No — we’re not talking stability here. Just the latest and greatest ways to trick out your waterside dock for maximum enjoyment this boating season. by michael hauenstein
dock is, at its core, the stepping-off point for your boating adventures. But you can transform your dock into more than just a place to tie up your boat, and boaters all over the Great Lakes region are doing just that: Private homeowners are extending their waterfront living area out onto the water, while those who dock in large marinas are incorporating clever accessories to keep the party going back in the harbor. Whether you’re looking to remodel, expand or just find a neat item to spruce up your dock, here are some products and ideas that can help you realize your goal.
Visions of an ideal dock Dr. Eric Bostick likes to do a little fishing. When he’s serious, that means plying Lake Erie aboard his 36-foot Rampage Sportfisherman. Back at the dock, however, fishing takes a relaxed attitude. “I have some patio furniture out there,” says Bostick, who lives in a waterfront home on a wide channel off Sandusky Bay in Sandusky, Ohio. “We’ll hang out on the dock and throw some lines out there.” The 57-year-old diagnostic radiologist says a gangway connects the 60-foot floating dock to his yard, where just over the seawall sits a patio with a barbecue grill and additional outdoor living space.
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When his kids and grandkids visit, they swim off the dock, help him run his radio-controlled model sailboat, or just enjoy the idyllic setting. “People are always cruising up and down the channel, just casual cruising, so it’s a nice place to boat watch,” says Bostick. “It’s a great area for hanging out and enjoying the weather.”
Construction nuts and bolts Bill Sannin — whose company, Sur-Line Docks of Port Clinton, Ohio, built Bostick’s dock — looks at the dock from a different angle. “We build docks for the Great Lakes that will withstand ice loads, severe wind loads and torque loads,” says Sannin, who has been in business for 33 years (surlineboatdocks.com). He says he uses hot-dipped galvanized steel construction for corrosion resistance, urethane closed-cell foam flotation for water resistance, treated lumber or a variety of synthetic decking materials for long life, and galvanized cleats that are through-bolted to the decking and the steel structure. In addition to picking quality materials, the dock builder will work with architects to provide a custom dock that harmonizes with the customer’s home and yard. Sometimes that means incorporating the dock with a deck, an outdoor kitchen or other structure.
Getting just the dock you’re looking for doesn’t necessarily mean working with a team of custom dock builders and architects. Modular, portable dock solutions are available that allow customers to rearrange or expand their dock to suit changing wishes and needs. EZ Dock of Monett, Missouri (ezdock.com), builds a modular floating dock system made of composite plastic materials, in addition to a drive-on docking system for PWCs and boats up to 5,000 pounds (or about 25 feet in length). These modular systems can be scaled to accommodate as much fun as you desire and local conditions allow. For instance, you might have a slide on the end of one pier, a lounge area with tables and chairs, a swim platform, and a dedicated fishing pier, not to mention drive-on docks for your PWCs and jet boat, a spot for your kayaks, and a wet slip for your cruiser. Even if state or local ordinances preclude installation of a large permanent dock, modular designs present the opportunity to build what you want without running afoul of the law. “People are trying to extend their waterfront living out onto the dock, to the extent that they’re allowed to,” says Curtis Downs, general manager of EZ Dock. “In general, where people can get away with it, they try to get living space as close to or onto the water as they can. People migrate toward the water.” Jet Dock Systems is another company that offers a drive-on dry docking solution, modular floating docks, and other dock accessories (jetdock.com). The Cleveland, Ohio-based manufacturer can build a docking system to work with a bulkheaded waterfront or a traditional inland lakefront beach, notes company vice president Allan Eva. The docks can be reconfigured with a few hand tools to convert, for example, from a “T” dock to a “U” dock. The docks and drive-on boat lifts also work with existing structures. “It’s Legos, so whatever the customer wants to make out of it they can,” says Eva. “If there’s a bulkhead and
a small wooden dock already there, we can come in and add a Jet Dock to that, and that’s really a home run.” The Jet Dock floating lift system works with tenders, jet boats, pontoons and PWCs, as well as high-performance boats, which typically are not stored in water. So a customer with a heavier-displacement boat, such as a cruiser or motoryacht, can augment their existing dock with Jet Docks to store their toys. “So really, what they’re getting is a wet slip dock and a drive-on docking system,” says Eva. The portable floating docks work well for inland lakes, too, according to Eva. “For the traditional inland lake, we’ll make the dock starting inland and just have it extend seaward,” he says. But back to the fun: Missouri-based EZ Dock offers a slide, in addition to standard dock accessories such as benches, dock boxes and swim ladders, to pair with its modular docks. Aside from adding more accessories and configurations, Downs says there is a trend among dock owners toward lower maintenance and environmentally friendly building materials. This means you see more plastic decking material and less treated lumber today. “You don’t have to worry about splinters or putting on a new coat of varnish or power washing,” explains Downs. “People don’t want to worry about a lot of maintenance that takes away from their enjoyment.”
