Check the bent dock in the background.

Signs your boat dock needs maintenance

It’s springtime and we are past the time of King tides now, at least in South Florida. Anyone living on the water knows what I’m talking about! We are also now at the end of our rainy season. I’ve been out working on a number of docks, decks & wood fences and all around I see many of the same things. Spring time is the best time of the year for dock repairs and maintenance.

The wood is starting to separate and it’s starting to come apart from where it’s attached to the other boards. Some of the wood is even covered with patches or mostly covered with dark colors that come from the algae that grows in our rainiest wettest times.

In South Florida we have quite a different system than up north. Up north you have the rain and the freezing that expands the wood each time freezing and thawing occurs. Here it’s the opposite. We have the rain and then the heat expands the moisture into steam and the woods spread and open as well. As algae grows it also can act in the same way but on top of that it brings in bacteria insects and is the base of a food chain that grows over time.

Left alone, the deterioration of any wooden structure will accelerate exponentially year by year.

Signs your boat dock needs maintenance urgently!

Yes, this is the best time to repair, pressure clean and stain/waterproof all your outside wood fencing, decks and docks. The difference of just pressure cleaning and staining all the above will make a world of difference in the way it looks and also add years of beautiful life to your waterf front investments as well. Safety too! That’s the main reason for me writing today.

I have been very blessed to help and answer a lot of important questions you all have asked. But I have seen a much more reoccurring danger than I truly knew was out there. It seems that a lot of docks out there have serious and dangerous sub deck issues and rotted wood and rusted of bolts, especially where the dock meets the seawall. Just one small gathering of people on the dock may make it collapse.

Please take a careful look at your docks. Your decks too. Decks just aren’t usually as dangerous. They’re usually near ground level and not over water. I’m here to answer any questions were ever I can and help. I want to thank my clients that let me make theirs right and it feels good knowing when they use them they will have good thoughts of me for years to come. Most docks, decks and wood fencing can be repaired and made to look amazing when the proper care is given. Waiting is dangerous and will run your costs.

There are several signs that a boat dock may be deteriorating, including:

  1. Visible cracks or splits in the wood or concrete structure
  2. Warping or bending of the decking or support beams
  3. Loose or missing fasteners or hardware
  4. Signs of rot, such as soft or spongy wood
  5. Rust or corrosion on metal components
  6. Uneven or unstable decking or support beams
  7. Excessive movement or bouncing when weight is applied
  8. Signs of insect or marine life infestation

We will go over some of these signs more in depth below.

Check the bent dock in the background.
Check the bent dock in the background. The one in the from was recently painted.

Dips where the dock meets the seawall

Check where your dock meets the seawall and look for any dips or separation. This is a serious sign that your dock needs some attention a.s.a.p. before expenses multiply greatly and/or some gets hurt. 2nd: look for low spots on your dock. This is usually a clear sign that your subdeck is in need for some attention right away.

Boat dock with broken sub deck.
Boat dock with broken sub deck.

A client was showing me his dock in Miami and when we went to one end near the edge… we were in the water before there was any chance to react. When we stepped near the outside edge at one end, the boards we were standing on had the nails just pull out of the rotted wood on the seawall and the boards just flipped up and we were in the water! In just a split second! After we both got over our phones being ruined we though about the kids and families. That struck a cord with me to write this.

Visible cracks or splits in the wood or concrete structure

Visible cracks or splits in the wood or concrete structure of a boat dock are a sign of deterioration because they indicate that the material has started to weaken and lose its structural integrity.

In the case of a wooden dock, cracks or splits in the wood may be caused by natural weathering and aging, as well as exposure to water and moisture. These conditions can cause the wood to expand and contract, leading to stress on the structure, which can result in visible cracks or splits.

For a concrete dock, visible cracks or splits can be caused by a variety of factors such as soil settling, temperature changes, moisture infiltration, or excessive weight or pressure. Over time, these factors can cause the concrete to weaken and crack, which can compromise the structural integrity of the dock.

Regardless of the cause, if you notice visible cracks or splits in the wood or concrete structure of your boat dock, it is important to address them promptly to prevent further deterioration and ensure the safety of your dock. Depending on the severity of the damage, repairs may involve patching or replacing the affected area, or even replacing the entire dock.

Dock needing maintenance.
A Dock with exposed wood needing maintenance.

Warping or bending of the decking or support beams in a boat dock is a sign of deterioration because it indicates that the materials have been subjected to excessive stress or have deteriorated over time.

Loose or missing fasteners or hardware

These conditions can cause the wood to weaken and become less resistant to bending or warping. For concrete docks, warping or bending of the decking or support beams may occur due to the same factors mentioned above, such as soil settling, temperature changes, moisture infiltration, or excessive weight or pressure.

Loose or missing fasteners or hardware in a boat dock can also be a sign of deterioration and can compromise the structural integrity of the dock. Fasteners and hardware, such as screws, bolts, nails, or anchors, are used to secure the various components of a dock together, such as decking, support beams, and handrails.

Loose or missing fasteners or hardware can also create hazards for boaters and passengers, as they may trip or fall on exposed nails or screws, or handrails may not be secure and could give way.

