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Do You Need a Permit to Put in a Dock in Wisconsin?

The water is an outdoor space to relax and participate in fun activities. Wisconsin has more than 15,000 lakes, so it is easy to understand why lake homes and property are essential to our enjoyment. Many people either live on a lake or own a cottage or summer home on a lake. When you own lakefront property, you have access to a place that provides you with relaxation and enjoyment. However, in order to take part in activities such as boating, water skiing, and fishing, you need a place to keep your boat during the summer months. If your property does not already have one or has one that is old or outdated, you may need to build a dock.

What is a Dock?

It is helpful to understand what a dock is and why you may need one. Most people use the terms dock and pier interchangeably. While they are often used for similar purposes, they are actually different structures. A pier is a structure in the water that connects water and land. A dock is a structure that is used mainly to park boats. Piers and docks are both essential when you have a boat on the water. You need a place to both tie up your boat and walk to your boat when it is in the water.

Is a Dock Private or Public Property?

A waterfront property owner has rights that allow them to access the water and shoreline. The riparian zone is this area of water and shore that is adjacent to the property that someone owns. A lakefront property owner is also called a riparian owner. While the waterway is considered public, any structure, such as a dock or pier, belongs to the riparian owner and is considered private property. Although a dock belongs to you, you must follow the laws that are in place to ensure that the structure is legally allowed.

What are the Requirements for a Dock in Wisconsin?

When you are going to install a dock, you must follow the Wisconsin law. New piers require some measurement to determine the size that is allowed, as well as the number of boat slips that can be installed without a permit. You will need to know the length of shoreline you have, which will, in part, determine the size of dock allowed without a permit. The length of your pier can be up to 100 feet. If your local municipality establishes a pierhead line, your dock cannot exceed it, even if it is less than 100 feet. A pier or dock can only be extended with a permit.

Do I Need a Permit to Put in a Dock in Wisconsin?

Many types of dock installations do not require permits. If you are replacing an existing pier that was built prior to April 2012, it is considered “grandfathered” and does not require authorization. If the replacement pier or dock does not interfere with riparian rights or with other riparians, the pier is exempt from a permit. Some size docks and loading platforms do not require permits as long as they meet the size criteria specified in the guidelines. Refer to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for information and links to the Pier Planner and Pier Exemption Checklist. To learn more about riparian rights, contact us at Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd. at (608) 784-8310 or online  for a consultation.

Published July 3, 2023
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