How To Prepare a Boat Dock for Winter

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Have a boat dock you need to prepare for winter? Winterizing your dock varies depending on climate and dock type. Learn the ins and outs here.

When I was nine, my father and I drove to our favorite lake in November to remove our floating dock. We left it in later than we should have, and although the water wasn’t frozen yet, a slick sheet of ice coated the top of the dock. A couple of difficult hours and several frostbitten fingers later, we got it out, although just barely. Dad told me we wouldn’t wait so long next year, and we never did again.

As handy and enjoyable as boat docks are in summer, winter means a risk of ice damage if you live where lakes freeze over. November through March can be a stressful time for dock owners, but it doesn’t have to be this way for you. Knowing exactly when and how to prepare your dock for winter eliminates the worry.

How To Prepare a Dock for Winter

The job of winterizing a dock varies greatly depending on the kind of dock you own. However, if you’re taking the dock out of the water, do these things first:

Get a Helper

Before you take out your dock for winter, ask a strong, experienced friend or family member to come with you. No matter how tough you are, winterizing a dock by yourself is difficult — especially if removal from the water and storage is on the agenda.

Round Up These Tools:

Proper clothing: Start by dressing appropriately. Wear galoshes or hip waders if you need to get in the water. Bundle up in thermal underwear and a good windproof and waterproof jacket if it’s cold. Bring gloves with fingers — not mittens — so you can grab and use tools more easily. Also, wear warm boots if needed, with plenty of grip.

Socket set or screwdriver: Depending on how your dock is fastened together, you’ll need a wrench or screwdriver to disassemble it — maybe both. Whichever it is, bring an extra one in case you drop one in the water. I learned that the hard way.

Winch for dragging: If you have to remove your dock from the water, and it’s too large and heavy to pull by hand, you’ll need a gas-powered winch or a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a cable or pulling straps to drag it onto dry land.

Bubbler/de-icer for docks staying in the water: If you’ve got a permanently installed unit (crib or pile dock), you may need an electric de-icing tool, or more than one, to keep it safe from moving ice. More on this to come.

If Your Dock is Permanently Installed:

Crib docks are mounted on large, heavy underwater timber cribs, usually filled with stones or concrete. They can’t be removed, so that leaves only two winterizing options: withstand the ice or keep it away. Pile docks can’t be removed, either. They’re mounted on steel, concrete or treated wood-posts or “piles,” driven deep into the lakebed.

If you don’t get a lot of ice where you live or your dock is exceptionally beefy, you may not need to do anything. Where I live in Northern Ontario, Canada, we regularly get winter temperatures down to -4 F or colder. That means plenty of ice. Still, I know of one or two crib docks that have been around for years and appear no worse for the wear.

If you’re concerned the ice will damage your crib or pile dock, consider investing in an electric de-icing tool, which keeps water moving just enough to stop ice from forming. These devices are the best way I know to protect your dock in an ice-forming lake.

If Your Dock is Removable:

Most pipe docks are made of aluminum frames supporting lumber or composite boards. Pipe docks are removable, and definitely not designed to withstand winter ice. Start by unfastening and storing the boards. Then pull the frames and pipes from the water, fold and store them.

Most floating docks can be removed relatively easily before winter as well. A few are made of lightweight foam blocks that rise above the ice as it forms, avoiding damage. Get your strong friend (or winch) to help you pull your non-foam floating dock from the water, then store it somewhere safe and out of the way.

If You Live Somewhere That Doesn’t Freeze:

Lucky you! No ice probably means no dock winterizing is necessary, although there are exceptions.

If the lake level drops drastically where you live, removing your floating docks for the winter is a wise idea. Lower water might cause your dock to bottom out on rocks or part of the shoreline, leading to damage.

Robert Maxwell
Robert Maxwell is a writer, videographer, photographer and online strength coach based in Northern Ontario, Canada. He grew up on a rural self-sufficient homestead property where he learned the skills to build his own home from the ground up, do all his own vehicle repairs, and work with wood, stone and metal to find practical DIY solutions to many everyday problems.