Signs of insect or marine life infestation

  • Small holes or tunnels in the wood or concrete structure – this can indicate infestation by wood-boring insects or marine borers, which can weaken the structure of the dock over time.
  • Sawdust or frass (insect waste) around the dock – this can indicate an infestation of wood-boring insects, such as termites, carpenter ants, or beetles.
  • Unusual growths or discoloration on the dock’s surface – this can indicate an infestation of marine organisms, such as barnacles, mussels, or algae, which can attach themselves to the dock’s surface and cause damage.
  • Unusual sounds or movement under the dock – this can indicate the presence of marine animals, such as crabs or fish, which can cause damage to the dock’s support beams or cause instability.
  • Damage to ropes, nets, or other equipment left on the dock – this can indicate the presence of rodents or other small animals, which may be attracted to the dock’s environment.
And old dock was sealed.
The same Dock after it was sealed.

Observe the changes happening on your dock

Be in tune with the changes that are taking place around your dock and with your dock. You may take pictures of your dock environment periodically to make sure you are in tune with these subtle changes.

  • Have a dock maintenance schedule: if it is important to you, it is worth being in your calendar. Put your dock maintenance into your program and try to keep to this. Not having a schedule may lead to lesser maintenance time and result in more repairs which mean more money.
  • Be Cautious: when you get into the maintenance proper for your dock or pier, ensure everything is well cleaned. Ensure you have a look at fasteners, hardware, bolts as well as the stairs and ladders. Avoid ‘minor’ repairs. Do all you can to put every part of your dock in a proper shade to avoid future unnecessary damages.
  • Clean Surfaces: when cleaning your wood docks, it is advised to avoid a power wash as it is not concrete or vinyl siding. You don’t want a dock so clean you can see right through it.
  • Sanding the dock: if you’ve ever tried to refinish a hardwood floor, you know how an improper technique can cause you to lose control of the machine and result in an unwanted dip in the floor. When it has to do with sanding your dock, it is better to leave this with a professional or expert to avoid creating unnecessary expenses.
  • Some aluminum structures like ladders can easily be cleaned by solutions like a baking soda paste which is affordable.
  • Another tip is to use proper sealant for your wood dock. Sometimes it is better to seek the help of a pro.
  • EDGING/ RUB RAILS:  be sure to look for the marine-grade component that won’t deteriorate due to exposure to sun, water, and temperature changes.
  • STAIN & PRESERVATIVE: Environmental consciousness is necessary when applying a dye or preservative to your dock. Water-based products are the rule. It also pays to use them in the off-season when water levels are low. This allows you to cover more of your dock while making it easier to keep the stain away from the water.
Clean deck looking good.
Clean deck looking good.

If you have any of these signs on your docks, decks or fencing, please read through this. Quality Stains & Sealers are an amazing life extender and a brilliant beautifier for all of these situations.

A dock maintenance routine that you can do yourself

1) Gently pressure clean all wood surfaces

The first step that needs to be done before anything is applied is to very carefully and gently pressure clean all the wood surfaces without damaging the wood. If you get too close or aggressive with your pressure cleaner tip you’ll see the wood starting to expand, part and even get fuzzy at times. You are too close!

Back up a few inches until you see that you are doing productive cleaning without any damage. If you have dark patches from mosses or algae, use a bleach pump sprayer and spray everything with bleach first. Be cautious of the fumes if you do anything in enclosed areas! A light Breeze always helps! Let that sit for an hour and then do your pressure cleaning. It can save a lot of work! Take your time! Get the whole thing done and give it 24 hours at least to dry.

2) Apply stain and / or sealer

After that, it’s time to apply the stain and or sealer. All-in-one stain and sealer is one step and comes out very beautiful most times if you do it right. A lot of people aren’t aware that even clear waterproofing can stop up to 98% of the UV rays. That alone and just in and of itself will extend the life of your wood by years. Throw-in a beautiful stain like a cedar tone transparent and you will have a beautifully refinished dock, deck or fence.

On some fences the stains won’t come out or there might be some old paint or various other discolorations on the boards. At this time I’d recommend you go with an opaque stain. No transparency. Almost like a paint. My advice is to never paint your wood! Eventually it will start to peel and flake.

In order to put the next paint layer on you have to remove anything that’s loose and if it all doesn’t come off you will see patches of where there was no paint and then you applied over it. If you go with stain, it soaks into the wood. It does not just stay on the surface like paint. The same goes with concrete! Don’t paint stain!

Stain doesn’t usually last as long as paint. But when it’s time to do a touch-up or complete refinish, the cleanup and pressure cleaning is faster, easier and to just reapply the stain and or sealer is easy as well.

Wood difference before and after being pressured cleaned.
Wood difference before and after being pressured cleaned.

Note that some fencing, especially shadow box, it is much more labor-saving to spray than any other way to apply it. You will cut your time and labor down incredibly. And the job should end up looking better! Once you do this and look back you will be amazed at the difference! And you’ll get another 3 to 10 years out of something that probably would have fell apart in the next year or two.

One of the other times to use opaque stain sealer is when you have to replace lumber. The new Lumber is pressure treated, not absorbent and will be a different color and texture than the remaining wood. A transparent finish will still show that difference. An opaque stain sealer will cover everything with one uniform coat. Sometimes it’s required that you put two coats to achieve this goal.

So get out and take a look at your wood! It’s cooler out now, the rain is less and the weather is more pleasant and there is never a better time to consider moving in the direction of repairing your boat dock than right now!

Max Francisco