Setting Up Your Boat Dock: A Step-by-Step Guide

With more people beginning to own boats setting up a boat dock is becoming increasingly common to maximize the life and stability of a boat. You may think about just renting a slip, but a lot of marinas are filled and have a long waitlist for a slip. If you’re a boater looking to invest in a boat dock, setting it up is feasible but takes some effort. 

The 10 major steps to set up a boat dock properly are as follows:

  1. Gather all the necessary materials. 
  2. Assemble the frame.
  3. Set up side planks.
  4. Utilize galvanized dock fasteners.
  5. Tighten leg and cross braces.
  6. Place the centerboard at the bottom.
  7. Square the frame further.
  8. Tighten all sections.
  9. Take the frame off and place it in the water.
  10. Assemble dock pieces on the water.

Once you receive your dock kit from the company you ordered it from, you can begin with the procedure below. 

10 Steps To Set Up A Boat Dock

Setting up a boat dock is generally feasible without the help of a professional, provided you have had prior experience with it and have the necessary equipment. Otherwise, it’s a tedious process that can extend to several hours and cause frustration.

Before you begin this process, note that you may need 2-3 human resources to help set it up from scratch. Once you’ve arranged the resources, we are all set to begin the process. 

1. Gather all the necessary materials

When you purchase a boat dock, it doesn’t come as a standalone object. It comes as a complete kit with bolts and nuts as well. 

The first step is to check if the kit has everything required to begin the process. If you’re unsure of the required objects, you can always cross-check with the installation manual issued by the manufacturer. 

Some suppliers also offer the service of setting up the boat dock for you. Depending on your need, you can always hire one. If you have the money and don’t enjoy the labor, hire a professional.

2. Assemble the frame

With materials sorted around, the subsequent step is to assemble the frame. Have you ever noticed that a boat dock stands with proper structure when left in water for the season? Well, that’s because of an excellent frame setup. 

If you’re new to choosing the dock type for your boat, it’s recommended to go with a cedar board type. As docks are exposed to natural elements that are prone to wear and tear, the dock’s material is of utmost concern. 

With a cedar base, it’s feasible to control rotting and exposure to moisture. Placing cedar board over a wooden dock is recommended. However, if you’re considering setting it up as a one-time investment, you can go with a composite deck and ignore wood.

Note: It’s quite difficult to manage without wood and might incur additional expenses. 

So, how to assemble the frame?

If this step goes wrong, the dock will turn shaky and loses stability at some point over time. 

Here’s a comprehensive diagram to explain the exact frame structure to set up. 

Dock Frame Diagram

3. Set up side planks

Now that the frame is ready, the next step is to begin your work with the planks. To double-confirm, the stability of the structure, check the tightness of bolts and nuts on all sides, corners, and the center one more time. 

Remember not to fix the frame at this moment. We can do that as the last step. 

The goal here is to assemble all planks in a way that they come as integrated pieces and not as individual pieces. 

4. Utilize galvanized dock fasteners

In the dock installation process, you may have to cut certain corners slightly to fix the given frame. This step is the continuation of the previous step. Just remember to measure twice and cut once.

With a rust-free, perfectly-fitted frame, the boat dock can last for several decades. 

Here’s another tip. Get hold of some galvanized dock fasteners before you tighten deck screws, and set bolts. These fasteners will help increase the stability of the dock by making sure it can handle more weight and pressure.

Don’t underestimate the power of galvanized dock fasteners. It’s not uncommon to see boaters skipping this step. Prioritize it to avoid the negative effects of rust and moisture on your boat’s dock. 

5. Tighten leg and cross braces

As soon as you’ve used fasteners to tighten the bolts and nuts, it’s time to set up the structure with these planks. 

You’ve got the frame ready and also assembled planks. To ensure that these planks fit inside the frame and the legs are stable, it’s essential to tighten them. 

You must have access to the necessary equipment that comes with the kit. 

Here’s a pictorial representation of how this step shows how the brace would work on pole-style supports:

Merco Marine Angle Brace Diagram

Cross-bracing the boat dock improves the stability and the potential to hold more weight. This is an excellent method for setting up a floating boat dock. 

6. Place the centerboard at the bottom

So far, we’ve been doing these steps individually. For instance, we only measured the planks and fitted them together before moving on to the next steps. Likewise, sides and corners have been tightened with bolts, nuts, and galvanized fasteners. 

Now, it’s time to assemble the centerboard, which will act as the base for the boat dock. With the frame laid on the floor, slide in the boards one by one, and these will formulate the centerboard. 

For this step, you may need at least 2 human resources to measure and analyze from different sides. To place all the assembled planks and set up the centerboard, equipment and adequate resources are required. 

7. Square the frame further

So far, all the boards are kept upside down to set them up. In this step, the focus is to square the frame from corner to corner. Measure diagonals to ensure that they’re the same. 

Square the frame starting from one side at a time. This also needs a few resources to review measurements and tighten each side. 

Note: It’s common for the frame to move slightly during this process. Hence, having an additional resource would be extremely helpful. 

8. Tighten all sections

In the previous step, we would have squared the frame on each side. The deck would remain on the rail of the frame. This acts as a support system to enhance stability. 

Before you tighten all sections, remember that there should be equal space between the two boards. First-time deck builders tend to tighten it excessively in a way that they’re congested and don’t have spaces between them. It is necessary to leave room between the boards for expansion and to let water and other materials through the dock.

Tighten all sections with screws as given by the dock’s supplier. If you’ve too many screws with you, it’s better to review the manual (or installation guide) to understand the exact screw dimension for this section. Always make sure you have extra screws as well.

9. Take the frame off and place it on the water

Now is the time you have been waiting for! We have the boat dock set up and ready for the water. 

Allow the deck section to stay on the floor. Take the frame off the deck. You maybe be afraid that this will complicate things but don’t worry about that. The process gets easier once the frame is placed on water. (You may be able to do this with everything connected, it just depends on the size of your dock)

I have another article about how high your dock should be above the waterline. Be sure to check this out to make sure it’s not too high or too low.

10. Assemble dock pieces on water

Once the frame is placed on water, take the dock pieces and place them over the frame. This procedure needs 2-3 resources as well. These resources can help in lifting and assembling dock pieces on the frame. 

Note: We’ve been tightening screws and working so far on the back or bottom side of the dock. When you place it on the frame that’s floating on water, it’s essential to leave the good side facing upwards. 

As soon as the first section of the dock is set up, go ahead with the second section. 

Note: The number of sections is based on the dock model and type. Some boat docks might be longer and broader. In that case, there are multiple sections requiring proper assembling. 

With this setup done, you can walk on the dock to check if it accommodates your mass. This test explains the degree to which screws, bolts, and nuts have been tightened during the assembly stage. 

That’s it! The process is over. 

Floating Dock Building Video – Example

The video below is a great example of building a dock with a kit. The company in the video is a great resource for deck-building parts and kits.

Final Thoughts

Building a dock or assembling one is a straightforward process for those with prior experience. Most beginner boaters prefer engaging a professional to set it up. Perhaps, newer versions of boat docks need professionals to review and set them up. This eliminates the need to rent the necessary equipment and worries about the quality of the setup. 

The detailed guide presented in this article would help every beginner boater to purchase a boat dock kit and set it up. Just remember this is a basic guide and not a guarantee it will be easy. All docks and situations are different. Make sure you do your research!

Purchase your kit and start setting this dock today! Cheers!


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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