Sectional Dock? Wheel-In Dock? What is the best dock choice for me / my family / my waterfront property / my budget? These are common questions many first-time dock shoppers in the lake areas of west central and central Minnesota ask themselves when beginning their search for a new or used dock system. We won’t tackle all of them in this post, but we can definitely help you narrow your choice between a sectional dock and a wheel-in dock. If you’re reading this article, you are probably at least somewhat familiar with what makes a wheel-in dock a wheel-in dock, and what makes a sectional or standing dock, a sectional dock. If not, just know that a wheel in dock is typically rolled or wheeled into the water with wheels on the dock legs and is usually installed either as a whole dock system or in parts, while a sectional dock is typically carried into place and installed one section at a time, and instead of wheels at the end of the legs, a sectional dock will have foot pads at the end of the legs.
With so many dock manufacturer choices in both wheel-in and sectional docks, and so many dock and lift retailers of all shapes and sizes (and reputability) to choose from, where do you start?
What kind of Dock Does My Neighbor Have?
Why Should I Choose A Wheel-in or Sectional Style Dock?
Today there is so much more to explore with dock systems that you owe it to yourself to spend a little bit of time learning what type of dock system is really right for your needs and what style of dock system is really the best fit for your waterfront property. Should I choose a wheel-in dock or a sectional style dock? In most Otter Tail and Becker County lakes, sectional style aluminum docks are becoming more and more prevalent, and may have actually begun to outpace the sales of wheel-in style docks due to the fact that sectional docks can be installed in a wider variety of waterfront property locations, they are more configurable, and they take up much less space on shore in the off season. If you live at your waterfront home, the last thing you want is your dock system taking up most of your available yard space for 6 or 7 months out of the year.
Where Do Wheel-In Dock Systems Work Well?
When waterfront property owners insist on a wheel-in style of dock in these locations, because that is what they are used to seeing in the market or what has been advertised at a low, low price by local dock manufacturers or dealers trying to make a quick buck, they believe that the dock with wheels will make rolling the dock in or out every spring and fall an easy chore. Unless the dock installation site has a firm sandy bottom, and a very gentle slope to the lake, this is usually not the case. There is a reason you will see so many used wheel-in style aluminum and steel dock systems with damage to the dock legs, the dock frame, or bent axles at nearly any dock retailer’s used inventory lot. It's because the dock was damaged while pulling it out or installing it on a shoreline with deep mud, or pulling or pushing it over obstacles like rip rap, bushes, or around trees, or simply trying to pull the dock up a steep shoreline. These scenarios are just not the best application for a wheel in dock system. These waterfront properties are where a sectional style dock system while absolutely shine by being easier to install and remove, will absolutely last longer with less maintenance or repairs than a wheel in dock, and you get all of the benefits of your dock system being more modular and configurable, easier to add onto in the future, easier to do-it-yourself (bonus that your dock installer - if you use one, loves sectional docks too), and your dock will take up much less space on shore.
Where Do Sectional Docks Work Well?
What About Costs and Price Differences Between Sectional Docks and Wheel-in Docks?
When it comes to dock costs you’ll always want to talk about the initial cost of the dock (dock materials, etc.), the cost, if any, of dock assembly, the cost of delivery, the cost of any maintenance (docks in general require minimal maintenance, but if you choose a wood decking option, you should plan on yearly or bi-yearly maintenance of the wood decking), and finally the yearly costs of installation and removal (if you aren’t doing this yourself). Below are some general guidelines related to sectional vs. Wheel-in style dock costs.
Dock Material Pricing
Typically a sectional dock system will be less expensive than a roll-in style dock system at the dock material level because it will require less parts than a wheel-in dock system. Wheel-in Docks will have at least two (and usually more) wheels, axles, axle couplers, chain bracing (or other leg bracing) to improve stability, as well as standard legs and foot pads. Wheel-in docks will typically have hinges or special “caterpillar connectors” in addition to its standard dock frame connectors, to allow some flex between the dock sections as it is rolled over rocks, logs and other obstacles. A sectional style dock system does not require wheels, axles, etc. And so is usually less expensive per section, and as a whole dock system than a wheel-in dock.
A Dock Material Cost Price Example (Pricing for demonstration purposes only):
4 x 10 Sectional Dock with Titan Decking, 2 dock legs and pads: $1,157.00 = $115.70 / ft.
4 x 16 Wheel-In Dock, with Titan Decking, 2 Legs with wheels: $2,626.00 = $164.13 / ft.
In the above scenario, which is typical of wheel-in and sectional dock systems, you can see that the sectional dock costs considerably less per foot of dock than the wheel-in system, this is due to the fact that the sectional dock does not require the additional costs of wheels, axles, and couplers.
What About the Cost of Dock Assembly and Delivery?
What about the Costs of Dock Maintenance?
The nice thing about today’s wheel-in and sectional dock systems is that they are very low maintenance. In the past, waterfront property owners used to have all kinds of maintenance with their old, roll-in steel dock systems. Not only would you have to maintain the dock frame by sanding, and painting scratches to keep it from rusting, you would also need to maintain the dock decking (usually wood decking, and sometimes covered in carpet or turf - yuck) with yearly staining or painting or carpet maintenance. Today’s aluminum dock frames require no maintenance (maybe the occasional hosing off with water if you are so inclined), and higher end dock systems like those offered by Lake Area Docks and Lifts feature stainless steel, and brass hardware – so you won’t run into any corrosion problems there. The only maintenance really required on a dock system now is for those customers who have chosen and organic decking product like wood, or some composites that feature wood as part of the decking formula. Nost decking options sold today are no maintenance types like Titan Decking (PolyPropylene), Brock decking (Vinyl), or ShoreMaster’s painted aluminum decking (Aluminum). Some of these decking options cost a little more initially, but end up paying you back over the life of your dock in reduced maintenance and repair costs.
What about professional Installation Costs Every Year?
Assuming you are not going to perform the dock installation and removal every year, there are a few differences to point out in the costs to install and remove a sectional dock vs. A wheel in dock every year. Below is a very basic comparison of dock install and removal costs using some current dock and lift removal cost schedules found from various Minnesota dock and lift service companies. Keep in mind these are just estimates and the best way to get an actual estimate is by talking to your local dealer.
As always, if you simply want to discuss your dock options with someone, we are always available to help you make your decision. We can walk you through the pros and cons of both wheel-in, and sectional dock systems, we can even show you in a hands-on way some of the differences because we stock both wheel-in and sectional docks in our showrooms at our five Minnesota locations in Fergus Falls, Pelican Rapids, Battle Lake, Brainerd, and Cross Lake.