What to Know Before Buying a Floating Dock – Light As Air Boats icon

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What to Know Before Buying a Floating Dock


If you are looking for a dock solution for your
waterfront, you will want to consider a floating dock. They are just as safe as fixed docks, have many advantages and in most cases are less expensive.

There are many factors to consider, though, before you purchase.

Read on for a comprehensive guide on purchasing a quality floating dock that will last for many years.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What Is a Floating Dock
Benefits of a Floating Dock
What to Consider Before Buying a Floating Dock
How Your Floating Dock Will Be Used
Water Levels & Conditions
Weight Capacity
Support Base Options
Decking Options
Creating Access to the Dock
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Floating Docks Stable?
Are Floating Docks Worth It?
How Are Floating Docks Anchored?
Do Floating Docks Need to be Removed in Winter?
Can Floating Docks Stay in Icy Waters
Do Floating Docks Require Permits?
How do Floating Docks Work?
What Are Floating Docks Made Of?
How Long do Floating Docks Last?
Floating Jet Ski Docks

What Is a Floating Dock?



Floating docks are comprised of buoyant platforms upheld by airtight pontoons that are then securely anchored.

These docks are big enough to push water aside, letting the dock float on the water. Floating docks utilize pipes or pilings to anchor the dock while allowing vertical movement.

The supporting pontoons are constructed from strong materials, typically filled with foam-like polystyrene.   Foam filled docks ensure the dock remains afloat even in the event of a punctured drum. They are often connected to the shore with a gangway.

The Difference Between a Floating Dock and a Fixed Dock


While floating docks are designed to move up and down with changes in water levels, fixed docks are stationary. They are firmly attached to the shoreline or to pilings.

Since they do not move with changes in water levels, they are not as adaptable to fluctuating conditions and are best suited for stable water.


Fixed docks are permanent structures and are designed for long-term use where durability is the number one requirement. They are typically more expensive than floating docks due to the number & type of materials necessary to anchor them into the seabed.

They are usually made with strong materials like steel, concrete, or thick polyethylene, and can handle harsh weather conditions.  These stationary docks can also be quite a beautiful addition to a waterfront, often increasing the value of a home.

Permitting requirements and regulations can be more stringent for permanent docks.

Benefits of a Floating Dock

Floating dock systems offer many benefits when compared to fixed docks. The ability to adjust to changing water levels makes them a great choice for bodies of water with varying water levels or strong tides.

They are also simpler to install and don’t require extensive underwater construction or permanent building along the shoreline. Because they do not disrupt the seabed, they are considered more environmentally friendly to aquatic plants and animals.

Floating docks are easier to access for maintenance since they float on top of the water making maintaining them generally less expensive. 

The buoyant pontoons increase stability for boarding and unloading creating a safe platform. They are usually more cost-effective, especially in areas where a rocky or challenging seabed makes installing a fixed dock difficult.

Floating docks are removable docks because they can be moved to a new location and stored in bad weather.

Things to Consider Before Buying A Floating Dock

How You Will Use Your Floating Dock

For Boat Docking


Standard floating dock systems work for most boat sizes and types. Boats are tied up manually alongside the dock.  Cleats are typically used on the dock at one or two points with the boat secured by ropes or lines.  Fenders are used to prevent the boat from damage as it rests alongside the dock.

Floating docks are also a good solution for jet skis to keep them out of the water.  Read about floating jet ski docks here

For Recreational Use

A floating dock can provide excellent relaxation space along your shoreline.

Space can be added via modular platforms to create places for family activities. Adding a swim platform to your dock with a ladder makes for better swimming access. A lounge space with benches or chairs allows people to enjoy the water without getting wet.

Other add-ons like dock boxes, slides, and fish cleaning stations make fishing and boating easier. On top of that, adding docking along your shoreline can increase the property value.