A: EZ Dock offers a slide among many other dock accessories.
Dock kits make it easy Merco Marine of Wellsburg, West Virginia offers readymade custom docks, custom dock kits with instructional computer-aided design (CAD) drawings, and all sorts of dock accessories to trick out new or existing docks (mercoboatdocks.com). “We’ve built entire marinas here and loaded them onto trucks — multiple truckloads, actually,” says Merco’s Dan Otto, who says the customer uses a crane to set the pieces in place, then simply connects them with two pins per section of dock. “There’s basically no construction at that point. It’s like a big Erector set.”
B: You can add a Jet Dock for your PWCs to most docks. C: Modular docks — like this one from Merco Marine — let you design a place for all your toys. D: Dock accesories like these built-in benches are becoming more popular for Connect-ADock.
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The company offers these ready-made dock systems, as well as the kit versions complete with installation instructions, to private homeowners, too. Merco floating docks can be built from wood or composite decking materials, and the company sells its galvanized steel truss dock frames in sections — again, letting the customer decide on the configuration that best suits his or her needs. In addition to designing and building docks, Merco manufactures and sells much of the hardware needed to build or upgrade a dock. The company offers fold-down cleats made of heavy-duty nylon ($17 to $22) that can be stepped on, run over or otherwise abused without incident, as well as a large selection of rub rail, dock bumpers, hardware and fasteners. Merco also now offers a galvanized steel, wide-step swim ladder.
Accessories make your dock a destination, not just a place to park your boat. Time to accessorize
“Accessorizing your dock is one of the best ways to gain more enjoyment on the water,” says John Krogman, director of sales and marketing for Connect-A-Dock Inc. of Atlantic, Iowa, which manufactures modular, floating docks and accessories. “Accessories make your dock a destination and not just a place to park your boat.” Accessories are a growing part of ConnectA-Dock’s business, according to Krogman. “Last season we launched an online store to sell accessories to our customers,” he says. “We can assist the dock owner in finishing out his dock with a variety of accessories, including dock lights, ladders, benches, cleats, power pedestals and drive-on PWC ramps.”
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It’s clear many dock owners like to keep watercraft at their disposal. With all those toys, they need to save space somehow. The Universal Dock Kayak Rack from Hewitt Lifts & Roll-A-Dock of Nicollet, Minnesota, allows for convenient stowage of kayaks and canoes alongside a personal dock or pier (hewitt-roll-a-dock.com). The two-piece rack kit fastens to the outside of the dock with universal brackets to fit truss or wood docks. It’s also designed to work with Hewitt’s Wave Armor series of polyethylene modular floating docks. Retail price for the Universal Dock Kayak Rack is $400. The company offers a comprehensive line of boat lifts, docks and accessories, including benches and umbrellas, staircases, swim ladders, swim platforms and a swim raft with built-in lounge chairs and cocktail table.
