Guide to Choosing the Best Dock for Your Cabin

Updated: Aug. 31, 2023

Considering a dock for your lakeshore property? If so, you'll discover there are many types of docks to choose from. This guide will help you decide.

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If you have lakeshore property but don’t yet own a dock, consider investing in one. There’s nothing quite like walking right out over a lake, untying your boat and going for an early morning spin before tying back up and returning for breakfast.

Understanding the many types of docks available is the first step. Once you’re familiar with each dock type and their pros and cons, you can make an informed decision about which dock arrangement works best for your situation.

Types of Docks

Docks can be permanent or removable. Which you choose depends on your location, local bylaws and how you feel about removing your dock from the water at the end of each season.

Permanent: Pile Docks

These are the sturdiest docks, designed to be left in the water permanently. With a foundation of concrete or steel pilings drilled or driven into the lake bottom, these docks are robust enough to bear the weight of roofs for those who want to maximize protection from the sun. Some people even build enclosed rooms on their stationary docks. All this adds to your cabin’s maintenance routine.


  • Strong and sturdy;
  • Only have to be installed once;
  • Can hold roofs and additional structures


  • Require a predictably consistent water level because they can’t be adjusted for height;
  • Can be vulnerable in heavy-ice-forming lakes to moving ice damage;
  • Typically the most expensive;
  • Require a firm lake bottom.

Removable: Floating Docks

The simplest and most common type of residential dock, floating docks can be made of dense buoyant foam, plastic, or a combination of either with wood.


  • Relatively inexpensive to buy and install;
  • Simple installation, without any underwater legs, frame or piers.


  • Can be damaged by the repeated pounding of waves;
  • Won’t work in a gradually deepening body of water;
  • In cold winter climates, need to be removed each year to prevent ice damage (learn how to prepare a boat dock for winter).

Removable: Pipe Docks

A hybrid between floating and permanent docks, pipe docks are frames of wood or aluminum supported by aluminum pipe legs that rest on the bottom of the lake. Although they’re sturdier and more resistant to wind and waves than floating docks, they’re designed to be removed, mainly before thick ice forms.


  • Strong and sturdy;
  • Relatively simple to install;
  • Removable.


  • Require a firm lake bed;
  • Will only work in water roughly eight to 12 feet deep or less;
  • Require a consistent water level to avoid your boat riding too high or low on the dock surface.

Permanent: Crib Docks

Like their piling-based counterparts, crib docks are designed to be installed once, then left alone. Instead of relying on steel or concrete piling driven into the lake bed, crib docks are founded on large boxes (cribs) made of thick timber beams and filled with heavy stones. The cribs come as near as possible to the water’s surface, with the dock frame and decking installed on top of these cribs.


  • Strong and solid;
  • Supports heavy loads;
  • Don’t require any specialized hardware to build.


  • Difficult and expensive to construct;
  • Difficult to repair;
  • Can’t be installed in water deeper than several meters;
  • Vulnerable to changing water levels.

How to Choose the Best Dock for Your Cabin

The dock style you choose for your cabin depends on shoreline characteristics and personal preference. For a lake shore with a gradual depth increase or a soft, muddy bottom, floating docks will probably work best. Docks that rely on underwater supports need a firm lake bed to avoid gradual sinking.

On the other hand, if your body of water has firm, quickly deepening shoreline and you want to avoid the time and trouble of installing and removing your dock every year, a permanent dock probably makes more sense for you. Keep in mind that large amounts of ice can damage non-removable docks, although some are made to withstand ice.

Regardless of your shoreline situation, research local bylaws concerning dock size, shape, style and location. Rules vary from place to place, and checking with your county authorities could save you a lot of money and hassle.