For Commercial Use


Floating docks are often used for business purposes like marinas, fishing platforms, boat tours, and water taxis. Aluminum & steel are the top two materials used in commercial docks. 

Water Level and Conditions

Water level and water conditions impact the decision on the type of dock you should buy. Some docks are specifically designed for shallow water, while others require deeper water to be buoyant.

Make sure the dock has enough water to prevent grounding during low tides. Strong currents or waves can impact the longevity of a dock.

Docks with a strong anchoring system and good stability features are necessary for rougher water. If in salt water, you will need a dock that can withstand corrosion. Areas that experience icy conditions in the winter will require a removable dock or one that can withstand temperature changes or ice.


Choosing the correct size for a floating dock involves considering multiple factors.  The dock’s purpose, water conditions, and the size of various watercraft that will be moored are important in ensuring your long-term needs are met.


Think about the primary purpose first. Is it for mooring your boat, fishing, or lounging? Do you want a swimming platform or lounge space for family and friends/

Consider how many people will be on the dock at the same time.  If there are strong currents, tides, or waves, you may need a more stable and larger dock.  If you will be mooring multiple boats, you’ll want to ensure there is enough room to maneuver docking, boarding, and launching.

Make sure there is plenty of space for both current and future activities. You may at some point add a bigger boat. In addition, you will want to plan for possible needed space in the future like a kid’s space or fantastic swim platform.  

Look at various floating dock designs and configuration options. Some set-ups utilize space better than others.

Check all local requirements. Often size and shape could be restricted.

By carefully considering these factors, you will be able to determine the size dock that best fits your needs. If in doubt, consult with an engineer or dock construction company.

Weight Capacity

Once you have determined the size of the dock you want, determining the weight capacity is important to make sure it’s stable & safe.

Start with reviewing the weight capacity specifications given by the dock manufacturer. Different materials have different weight capacities and could make a difference in your choice.

You will want to make sure the buoyancy of the dock will not be impeded by weight. Consider how much weight could be in one area at one time.


 At times, the weight on your dock may be concentrated in one area. Always add some safety margins in your weight calculation. This helps make sure the dock can handle an unexpected load.

Floating Dock Support Base


There are multiple floating dock options and quality materials to choose from.

Some common types of designs include pipe docks, wooden frame docks, floating cube docks, floating barrel docks, concrete floating docks, catamaran docks, piling docks, trust frame docks, and aluminum docks.  Each has its advantages.

Pipe docks are made using aluminum or steel pipes for the anchoring system. The decking can be made of a variety of materials. They are lightweight and work in various water conditions.

Wooden Frame Docks are an affordable option and use wooden frames and decking. The frame can be supported by foam-filled plastic drums or pontoons.

Wooden docks are aesthetically appealing and have the classic look of a boat dock. They can also be easily customized. The downside of a wooden dock is it will not last as long as docks made from other materials.

Floating Cube docks consist of modular blocks that connect to form a stable floating platform.  These modular docks are made of plastic and often filled with foam.

Plastic floating docks allow you to customize your space on the water.

You can easily add a lounge space or kids' space by adding more floating cubes.  Modular docks are easy to install and a go-to if you need a removable dock.


Floating Barrel Docks use plastic or metal barrels for flotation. The barrels are attached to a frame with decking on top. They work best in calm water and are a cost-effective solution.

Concrete floating docks have concrete decking supported by buoyant flotation systems. These docks are best suited for heavy-duty use and are most often used in marinas and commercial applications.

Catamaran Docks are made with 2 parallel floatation devices connected by the decking. This type of dock works well in rough water conditions.

Piling Docks are supported by posts or pilings driven into the waterbed. The deck is attached to the pilings. They work well for water depths that vary. 


Truss Frame Docks are made with rods shaped in a triangular manner to add strength to the supporting structure. A truss frame dock distributes the load and is known to be well suited for heavy loads. The materials are generally steel or aluminum for the truss frame while the decking can be of various materials.

Aluminum docks have become popular due to their durability.

