My father and I took our floating dock to our favorite lake when I was seven years old. It was left in longer than it should have been and the water hadn't frozen yet. A thick layer of ice covered the top of the dock. It was finally pulled out after a few hours of hard work and many frostbitten fingers. My dad told me that we wouldn't wait next year. We never did.
Boat docks are useful and fun in summer but can be a bit of a challenge in the winter. Ice damage can occur in winter if there is a chance of lakes freezing over. It can be stressful for dock owners to have to deal with November through March. But it doesn't have be. It's easy to eliminate the stress by knowing exactly when and how to prepare your dock in winter.
How to Prepare a Dock for Winter
Winterizing a dock can be a tedious job depending on what type of dock you have. These are the things you should do before taking your dock out of water.
Get Some Help
Ask a friend or family member who is strong and experienced to accompany you when you are preparing your dock for winter. It doesn't matter how strong you are, winterizing your dock alone can be difficult -- especially if storage or removal is required.
Take these tools and combine them:
Proper clothing: Get started by dressing properly . If you have to go in the water, wear galoshes and hip waders. If it is cold, bundle up with thermal underwear and a windproof or waterproof jacket. Use gloves that have fingers, not mittens, to make it easier to grab and use tools. Warm boots with lots of grip are also recommended.
Screwdriver or socket set: Depending on the way your dock is attached, you will need either a wrench or a screwdriver to take it apart. Whatever it is, make sure you have an extra in case one gets lost in the water. This was something I had to learn the hard way.
Dragging winch: If you need to lift your dock out of the water and it is too heavy or large to be pulled by hand, you will need either a gasoline-powered winch, or a four wheel-drive vehicle equipped with pulling straps or cables to move it onto dry ground.
De-icer/bubbler for docks that stay in the water: If you have a permanently installed unit (crib, pile dock), an electric deicing tool may be necessary to protect it from melting ice. This will be covered in detail.
Permanently Installed Dock:
Crib docks are usually mounted on heavy, underwater timber cribs that are often filled with concrete or stones. They cannot be removed so there are only two winterizing options. You can either withstand the ice, or keep it away. Also, piling docks cannot be removed. They are mounted on steel, concrete, or treated wood-posts and "piles" that are driven into the lakebed.
You may not need to do much if you don't have a lot of ice or your dock is very strong. My home in New Hope, Minnesota and has winter temperatures that drop below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. This means lots of ice. I do know of a few crib docks that are still in use after all these years. They look great!
An electric deicing tool is a great investment to prevent ice formation. These devices are the best I know of to protect your dock from ice-forming lakes. Water movement is a pretty simple and affordable way to prevent ice from forming. If you’re interested in comparing some of the blowing and aerating tools that are available, click here.
If your Dock is Removable
Most pipe docks are made from aluminum frames that support lumber or -composite boards. Pipe docks can be removed and are not made to withstand snow ice. First, remove the boards from the water and store them. Next, remove the pipes and frames from the water and fold them.
Most floating docks can also be removed quickly before winter. Some floating docks are made from lightweight foam blocks, which rise above the ice and prevent it from getting damaged. Your friend or winch can help you lift your floating dock out of the water. Once it is dry, store it safely.
If you live somewhere that doesn't freeze:
Lucky you! Although there are some exceptions, it is likely that no ice means no dock winterizing.
It is a smart idea to remove your floating docks in the winter if the lake level drops significantly. Your dock could sink to the bottom if it is below the shoreline. This can cause damage.
Start Planning Now
Don’t wait until it’s too late to start planning your deck removal this fall. Docks can be quite expensive, therefore I feel like it’s imperative to do all that we can to ensure that these docks are well maintained and sheltered from the harsh winter elements. That, and, I’m on mission to ensure the lesson I learned with my dad, when I was seven, will live on! No frost-bitten fingers in my family!