How To Build A Dock On A Lake That Freezes

NyDock Floating Docks on a Frozen Lake

One of the age-old problems with owning a dock is the fact that in colder climates, such as in our beloved province of Ontario, Canada, the water tends to freeze over the winter.

Most docks need to be (or should be) removed from the water during the winter to save from getting damaged. Usually, the worst of the damage can happen in the springtime when the ice starts to thaw and shift. Depending on the extent of the damage, ice damage can get very expensive.

Most docks are made from materials that are susceptible to ice damage, such as wood, plastic, styrofoam, and metal hinges. If your dock is on a lake that freezes during the winter season, you have only so many options to keep it from getting damaged or even destroyed if it is left in the water over winter.

Thankfully these days there are some considerations and alternatives to having a dock on a lake that freezes.


Fixed Dock or Floating Dock?

An important consideration: is yours a fixed dock, or a floating dock?

Floating Dock with concrete anchors on lake floor.

A floating dock is usually tethered to the shore with concrete anchors on the lake floor.

A fixed dock is normally attached to a lake or river floor with steel pilings or wooden cribs filled with stone. Fixed docks provide more stability, but they also have disadvantages. A fixed dock can be more susceptible to damage from the ice because it remains in place as the lake freezes. Depending on the level of the water when the freeze takes place, and how thick the ice is around the dock when thawing and shifting occurs, substantial damage can take place. Even though concrete, metal, and wood are durable and strong materials, sometimes the elements are much stronger.

A floating dock is just as it sounds. It is usually tethered to the shore with concrete anchors on the lake floor. The dock itself floats and is free to rise and fall with the level of the water. Floating docks can make a great alternative to fixed docks, especially on lakes that tend to have a constantly changing water level.


What Materials Are Used For Your Dock?

When you’re considering what materials to use for your dock construction, material cost is of course going to be a factor. However, you need to also consider the cost of repairing damage every season. It is nearly always a more prudent choice to pay more upfront to save in the long term.
Consider the materials that make up your dock. How is it constructed? Is it mostly wood? Aluminum? Does it contain styrofoam? These materials vary in cost and strength, but all of them are susceptible to ice damage.


High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) Pontoons

Cottage with NyDock on frozen lake.

Cottage with NyDock on frozen lake.

Some materials are not as susceptible to the elements. For example, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) is thick and durable enough to endure harsh winter conditions and freeze into ice all winter long.

HDPE is used in rugged mining, commercial and industrial applications. HDPE is nearly impervious to punctures or cracks. Because of these properties, HDPE makes a great solution for floating dock pontoons. Because of this, owners of docks using HDPE pontoons don’t have to remove the dock from the water in the wintertime.

Another advantage of HDPE is that it doesn’t break down the same way other flotation materials do, such as styrofoam. Styrofoam can break down over time and lose its buoyancy, whereas HDPE retains its properties over time and through harsh conditions. This also makes it a more effective choice for environmental considerations, given that HDPE doesn’t deteriorate and leech out into the open water.

At the end of the day, you need to make the right decision for yourself, taking into account cost, available materials, and the physical location of where you are putting your dock. Just know that most materials used in traditional dock construction are susceptible to ice damage. Given that, it’s great to know that there are alternatives.

If you have questions about which dock will best suit your needs, we’d love to hear from you!