Floating Pier vs Fixed Pier

When selecting a marina to stay in, sometimes you are presented with the options of Floating Piers and Fixed Piers. Does it make a significant difference for you? 

Fixed Piers are attached to pilings that are set into the sea floor. The pier is bolted to them and they provide a fixed and rigid surface to attach your boat. In areas with greater tidal variance, this can provide some complications. First of all, your docklines need to allow for the rise and fall of your vessel. Secondly, you will need to jump from your boat to the pier.

Setting your docklines to allow for tidal variations is crucial when tying up to a fixed pier. I have seen boats arrive at high tide and tie up with short lines. The tide went out and the sea level lowered by 4 feet, putting incredible strain on the docklines until the cleats ripped out of the boat. The owners had left for the day so we had to tie their boat to railing and seats to keep it from drifting off. Setting the docklines up in long crossing patters will allow for greater rise and fall of the vessel without putting stress on the lines and cleats.

This is at mid-tide. 

This is at mid-tide. 

The second issue with fixed piers comes when you try to board or leave your yacht. I am 6 feet tall, and I have had trouble getting off the deck of boats at low tide. The pier is set so high up to allow for spring tides that you can't reach the planks to get off your boat at low tide. On the contrary, I have also seen marinas that go underwater during very high tides. This poses many risks. If the power is not turned off, you can be electrocuted from the submerged shore power cables. The other risk comes from drowning; if you step off of the pier by accident (it's underwater so you can't always see it if the water is murky) you could fall in and drown. It is entertaining to see people "walking on water" when the pier is awash! 

As you can see, the pitfalls of a fixed pier all deal with areas where there is a great tidal variance. If you live somewhere where there is minimal tides, then a fixed pier will work wonderfully. If you are somewhere with great tidal variations, consider tying up to a floating pier.

Floating piers rise and fall with the tides and your boat. The pier will always be at the same height relative to your boat, so you don't have to worry about your docklines getting tight. The pier will never be towering overhead or submerged like a fixed pier either. It will always be a comfortable step away from your boat. While floating piers may sound like a magic bullet for docking tidal management, they do have one major pitfall. The floating piers work by rising and falling against fixed pilings. These pilings are very secure and allow the pier to effortlessly slide up and down as the tides rise and fall. The problem lies with the absolute height of the piling. If a storm surge causes the water level to rise higher than the tops of the pilings, the whole marina will be set adrift! For this reason, the pilings extend very far above the normal high tide. Even so, look for chafe marks on pilings in a floating marina; these are marks made during a storm when the water levels were very high. Our home marina in Fells Point has wear marks about 3 feet below the top of the piling. I'm sure that must have been stressful for the liveaboards at that time!

Having tied up to both, I personally love the convenience of a floating pier. When presented with the option, I almost always am willing to pay a little more per foot of docking to not worry about the tides!

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