How to Work Around Dock Restrictions at Your Lake Home

Dock with tropical themed boat house in Florida
Photo courtesy of The DIY Network.

If you’re looking into buying a lake home, then one of the things you should be sure to do is to look into the rules and regulations related to building and owning a private dock.

For a new private dock, most homeowners associations will usually require that you submit an application in order to obtain a permit allowing you to build a private dock on your lakefront property. You’ll also be required to pay a fee for the permit.

However, don’t just assume that your application will be accepted. Before closing on the property, ask your realtor to create a contingency in the sales contract to ensure that building a private dock is a viable option.

Once you actually do receive a permit to build a private dock, there are usually a number of restrictions that you’ll have to abide by.

Common Requirements when Building a Private Dock

There are usually a number of requirements that you’ll need to keep in mind when building a private dock. These requirements will often differ slightly depending on where you live and what lake you live on. The following is a list of some of the more common dock restrictions and requirements:

Avoid damaging the ecosystem

  • The lake is part of an ecosystem, which means you have to be careful not to disrupt or damage it when building the dock. All parts of your dock need to have limited adverse impact on the surrounding aquatic ecosystem. This means that you’ll often be restricted from removing any aquatic vegetation or excavating any bed material in order to clear a path for your dock. If this is the case, you’ll want to take careful account of the area of water contained between your property lines to make sure building a dock will be feasible without disrupting the ecosystem and what the best way to do so is.

Blocking public access

  • If your home is near a public part of the lake, then you have to ensure that the dock won’t block access to the water when you are planning it out. Your dock also cannot enclose an area of public water space, thereby creating a private area of water space for yourself. These restrictions are relatively easy to abide to as long as you are aware of your property’s boundaries.

The location of the dock

  • Private docks are usually required to be built perpendicular to the shoreline in order to maximize the offsets from any neighboring properties. Docks, moored vessels, hoists and other structures allowed by the permit will often be required to be offset at least 5 feet from the adjoining property line. More often than not, a minimum gap of 10 feet will be required between adjoining docks, moored boats or hoists. Again, as long as you understand where your property lines are, restrictions such as these should be easy to abide to when planning out your dock.

The length of the dock

  • Most areas have restrictions on how long your dock can be. The length should not be longer than what reasonable access to the dock would be and should not impede anyone else’s use of the lake. A minimum depth of 3 feet is considered adequate for boat access.

Displaying the Dock ID

  • Docks are usually required to display the address of the property they belong to as well as the dock permit number. This must be legible and must be displayed at the end of the dock facing outwards.

Removing the dock

  • Depending on where you are located, you may be required to remove your dock during the winter months. If this is a requirement, then your only option will be to build a floating dock. If your dock can stay in place all year long, then you can build a stationary dock.

Avoid enclosing the dock

  • Many areas do not allow dock owners to enclose their docks using roofs or sides. However, it is common that the hoists can be enclosed, as long as you use roofs and sides that are constructed of synthetic fiber materials or soft-sided natural fiber for the purpose of protecting your watercraft.

Material requirements

  • Some areas will also have restrictions on the types of materials that you can use to build your dock. Obviously, this is something you’ll want to go over carefully before you begin planning its construction.

Free-flowing water

  • When planning the construction of water, you cannot inhibit the flow of water beneath the dock. If you know what you are doing or have hired a professional to help build the dock, then this should not be an issue.

These are some of the common restrictions you might run into when looking to build a dock on your lake home. Always check the restrictions and requirements before deciding to close on a new lake house.

6 thoughts on “How to Work Around Dock Restrictions at Your Lake Home

  1. We just bought a lot in citrus county Florida on a canal with docks all around us . We bought it for the purpose of keeping our Pontoon boat there instead of having to go to the public boat ramp so we used our retirement savings to purchase this lot and our home is a block away . We thought it was the perfect set up ! Now the county says we can’t rebuild existing dock cause there was never a permit for it and also can’t get a permit until we build a house not even our boat in the water or a shed . It has crushed us ! We thought we had our Golden pond ! What can we do ?

    1. Hi Mary!
      We are very sorry to hear about this situation, one we have unfortunately heard of before. So many people don’t get the right advice about permits and the nuances of waterfront property in advance of a purchase (and that is one of the reasons we focus only on having lake-expert agents, not generalists).

      We can’t offer legal guidance of course, but generally speaking options may possibly include asking for a variance (it may take more than one request, or legal assistance), finding out if permit variances have been allowed before (i.e., precedence), or finding a local attorney or real estate agent you can hire for fee who is true expert at waterfront and docks to help you. Your legal options will vary from other communities, so a local expert is still likely a source of some of the best information.

      We realize none of these options are easy, and wish you all the best moving forwards.

  2. In 2003 our family purchased a cabin in Maine with lake access. At the time there was a small removeable dock at the access for community use. Maine law does not allow docks on lakes to remain all year over the lake. Over time that dock was repared by our family and other property owners. Each year the property owners would help to put the dock out over the lake. Several years ago a new property owner removed the existing dock and replaced it by a much nicer dock for the community to use. However, this summer this dock was not placed over the lake. A new property owner purchased a dock and put it in the place of the past docks that were used by the community. This person has stated this is his personal dock and only those that he allows may use the dock. He has refused our family and those that we rent our cabin to the use of this dock that has been placed on community access waterfront. Can you refer us to a resource to check this out. We have been looking into this but have been unable to find laws concerning community access docks. Thank you for any help you can give.

  3. Greetings and enjoyed reading your comments and those made about you. Being a musician, I was especially curious about the ugly tuba with the bullet hole. My wife and I are pursuing lake property in Elmore County, Alabama, and have ran across a property on Lake Jordan situated on a shallow slough. We’re curious if it’s legal to excavate a property with this kind of water frontage. I understand there are all kinds of legal issues to work around regarding anything to do with construction on the water. Please advise.

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