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The Guide to Dock Maintenance

written by
Linda McDonagh

All too often, we think of docks as just another feature on the lake – something that might need to be stored during winter or occasionally hosed down. An afterthought overshadowed by the boats moored to them.

But – when you allow your dock to fall into disrepair, you end up impacting the waterbody’s recreational use, lowering property values and curtailing the life of the dock (and paying richly for it!).

Today, we’re going to walk through how to maintain your dock year-round to keep it functional and extend its lifespan.

An example of a well maintained dock







The Types of Docks: Fixed and Floating

Before we can dive too deep into the world of caring for docks, it is important to know what types of docks there are as this will inform what practices you need to adopt to properly maintain them.

Nearly all docks fall into one of two categories – fixed or floating.

An example of a floating dockFloating docks are exactly what they sound like – floating docks without an anchor embedded into the bottom of the waterbody. They are connected to the shoreline in some way, whether tethered directly or tethered to a frame that extends out from the land. Fixed docks are often found in lakes that have varying water levels or soft, murky bottoms that won’t support a fixed dock.

An example of a fixed or permanent dockFixed docks, on the other hand, are stationary, permanent docks that stay in place (regardless of water levels) via pilings. Pilings’ heights depend on the average water level for the waterbody and whether boats are planned to be docked there versus it being a dock for fishing or viewing. Fixed docks work well in choppy waters as they will remain stable when hit with waves.

Summer Maintenance for Docks

Since docks typically are used the most during the spring and summer months, it makes sense that there will be more upkeep during this time. Some basic practices you should keep track of during the dock’s main operating season include:

  • Periodically pressure wash the exterior of the dock, as often as once a month. This not only revitalizes the look of the dock but helps keep rot and mildew from developing. You can find a guide to doing exactly this here, but the basics are to use a fan tip for wooden docks to lessen the impact, hold the tip about a foot away from the dock, and check the actual pressure of the washer to ensure that it won’t damage the dock.
  • Sand after cleaning. Pressure washers can create very small or even microscopic splinters on wooden docks. A quick once-over with a sander after cleaning will help keep the surface smooth.
  • Install ‘rub rails’ to protect your dock from boats and vice-versa. Your dock’s rough edges can easily scratch and damage the boats that bump up against it – and boats can also crash into your dock and cause damage as well. You’ll want something that’s marine-grade for this, but you can also use recycled materials such as old fire hoses.

A dock with rub rails or bumpers

  • Look out for rust formations. Rust can form at any time, and it’s easiest to treat it as early as possible. This includes both replacing rusting equipment and removing rust stains with vinegar or dish soap (if you wait too long to treat these, you may need to opt for commercial-grade products).
  • Look out for plant, weed or algae growth. Just as with rust or rot, plants and algae can damage docks and impede the use of them. And since docks tend to create pockets of Stillwater, it’s very easy for algae to develop undisrupted. To prevent this, you can work with professionals such as Clarke for aquatic plant management.

Winter and Off-Season Maintenance for Docks

The winter or ‘off’ season is a great opportunity to invest time and effort into dock upkeep. Some of what you can work on when docks aren’t in use include:

  • Apply stains and finishes to the dock once a year. The fall and winter are great times to take care of this – water levels will be much lower, and there’s no need to shut down recreational use. You do want to make sure the water levels are low – this helps prevent the chemicals in the stain from leaking into the water.
  • Pull Floating Docks Out of the Water. Floating docks typically aren’t as outfitted for cold weather as permanent or fixed docks are. When possible, remove your floating docks from the water and make sure they are store properly.
  • At the end of the season, ensure pumps, hoses and drains don’t contain water. Once these are no longer in use, it’s important to make sure that they no longer hold any water – otherwise, this water can freeze and expand, damaging the container.

A dock utilizing deicers for winterization

  • Keep your fixed docks free of ice. While many docks are built to withstand harsh winter conditions, ice development can still bend and warp pilings and even the body of the dock. You may want to invest in deicers, agitators and bubblers which will keep water moving and prevent ice from forming. You can find a full guide to keeping your dock and marinas ice-free in Clarke’s Guide to Deicing.



Working with Clarke for Your Deicing, Aeration & Plant Management Needs

Clarke Aquatic Services works with each of our clients on a one-on-one basis to ensure that their needs are best met – whether that’s aquatic plant management, deicing and aeration solutions or water quality control.

To learn more, contact our team here, or check out other articles such as: