Your dock’s greatest adversary is the toll of the elements, especially ice in the cold months. Ice can cause an incredible amount dock damage as well as prevent the dock from being used in the off season.
It is recommended that docks are removed from homes and businesses before winter to prevent ice formation. This is the best way for docks to be protected from ice buildup, which can occur in areas that have lakes or rivers that freeze frequently.
How ice can damage boat docks
The water around the dock freezing isn’t really what dock owners need to be very concerned about. The most damaging thing to boat docks isn’t a frozen lake or pond, instead it’s the constant ice movement.
When water freezes it expand and then contracts when it melts. This pushing and pulling creates an effect that pushes and pulls ice in one direction and then the other. Wind can also play an damaging role in pushing ice onto shorelines or docks that have been left behind.
Ice damage is a serious problem
If they are left out in the cold winter, boat docks may not last as long. Even if there is minimal damage, it could be that you need to replace your dock sooner than you thought.
For example, let's assume that your boat dock has an average life expectancy of around 20 years. If the dock is subject to too many winter storms, it may not last as long.
Be sure to take this into account before you leave your dock in the water.
Before winter sets in, remove boat docks
First, remove any boat docks or lifts that are located in areas that experience water ice in winter. This advice is applicable to any property located in Northwest Iowa, the Midwest or elsewhere.
The rule of thumb for when to remove boat docks before the cold sets in is that it should be done in the autumn. You can return docks to the water once the ice has melted, depending on the severity of the winter.
This is why it's important to plan ahead. Removing and reinstalling docks can be a complicated task. Some dock designs make this easier. For example, some docks can be easily rolled in and out of the way or removed and put together individually.
Thankfully there are several ways you can prevent ice chunks from being pushed up onto the shore or toward your dock by the wind, if you decide to leave them in year round.
Protect your dock with equipment
If you don't have the option of removing your boat dock, or are willing to risk it, there are steps that can be taken to winterize it and make it more resilient to ice and other winter weather elements.
Many dock owners make use of equipment that helps keep the ice away.
A circulator or thruster uses a propeller and motor to move water under the dock to the surface. You can attach the circulators to floats or you can purchase one with an oscillator on it an simply attach it to the end of your dock. As the circulator rotates/oscillates the water all around your dock and shoreline will be moving which will prevent ice formation. The AquaThruster is a great tool if you are looking to circulate the water throughout the cold winter months, one of these would be essential for home owners and businesses that have permanent docks that can’t be removed in the winter.
A bubbler system is another option. Bubblers, also known as diffusers, are made using an air compressor and tubing placed at the dock's bottom. The tubes have tiny holes throughout them that allow air to flow down the tubes. The tubes have small holes that allow air to flow through them. Once the bubbles rise to the surface, water movement is created which discourages ice formation. Defusers can be spread over larger areas for more coverage.
Winterizing docks is essential, regardless of whether you decide to take it out or leave it in the water. There are several steps to winterize boat docks.
You will first need to get rid of all accessories (chairs and ladders, benches, etc.). You will then need to remove all accessories (chairs, ladders, benches, etc.) and find a safe place to store them until spring. Do not store dock accessories in places that are exposed to extreme cold or moisture.
For example, the JB Lund rolling docking systems have lots of neat accessories that should be taken off the docks and stored in a protected place to ensure their longevity.
Next, look for ways to waterproof your dock. This should be done in autumn, before temperatures drop below freezing.
You can either spray water onto the dock or use a hose to spray it. It doesn't matter how you get water there, it will show you where water isn't repelling. You can see the effects of water on your dock to determine this. Re-seal your dock if necessary before the winter storms arrive.
It is worth taking the time to inspect how well your dock holds up to water, regardless of whether it stays in the water during winter months.
Pay attention to the weather
One final tip: No matter how hard you try to prevent ice from forming, it is important to monitor the weather forecast in your area.
If you are lucky, you may get sunny days that allow your circulators or bubblers to keep up with the ice. A string of cold days with cloudy skies can give the ice the edge.