in the fall and put them back in every spring.  This is no big deal if there is a ready and willing group of able-bodied workers willing to get the job done, but for homeowners not wanting to burden themselves or their families, other solutions should be considered.  With it’s superior strength and weight characteristics, aluminum is the preferred material for dock hardware. 

Of course, aluminum is typically more expensive than galvanized steel as it is a superior product.  Is it a worthwhile upgrade?  Use this simple method to determine that for yourself.  Take the difference in cost of an aluminum product you’re considering over a comparable steel product.  Then, divide that by the number of years you plan to use the product – in some cases 20 years or more.  The resultant per year cost to upgrade may surprise you.  Would you pay $20 extra per year to save 66% of the weight?

That’s just smart math.