Old wharf

Which Are Better Floating Docks or Pipe Docks?

It’s that time of year again, time for cottagers and camp owners to be thinking about building a dock or wharf !! I’ve written about docks and wharves here before on several occasions so I am not going to re-invent the wheel, but I am going to consider the question, which is better, floating docks or a stationary wharves like pipe wharves.

So which is it? I really don’t know, they each have their advantages and disadvantages and to some extent, it depends on the application. In other words, where the dock is to be located, the water depth, wind and wave conditions and individual preference.

That said, let’s have a look at the difference between these types of docks.

Floating Docks


Floating docks remain at the same height regardless of the water level.

Are usually wider and therefore feel safer to some people.

Are nice looking as they sit at the water level, not up in the air.

The span between floating sections can be shorter, resulting in walkways made from two-by-four stringers which are a little less expensive and not as heavy as two-by-six stringers.

Floating wharves are very good in deep water conditions where stationary wharves on poles would not work. They can be anchored to the bottom with heavy anchors and lines to the shore.


Floating wharves are heavy to put in the lake and take out. You usually need help in the form of extra muscle or at least a winch or four wheel drive truck to pull the floating part up. They are good if you have a crowd of folks around to help out whenever you need them.

The can be a home for animals like muskrats who have been known to nest under floating wharves.

Can be difficult to walk on if the lake water is rough, because they go up and down with the wave action.

Cost can be a factor, as suitable floatation materials, wood, connections can be pricey. In fact, I think that floaters tend to be more expensive than stationary wharves in the long run.

Barrels used as floatation can leak, and styrofoam floatation blocks can break up.

Ingress and egress to boats from floating wharves can be easy or difficult, depending on the construction style of the floater. Without a step or raised platform, getting in a powerboat can require quite a leg up from a floater, difficult for older people.

Floating wharves require a place to drag them up on dry land during the off season, which is not always an option depending on the landscape of your cottage shoreline.

Floating docks can remain in the lake year round if no other option exists. I don’t recommend it, but I have done it with mine on occasion without much problem. This is better if you have a cove or sheltered area where the floater can be secured and as long as it is well made to withstand ice pushing against it.

Stationary Wharves


Stationary wharves are easy to put in the lake and take out, and depending on their size, can usually be handled by one or two people.

Stationary wharves constructed from pipe and brackets can be adjusted for water level, either raised or lowered.

Stationary or pipe wharves feel stable as they are not moving with the water. They are much more comfortable to walk on when the lake is rough. They can also be adjusted in height to making ingress and egress to a boat easy.

There are no barrels to leak or floatation like styrofoam to break apart or attract animals.

The wood used for walkways on pipe wharves may last longer than that used on floating wharves as it is usually not in the water, although it’s proximity to water will cause it to rot eventually anyway.

Pipe wharves are the only alternative in locations where there is not much beach or other suitable place to pull a floating wharf up on during the off season.


Stationary or pipe wharves are usually rather narrow, necessary because of the weight distribution on the brackets. If the distance between the supports is too wide the wharf may fail and everyone on it ends up swimming….

The same thing that is a pro is also a con, pipe wharves need to be manually adjusted for the water level in the lake. Sometimes this can be several times per season and require getting in the water, some manual lifting etc.

Some folks find the height of stationary wharves from the water kind of daunting, making walking on them scary. This depends on the width of the wharf walkways and how how the wharf is positioned from the lake. But, as I mentioned above, a stationary wharf feels more solid underfoot and is not affected by wave action.

Stationary wharves will not work as easily if you have deep water in front of your camp. The support poles would need to be very long, and it would be difficult to raise and lower the wharf. In deep water situations I think a floating dock is the best option.

The cost of the pipe and brackets, foot pads etc can be expensive, depending on the length of the wharf, it can run up into mucho money. Also folks tend to build walkways out of two-by-six stringers which are expensive.


I’m not going to say that I prefer one type of wharf over another because to be honest, I don’t. I realize that both floating and stationary wharves have their purposes.

Over the years we have had both a stationary wharf and a floating wharf and a combination of the two. I found them both to be quite useful, but I guess if I have to choose, I prefer a floating dock because of the fluctuating lake water levels.

I think deciding on a floating dock or stationary wharf depends to a large extent on personal preference, your shoreline, water level, and what the wharf will be used for once installed.

I suppose technically, these are the only types of docks. Your dock or wharf either floats or it doesn’t. Naturally there are all kinds of versions of the two, but it really comes down to one of the two or a combination of both. These days there are all kinds of ingenius ideas for materials and styles of wharves and boat docks, and I enjoy looking at them all as we boat around the lake.

What kind of wharf do you have?

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3 thoughts on “Which Are Better Floating Docks or Pipe Docks?”

  1. We have an aluminum pipe docking system and love it. Peter and I don’t have to rely on others to help us put it in. It’s light and easy for both of us to set-up.

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