They are also lighter than steel and easier to install. However, they are generally more expensive than steel. Steel docks are known for their strength.

Galvanized steel prevents rusting for a longer time. Even galvanized steel docks rust over time and do not last as long as aluminum docks. Aluminum docks are also more buoyant than steel due to the fact they weigh less.

Decking for Floating Docks

Because docks are often wet, the priority for your floating dock decking should be slip resistance. Durability, maintenance, and appearance are important but secondary to slip resistance.


Pressure Treated Wood

Wood decking is cost-effective but can become slippery when wet. Non-skid coatings, grip tape, and other non-slip materials should be applied over the wood.

Composite Decking

Although more expensive than wood, composite decking has slip-resistant surfaces. This decking requires less maintenance than wood and is more resistant to deterioration. Composite decking can fade over time and become hot in the sun.

Aluminum Decking

Aluminum decking resists slipping and is low maintenance. It’s not as pleasing to the sight as other options and can cost more. Aluminum decking can become very hot in the sun.

Vinyl Decking

Vinyl may be more expensive upfront but has many advantages. It resists decay and insects, is lightweight, and is attractive. Vinyl decking lasts for many years with minimal maintenance just requiring an occasional cleaning with soap and water.

Cedar Decking

Cedar decking has many benefits. It looks natural in the landscape, requires minimal maintenance, and is attractive. Cedar offers a more non-slip surface even when wet and is more comfortable underfoot.

It’s environmentally friendly and can be recycled. With all these benefits, be prepared for a higher cost.

Concrete Decking

Concrete decking is durable and low maintenance. A textured service can provide slip resistance. The color can be customized, and it has a long shelf life.

A concrete dock can absorb a lot of heat making it uncomfortable to walk on in the summer.

Rubber Decking

Rubber decking provides the best traction. It is safe and very comfortable for walking on. Rubberized decks resist mold, are easy to install, and fade resistant. This option is more expensive upfront but in the long run saves money on maintenance.

COST of a Floating Dock

Overall, the cost of a floating dock comes in at a more reasonable price than a fixed dock. The cost of a floating dock varies based on size, materials, design, location, and added accessories. Materials impact the cost of a floating dock the most.

Wood docks tend to be less expensive than those made of aluminum or composite materials. High-end materials and features, such as composite decking or specialty coatings, will increase the overall cost.

A small to medium dock without added options starts at $4,000. Adding electricity, platforms, higher quality materials, etc. can push the cost to $15,000 or more.

Bigger docks, those with more design features, and commercial docks can range from $20,000 to several hundred thousand dollars or more.

Challenging locations require more resources and will raise the overall cost.


Added features like boat lifts and wiring for lighting will add to the cost.

Costs often include permits and local fees to comply with local regulations.

Any customization can also increase the cost.

Access to the Floating Dock


Gangways provide a way to transition from the shore to the dock. They can either be floating or fixed themselves. They can be straight, hinged, or modular. Straight gangways are the simplest and most affordable.

Floating gangways are hinged at the shoreline and allow the ramp to float on the water and adjust to changing water levels.

Hinged gangways are helpful for changing water levels. One end is hinged at the shoreline. They can also be modular to adapt to the specific needs of your boat or access requirements from the shore.

Gangways are available in various materials such as heavy-duty plastics, wood, and aluminum.

While wood is a nicer-looking option, it requires more maintenance to prevent decay. Aluminum gangways are easy to handle and maintain. They also are best for saltwater to prevent deterioration.

Gangways made from plastics resist decay and are also easy to maintain.

Gangways often require handrails to provide safe access to the boat and shoreline.



All types of docks require regular maintenance. Your dock should be regularly inspected for damage, rust, corrosion, and loose components.

Inspect hardware to make sure it is tight and replace damaged hardware.