If you really want a light display at your dock, you should consider underwater lights. “Dock owners use them primarily for the beauty aspect they provide, glowing in the night,” says Alexandra Bader, U.S. vice president for Aqualuma Marine Lighting, which makes a leak-proof underwater dock light, in addition to a range of boat lights including through-hull and surface-mount underwater lights and interior and exterior lights (aqualuma.com). “However, it also attracts fish, so sitting on the dock of the bay literally becomes an underwater theatrical experience.” Additionally, underwater lights provide a safety aspect similar to traditional dock lights. Having your docks lit up can ward off thieves and provide a haven to boats heading to shore late at night, Bader says. Each Aqualuma Dock Light contains six high-output LEDs, and the company suggests installing one every 10 feet. The Aqualuma unit is a high-end product and retails for $800. Several manufacturers offer underwater dock lighting at a variety of price points.
Lighting fashion and function Dock lighting is now easier to install, more rugged, and costs less to operate than ever, thanks to solar power and energy-efficient LED lights. The H2 LED series from TouchStone Accent Lighting is exemplary of the new generation of marine-grade dock lights (touchstonelights.com). The low-profile wireless lights are first and foremost a marking device, according to Mark Hanson, president of Long Lake, Minnesota-based TouchStone. “It’s specifically designed for dock environments,” says Hanson, who suggests mounting the horizontal lights 12 to 16 feet apart on the outer edge of the dock. The solar-powered lights come on automatically and stay on all night. In addition to the $40 horizontal dock lights, the company offers a version that can be through-bolted with a standard 10-inch cleat ($90). Indirect lighting for pilings, rails or steps is also available, as are 12-volt wired versions of the lights. Merco Marine stocks a cleat with solar-powered LED lights built in ($28); a variety of solar dock cleats and other dock lighting is now available from marine retailers.
Party in a box The beauty of this next product is that it doesn’t matter whether you keep your boat behind your house or at the city marina. As long as you have a dock box, you can turn it into a happy hour buffet with a product like Dock Box Tops. Dock Box Tops create a nice flat surface for preparing and serving hors d’oeuvres and drinks at the dock (dockboxtops.com). The tabletop attaches to the dock box without the need for drilling any extra holes in the box, includes built-in drink holders, and is made of Seaboard high-density polyethylene for durability and easy cleaning. It also doesn’t impede opening the dock box — as long as you move your drinks first. Woody Molinaro, who owns a laser cutting and engraving company in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, has been building Dock Box Tops since 2007 for his fellow dock
mates in Chicago’s Diversey Harbor. He says he didn’t originally intend to sell them, but they proved too popular. “Some customers are having a party pretty much every weekend,” says Molinaro. “It’s a great spot to put out a lunch or dinner, and they’re easy to clean.” He adds that most people leave them on the dock box through the winter. Molinaro currently only makes tops to fit the Trionic Model 8000 triangular dock boxes that are popular in his local area, but has indicated more models are coming soon. The basic model has four drink holders and costs $185; an upgraded model with a second tier containing additional drink holders costs $225.He can engrave the boat name, in the appropriate font, into the surface of the second tier at no extra charge. There are a handful of small manufacturers and entrepreneurs around the Great Lakes building similar products.
FireBuoy If you really want something unique, look no further than the FireBuoy (firebuoy.com). It’s basically a floating fire pit for use off your boat or dock. The lightweight aluminum pit was invented and built by Ron Dixon, a welder with 28 years experience from Strathroy, Ontario. Dixon, a self-described “boat nut,” says the idea hit him after a sunset boat ride in his regular cruising grounds off Lake Erie. “I was sitting out in my boat having two or three beers, and I said, ‘Dang, I’d like to have a campfire out here,’” says Dixon. He took a premade fire bowl, which weighs about five pounds, and added aluminum pontoons and detachable shells. He says the pontoons stay cool to the touch while in the water. “It has to be floating in the water, and then they just put it a safe distance from the dock and you go ahead and have your campfire,” says Dixon. He adds that you can put out the fire in two seconds — by drowning it. Dixon sells the FireBuoy directly for $390. r
E: Hewitt’s Universal Dock Kayak Rack provides convenient storage. F: With or without an integrated cleat, LED dock lighting, like these options from TouchStone, is attractive and functional. G: Attract fish — and plenty of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ — with underwater dock lights like these from Aqualuma. H: Add a Dock Box Top to keep the party going back at the dock. I: FireBuoy’s pontoons stay cool to the touch for safe family fun.
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