Your boat dock is more than a place to park your boat when it’s time to return to shore. Docks give you a place to stand and walk down to your boat, but they’re also outdoor entertainment spaces and places where people spend time that’s not on boats or in the water itself. In order to handle everything that your dock needs to support, you need to think about your decking needs.
Choosing your dock decking options and materials from all the options out there will likely come down to your budget, dock plans, maintenance preferences, and personal aesthetics. For many dock owners, the choice comes down to two materials: wood or aluminum. We put these materials side by side and compared them to the four criteria you’re probably keeping in mind when it’s time to build a new dock or update an old one.
Your Dock Budget
Decking materials are often between 25% and 50% of a total dock budget. The decking costs don’t just end at the materials, though. Consider how much money you’ll have left to invest in your waterfront once you get everything set up. While a cheaper option might be good for your wallet now, it will cost more in time and maintenance later. While wooden dock decking can vary in price depending on the type of wood, it all requires annual maintenance. On the other hand, aluminum decking costs more upfront but won’t require as much fixing up years from now.
Dock Plans and Layout
What do you plan on doing on your dock? Some people just need a place to access their boat or personal watercraft, others just want a quiet slice of the lake to retreat to, and others want a sizable outdoor entertaining space. You’ll also need to think about your area when you consider your dock layout plans. If you get a lot of wintertime ice and snow, you’ll need to be able to easily get your dock out of the water for storage. Natural wood decking can feel nice on bare feet, especially when it absorbs the sun’s rays on a cool but sunny day, although it can be heavy to move and is more susceptible to the elements. Aluminum decking is lighter and easy to move, durable even in harsh weather, and tends to stay cooler in the sun.
Wood decking requires more maintenance than aluminum decking, full stop. While wood decking generally contains natural oils and tannins to protect it from insects and decay, you’ll still need to power wash it annually and finish or stain it every three to four years. You’ll need to watch the boards for warping, decaying, rotting, or twisting over time. Aluminum dock decking is more expensive but requires little to no maintenance once it’s set up to keep it looking great and performing well.
There’s something to be said for the traditionally classic and attractive look of natural wood dock decking, even if it requires a lot of work to stay that way. Wooden decking is a good option if you’re into ambitious DIY projects. However, aluminum decking has won over some traditionalists with its low-maintenance care. Aluminum won’t rot, twist, or warp and only requires occasional cleaning. It’s also available in a variety of beautiful colors and styles—there’s even woodgrain painted aluminum for the best of both worlds.