How to Prepare Your Dock for Winter
Depending on where you live, winter can be rough – heavy snowstorms, wind, and ice are the norm for the majority of the northern hemisphere. For dock owners, the season can be particularly stressful – what’s the best way to protect your property this time of year? And what should you do with a floating dock in winter?
Depending on where you live and the specific lake or pond your deck is on, there are quite a few things you’ll want to consider to make sure you’re winter-ready.
How Snow and Ice Can Damage Your Dock
Ice can easily wreak havoc on a dock. Even if your winters are relatively short and mild, a partial freeze is enough to do some serious damage if you aren’t prepared.
As the ice expands and contracts, the pressure can cause your dock to become misshapen or unusable. Strong winds can also knock ice floats into your dock, damaging pilings and any other structures in their path. And if snow builds up on top of your dock, the weight of it can do serious harm if it isn’t removed promptly.
Do I Need to Remove My Floating Dock in the Winter?
There’s a bit of debate about what to do with a floating dock in winter – should you remove it, or will it be ok in the water? Here are some important things to consider:
- Does the area around your dock offer natural protection from wind and waves? If so, you may not have to remove it.
- Is your lake drained by city officials each winter? This practice helps to reduce ice damage to shorelines.
- Will your floating dock make contact with rocks when the water level is at its lowest? If so, it’s best to remove it.
- Will your floating dock bump any other objects as the ice moves? Two feet is an ideal amount of space to be able to move – any less, and you should consider removing it.
In most cases, we recommend removing your floating dock before ice starts to form. However, if your dock is situated in a well-protected area, such as a small bay, you can leave your floating dock in the water so long as you take the following precautions:
- Check hardware to ensure everything on your dock is secure and remove any accessories, including dock ladders and ramps.
- Loosen your floating dock’s anchor chains so that it can adjust to shifting water levels.
- Tie a line from the dock to a secure object on land to keep your dock from floating away.
- Mark your dock so that people on the frozen lake can see and avoid it.
Pipe docks absolutely need to be removed in winter to prevent ice from damaging the aluminum frame. And unlike floating docks, which move up and down with shifting water levels, pipe docks are stationary, so they can easily become submerged.
Safely Remove Your Dock & Follow Local Regulations
Check your local dock guidelines which may make it mandatory to remove your dock in the winter or advise you to mark where your dock will be so that passersby can see it. The last thing you want is to fully prep your dock just to have someone on a snowmobile crash into it.
How to Protect a Permanent Dock
If you have a type of dock that cannot be removed, there are several steps you should take to prepare for the winter weather. You should purchase de-icers for the legs of your dock to oscillate the water so there is no possible damage incurred.
It would also be wise to waterproof your dock, check to make sure the boat lift works properly, and check that there are no structural problems before winter comes. While preparing your dock for winter can help prevent damage, it doesn’t make your dock 100% damage-proof. Be sure to verify your insurance coverage before the temperatures start to drop.
Use Dock Bubblers
At this point, you may be thinking – “Hasn’t anyone come up with a solution to keep docks safe and ice-free during the winter?”
The answer is yes, and that solution is called a dock bubbler. A dock bubbler works by releasing air bubbles through a hose connected to an air compressor. The release of these air bubbles from the hose causes warm water to rise. This heats the water surrounding the dock and keeps the area free of ice.
A dock bubbler isn’t a perfect solution – before you decide to use one, consider the following:
- Changing lake levels: If the lake levels are low due to drainage or other circumstances, the dock bubbler may malfunction.
- Moving sheets of ice: While a bubbler will keep the area surrounding your dock free of ice, strong winds in the area could cause a piece of ice in the lake to hit your dock.
If you decide to use a dock bubbler, we recommend turning it on in late November and turning it off in late January when the ice has frozen over and become stabilized. In March, turn the bubbler back on as the ice begins to melt and shift once more.
Of course, depending on where you live, your winter may be longer or shorter – be sure to keep an eye on the weather and plan accordingly.
Check Your To-Do List Before Winter Comes
Just because you live in a cold climate doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy boating. Follow the directions above to secure or remove your dock and have peace of mind all winter. When spring comes around, you will know you did all your preparations before winter and you’ll be ready to get back on the water.
Decks & Docks Lumber Company has a variety of lumber and composite dock supplies to choose from. Visit our website to get inspiration or to shop for your next dock. Contact us at 866.528.9663 or send us a message here. Our knowledgeable and friendly staff would love to hear from you and answer any questions you may have.
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James Hertler has served professional builders and homeowners on the Jersey Shore since 2006. With decades of industry experience, his team provides deep product knowledge and specialized service. Professional deck builders and marine contractors will find that they understand the business and work hard to make every job run smoothly. Homeowners working independently or with a contractor will find him a great resource from planning to delivery. All of their customers will find that James goes the extra mile to help turn a construction project into a beautiful outdoor living space.