Whether you're building a brand new dock or you're renovating an existing dock, the boat dock decking material you end up with will play an important role in how much enjoyment you get from it, as well as how long it's going to last. Just as you wouldn't make a rash decision with your home's deck, you will also want to carefully consider what options you have when it comes to your dock.
There are hundreds of brands out there offering numerous styles of boat dock decking, but when it comes to materials, there are five common types most often selected.
Composite: durability with big surface downfalls
(Photo by boatlocal.com)
Composite decking is a common choice for boat docks for a few reasons. For one, this material is fairly dense and durable. It's also a somewhat "green" option, for those preferring to use eco-friendly materials, as many brands use a blend of recycled wood and plastics in their boards. Plus since it’s a manufactured product, there are plenty of color options to choose from, as well as smooth or wood grain finishes.
However, there are a couple problems with composite decking for boat docks. Composite decking is quite heavy, which could pose issues during installation or if you're designing a floating deck. Secondly, composites are notorious for getting hot in the sun which makes walking on it during the summer very, when its use is most frequent, difficult. Lastly, because most composites are coated in plastic to protect the vulnerable core that’s susceptible to moisture, this decking can be very slippery which is less than ideal for applications that come into contact with water, like a boat dock.
Plastics and vinyl: color options but can be very brittle
(Photo by plasticweldingrepairs.ca)
Vinyl is the most common type of plastic decking and is often chosen for being fairly inexpensive. However, in the long run, vinyl (or any other plastic decking) is often more expensive due to the fact that it often ends up needing to be replaced faster than other more durable materials.
Faux wood grain vinyl dock decking looks very fake and, to many, unappealing. You do get a nice color selection, but over time, it will be faded by the sun. The same issue that composite decking faces, getting hot and uncomfortable in the sun, also plagues vinyl dock decking material. Lastly, one of the biggest turn-offs for boat owners is that vinyl can crack and break easily, especially if you experience cold seasons - it becomes very brittle in cold weather conditions.
Treated wood: inexpensive yet high maintenance
(Photo by ctcgrading.com)
Treated wood decking is another very popular choice for boat dock decking, especially when on a budget. Plus many people just like the classic look of wood and find it to be an appealing, natural choice. Wood decking tends to also be reasonably priced and take a beating from the elements that docks are often exposed to.
The two main downsides of pressure treated wood decking, however, would be its natural weakness to moisture and high-maintenance needs. A properly sealed wood dock is actually quite resistant to water, but it must be cared for properly. This means cleaning and sealing it regularly. The amount of care required is often the reason wood decks end up neglected and failing. Plus as pressure treated wood docks age the risk of splinters becomes high which can definitely be a nuisance. Also exposure to water risks harming the environment because of the potent chemicals within the decking.
Aluminum: low maintenance but lacking in character
(Photo by: vwdocks.com)
Although not as common for private docks, aluminum decking is a go-to material for commercial and public spaces. Aluminum boat dock decking is durable and lightweight, making installation less burdensome. Plus they require very little maintenance compared to pressure treated wood docks.
The issues with aluminum include it’s higher price tag and the fact that it can get extremely hot in the sun, even more so than composite decking which is saying a lot. Powder-coated aluminum will gradually fade and become chalky, leaving powdery marks on whatever it touches. It’s also susceptible to rust and denting with movement and upon impact which is commonplace for boat docks to endure. Finally a common complaint about aluminum for docks is that it lacks beauty and provides no character to the look of your structure.
Modified wood: beautiful, natural and easy to care for
(Arstaviken Pier, by Grontmij Arkitekter)
Perhaps one of the best decking materials for a boat dock is modified wood. Modified wood is real wood that doesn’t contain any of the harmful chemicals that pressure treated wood does. A modified wood dock only needs occasional cleaning, with no need for bi-yearly staining, sealing, or repainting. The modification process increases the density of the raw wood, making it super resilient to moisture, decay and pest damage.
Additionally, modified wood is very attractive and welcoming. It's an eco-friendly material choice and one that allows owners to get the classic wood dock look with the toughness of a manufactured product. Infact because of its high density, modified wood won’t splinter. You'll also find that modified wood is very easy to work with and ages gracefully, eventually developing a silvery-gray patina overtime.
A well-built boat dock will last for decades with proper care and consideration. While the foundational structure of your dock will have the greatest impact on how stable and long it lasts, your choice of decking is just as important. Although there is no clear right or wrong answer for what is the best dock decking material, when it comes to the combination of beauty, low-maintenance needs and durability, modified wood comes out on top in the majority of circumstances.