FAQs about leaving a dock in over winter

dock in frozen lake in winter Photo by Amy K. Mitchell/Shutterstock

After one of the coldest and harshest Canadian winters in the last two decades, be prepared to make some extra repairs when you open your cottage for the summer—particularly if you never got around to taking your dock out of the water last fall.

“This year in our area, the lakes rose three feet higher than normal while the ice was still quite thick. Combined with the wind, this did the most damage [to docks] that I have seen in 35 years of business,” says Rick Hickson, Founder of R & J Machine.

This is why Hickson says that during the winter—no matter its length or severity—some form of protection from the ice must be provided for your dock. We spoke with Hickson to learn more about the best type of docks for our four-season weather and how to prevent this damage.

In what ways can winter ice damage a dock?

It is very easy for ice to totally destroy a dock. The freezing water expands, melts, refreezes and expands again with enough pressure to damage any material left in the water. Large ice floats can also move with the current, in the process getting caught on structures, piling up and destroying anything in their path.

Are there any docks that withstand winter conditions better than others?

If you’re in an area where the ice has a tendency to build up on the shoreline, a step lift dock may be a better solution for you. This type of dock hinges back from the shoreline and rises up higher than a normal lift dock. Floating docks can also be left in the water so long as they are tied up for the winter in a protected area, such as a small bay or channel. Otherwise they should also be removed.

What’s the best method of caring for your dock during the winter months to prevent this damage?

A pipe dock needs to be removed, and a floating dock should either be removed or relocated to a sheltered spot. Lift docks should be winched up so that the legs closest to the short are at least five feet above the normal summertime water level.

The only dock that remains in situ is a permanent dock, which, due to its construction, is able to withstand a certain buildup of ice. However, in an area where there may be a larger buildup of ice, it might be necessary to install de-icers around the dock legs. These de-icers oscillate the water in order to reduce the buildup of ice and prevent damage.

What do cottagers need to consider before installing dock bubblers?

There is a lot of controversy over the use of bubblers—if they are not properly installed and aligned then they can create a liability for the cottage owner. Their primary function is to protect your dock and boathouse from the ice expansion, but they will not protect you from the moving pack ice.

I normally recommend turning them on in late November and turning them off in mid-January after the ice has frozen. They should then be turned back on again in early March before the ice starts to thaw. It is also possible to use a timer and temperature sensor with these products to save on electricity usage.

If you’re using aerators, large caution signs and even a floating light are advisable to warm people that they are in use, and the aerator should be set up so that only a small area around the dock or boathouse is kept open.

Unfortunately, if Mother Nature decides that she doesn’t like you, there is nothing you can do to prevent her from trying to delay your summer fun!