Also, check seals and replace them as needed to keep all seals watertight. Lubricate moving parts to prevent rust and keep their operation smooth. Remove any algae or plant growth and power wash as often as necessary to prevent the surface from being slippery.

Make sure any of the floating modules that provide buoyancy are intact and that there is no leakage or damage.


Wooden docks need to be inspected for rot, warping, and insect damage. Repair splintered to control deterioration and keep them safe for use.

If your dock has electrical components, check for exposed wiring, and ensure everything is in good working order.

Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance.


Before moving ahead be aware that waterfronts are often regulated. There may be regulations specifying how far a dock must be set back from property lines, shorelines, or other structures. There may also be rules concerning the use of electricity on your dock.

Make sure to obtain all necessary permits before moving ahead and purchasing. Importantly, your floating dock should not obstruct areas where boats pass by.


Make sure to check the warranty on the floating dock you intend to purchase. A 5-year warranty is standard in the industry.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Floating Docks Stable?


Today’s floating docks are stable and strong. In rough areas, adding weights to the edge of the dock or securing it with mooring lines to the shore or pilings may be needed.

The more people or weight on a dock the less stable it is. Heavy boats or equipment can make the dock list to one side. Therefore, make sure your dock is the appropriate size to handle the usage weight.

Are Floating Docks Worth It?


Whether a floating dock is worth an investment depends on many factors including your specific needs and your budget.

Floating docks are more economical than fixed docks, making them a worthy investment for many docking applications. Their ability to adapt to varying changes in water levels and their ease of installation make them suitable for many waterfront solutions.

How Are Floating Docks Anchored?


Poles or pilings are driven into the seabed to anchor a floating dock. The docks are then attached to the piling with connections that allow them to move up and down with the water.

For bigger docks, concrete pilings are drilled into the seabed and secured to the dock with cables or chains.

Shore anchoring can also be used for docks that are located close to the shore. In this case, cables or chains connect a shore anchored dock to the shoreline.

Modular individual sections and hinges can enable the floating dock to have flexible movement with the water. Some movement works well in tidal areas to prevent excessive stress on the anchoring system.

Do Floating Docks Need to be Removed in Winter?


In areas where the water completely freezes over, a floating dock can be damaged.

Expanding ice and thawing can put an immense amount of pressure on the structure of the dock. A dock can crack in extremely low temperatures. Also, a build-up of snow can severely damage a dock if it is not built to handle the weight and cause outright failure.

Can Floating Docks Stay in Ice?


Floating docks can remain in icy waters in some situations. Icy conditions can vary widely and if severe will damage many types of floating docks. Plastic docks are more resistant to ice damage.

Tapered edges on a floating dock can help it ride up over the ice and not be crushed. Hinge systems on a dock allow it to move with the ice reducing the risk of damage.

Installing de-icing systems around the floating dock can help prevent ice from forming around it.

Do Floating Docks Require Permits?

Often floating docks require permits due to regulations of municipal, county, or regional authorities.

Zoning laws can also place limitations on floating docks. Environmental protection agencies may require permits to ensure the ecosystems are protected. Agencies managing the waterways often have regulations to ensure docks do not obstruct waterways or create a hazard.

How Do Floating Docks Work?


Floating docks utilize buoyance to float on top of the water. Buoyancy is achieved by using pontoons which can be filled with foam in case of puncture. The dock is often attached to posts or pilings which are anchored into the seabed.

What Are Floating Docks Made Of?

The range of materials for floating docks has grown over the past 20 years. Wood, aluminum, steel, concrete, and plastics can be utilized in various configurations. Modular floating docks and aluminum remain a favorite for their durability and low cost.

How Long Do Floating Docks Last?

A floating dock can last up to 30 years. Composite, concrete, and aluminum docks last the longest. Wooden docks and plastic docks last on average 20-25 years.

Floating Jet Ski Docks


 Floating jet ski docks have become hugely popular to keep personal watercraft out of the water and protect it.  Click here to learn more about floating jet ski docks.